As I lay in bed last night thinking about this, I realized that this is where a lot of us give up. We look around us and there are a million opportunities for volunteer work. When I started to write this series, I got quickly off track – readers let me know about the great things they were doing for their communities and I got swept up in big ideas, but my initial intent was to start with small, incremental and manageable changes.
The question I sought to answer was “How can I make a difference from where I’m at?” My intent was to change how I put into practice kindness and charity and generosity of time and spirit. How can I best use the limited time and resources that I have and make it a habit?
On a day like today, when I’m worn out from the holidays and feeling less than ambitious, it’s hard to have a vision, a plan or a desire to come up with creative ideas. Like a workout, I need to have a scaled back plan for days like these – ones that mean I do something, but that don’t require my all. Today is a perfect planning day.
My plan is to go by month – take a subject/cause off my initial list and focus on it. I’ve decided that the month of January is for children. It seems appropriate to focus on where it all begins, during the first month of a new year. While I may continue to volunteer or donate on behalf of children throughout the year, I am deliberately using the month of January to educate myself on the issues and determine what I can manage to do on their behalf.
Financial Contributions to Charity
I’m reviewing organizations to plan my financial donations. I’m working middle class and I don’t have loads of money – where it goes and what it’s used for really matters to me. There are several great sites for evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of organizations:
Good Intentions are Not Enough – Fantastic way to educate yourself on the art of giving. I took the quiz, only to discover I had a few misconceptions. If you haven’t donated financially before or have habitually done it with no real plan, this is a great place to start.
Charity Navigator – I find their top 10 lists less relevant (“10 Celebrity-Related Charities”), but the financial breakdown of charities is very useful. I use this to cross check charities with Charity Watch, which requires that you pay for specific information beyond its initial top-rated list.
Seeing the Opportunities
Beyond charitable planning, I can make a plan for the next day or week or month in terms of doing. It’s important to look around you and actually SEE where there are opportunities, locally and globally. As I’ve been brainstorming, I have to take into account what I’m doing as ongoing work for the elementary school, organizing the spring fundraiser walk-a-thon and showing up for weekly volunteer stints in the classroom.
Let’s start with the fact that I have a child. She gets an allowance and a portion goes into a charity box. Last year, she bought school supplies for the kids at her school who couldn’t afford them. She had a special glow on her face, being able to drop bags loaded with pencils and crayons and glue off at the school office. In January, I am helping her to sponsor a child through the highly rated Save the Children organization.
Locally, in the metro area, we have some great food shelves. 50% of those people visiting the food shelves are children. In my efforts to cut our grocery bills by doing more cooking and buying fewer processed foods (you don’t know how it pains me – cooking does not come easily), we can use the savings to make weekly purchases based on the local food shelf’s current needs and drop them off at their facility.
Educating Myself on the Issues
We all have a general idea of the issues facing children and it is so often heartbreaking, that I dread the thought of digging into it all. However, this is part of my month’s commitment: learn more about the issues. Here are some resources that I’ve found useful:
Voices for America’s Children – Succinctly describes the issues and has a list of actions to take.
Children’s Defense Fund – Some states have an office location and website as well, in order to read about issues specific to a state.
Once I have read up on the local and national issues, I am committed to writing to my current state and national congressional representatives one letter each, expressing the concerns I have about ongoing legislative issues affecting children.
So there it is, my friends. The plan for January. I believe I can do it – next is turning beliefs into action.
Tune in tomorrow for the last post in this series, The Revolution of One, Step 4: Turning Beliefs into Action.