More Important Now Than Ever: Giving Back in Tough Times

According to a Johns Hopkins University study, 80% of nonprofits have been adversely impacted by the country’s economic crisis. More than a third of these nonprofits rely upon volunteers to help keep the organization running. Tough economic times do NOT mean that people pull back from giving to others: in 2008 roughly one million more people volunteered their time or services than in 2007, bringing the total number of volunteering people to 61.8 million

Spirit of Service reveals some startling facts and highlights unique service opportunities:
Collect Used Bicycles for People in Developing Countries: Americans buy 22 million new bicycles every year; millions of discarded ones end up in landfills. Unused bikes rust away in sheds, basements or garages, when they could be changing the lives of poor people in developing countries. Several organizations will collect, repair and ship bicycles to dozens of countries, where they will be used for transportation to work, school, markets and healthcare—even to carry water or small livestock! To get involved, contact one of these organizations (p.87), and ask your local landfill to set aside a secure drop-off area for used bikes. Adopt a Premarin Foal: Premarin, a hormone replacement drug for menopausal women, is created using urine from pregnant horses. Nine million women around the world take this drug, but most people don’t know that when the Premarin mares give birth, the baby foals are considered an unwanted by-product of drug production: each year 50,000 foals created by the Premarin manufacturing process are shipped to slaughterhouses. Help these baby horses find adoptive homes and live out their lives. (p.7) Hotline Counseling: Sometimes a friendly voice can make all the difference in the world. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to work at a crisis hotline; often all you need are good listening skills and a strong sense of empathy. After a background check and some crisis intervention training, you’ll be ready to start taking calls. Crisis centers operate hotlines—both over the phone and on websites—for drug abuse, sexual assault, runaways, AIDS, depression and many other social or health concerns. Check out p. 261 to find a hotline that’s right for you. Supermarket Shopping for Homebound Seniors: Today’s seniors are living longer and are remaining in their own homes longer—but many can no longer drive, leaving them isolated. Volunteer to go grocery shopping for a homebound senior (you can buy your own groceries at the same time), and you’ll not only help provide them with the food they need, but a compassionate relationship as well. (p.21) Happy Trails: If you love the outdoors, consider taking a volunteer vacation with the American Hiking Society. You’ll spend a week building and maintaining trails at your choice of destinations on public lands across the country. Enjoy a constructive, invigorating week with other volunteers in some of the country’s most beautiful areas, and give back to the trails you love. (p.268)

Count the Birds: The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is one of the oldest and largest volunteer conservation projects. On a specific day each winter, local volunteers count and identify all the birds they see within a fifteen-mile circle (birds at feeders count, so you can participate even while sitting snugly indoors and watching out the window). The information gathered each year is extremely valuable for ornithologists and for scientists studying conservation, biology and climate change. The first official Audubon Bird Count took place in 1900 with 27 volunteers; in 2008 nearly sixty thousand participated across the Western hemisphere. Visit their website to register. (p.282) Therapy Dogs: A personal visit from a friendly dog can not only lift a patient’s spirits, it has also been proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress and ease depression. If your pet is outgoing and even-tempered, the two of you can attend training classes and then begin making regular visits to hospitals, nursing homes, mental hospitals, hospices and group homes. (p.317) Sing Out! Join the Music National Service Initiative: As school systems struggle, “frills” such as music education are often the first to go; the same is true at community centers and after-school programs. Yet studies show that youth who participate in music programs do better academically and are much more likely to graduate from high school. The MusicianCorps program deploys trained musicians on one year service commitments, to bring back music to community programs. MusicianCorps Fellows receive a living stipend, insurance, training and support. (p.255) Sustainable Agriculture Through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, you can sign up to support a local farm, and receive a box of fresh, delicious produce each week. CSA programs arrange for you to buy a share of a local farmer’s crop in advance, ensuring a predictable income for the grower (crucial for small family farms). A few hundred dollars for a year’s share provides your entire family with fresh, organically grown produce straight from the farm almost all year round. (p.30) Clean up a River (p.365) Rivers are literally the backbone of America—they provide our drinking water, flood protection, fish and wildlife habitats, as well as scenes of immense beauty. It’s our responsibility to keep them clean, and you can help by getting involved with the American Rivers organization, which sponsors the National River Cleanup program around the country. Join an existing local effort or organize a project of your own with friends, family or your child’s class—cleaning up just a quarter mile of the riverbank can make a significant impact. (p.364) Princess for a Day: The Princess Project gives formal dresses free of charge to thousands of young women each year who would otherwise be unable to attend prom. Many of us hold onto “one-time only” dresses from special events, storing them in the back of our closets as a momento, never to be worn again—but you can hold onto the memories without keeping the outfit. Gather up gently worn formalwear and bridesmaid dresses and donate them—you could be providing a dream dress for a young woman on a very special day. (p.64)

The Spirit of Service Your Daily Stimulus for Making a Difference On-Sale October 20, 2009 Hardcover; $23.99 Visit to get involved and find a volunteer opportunity near you

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