Dylan Manderlink

The holidays are a time for giving, not just gifts but also in aid, love, compassion, and giving a hand to those experiencing unfavorable and unjust circumstances.  The holiday season is always a positive and warm reminder of how connected we all are and how rewarding it can be to help a neighbor, friend, community, or nation.

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For the first time in a long time, I feel like I haven’t been giving back or helping my local and national community as much as I would like.  For the first time since perhaps middle school, I haven't volunteered with a local organization or charity on a regular basis.  And for the first time in a long time, I certainly don’t feel indifferent towards issues our nation, local communities, and world face but upset and saddened to the point of exhaustion.  For many years, I have tirelessly advocated for women’s rights and gender equality by being a proud supporter and volunteer of Planned Parenthood, and–while living in Boston–I volunteered regularly for four years at various soup kitchens, homeless shelters, women's centers, and tutoring/education-based nonprofits.

I’m hoping that this post about three ways to give back this holiday season not only relights a fire within myself, but also ignites one or helps sustain one in you as well.  I hope that this fire motivates you to give back to your community during the holiday season (and every season), to empathize with others who may come from very different backgrounds and circumstances, and to assist those who have obstacles that make it difficult for them to advocate for themselves.

Find a local nonprofit and ask what they need and how you can serve.

I worked and interned for various nonprofits throughout college and I’ve found that some of the most helpful volunteers are the ones who personally ask the nonprofit staff what they really need from a volunteer and then serve accordingly.  The nonprofit’s identified needs may be something they don’t often promote on their website or through calls for volunteers.  For instance, I used to volunteer semi-regularly at a women’s shelter and around the holidays.  Instead of more hands in the soup kitchen, they needed blanket and winter clothing donations and hands to help pass them out to homeless women.  You may even find that what they need goes beyond a simple shift at their office, kitchen, or donation center.  I've found from my experience that this personal ask can be even more rewarding in the end and you may make a deeper connection to those who work for the organization or are served by them.

Donate money or supplies to a reliable and targeted charity.

I know at least for me, the news about Aleppo is heartbreaking and leaves me feeling dejected and upset with the world we live in.  It’s one thing to share a post on social media to raise awareness about this global conflict and tragedy, but there are organizations that are directly providing relief, support, and aid to those affected by the destruction and violations in Aleppo.  And if there are other causes or issues to which you feel personally connected and want to contribute to – either financially or by providing the needed supplies – many nonprofits like HuffPo, Everyday Feminism, and AJ+ (among others) have been highlighting charities that are reliable, legitimate, and give the majority (if not all) of their donations to the cause they advocate for and support.

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I hope this post motivates you to empathize and assist those who can't advocate for themselves.

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Advocate for an issue that matters to you.

Grassroots organizing and social advocacy are incredibly important in raising the voices of others, increasing the profile and attention of issues, and engaging community members to grow support.  Recently, I've felt so burnt out and overwhelmed teaching elementary school for the first time that I haven’t done much awareness-spreading past my computer screen.  Social media is a mode in which I try to raise awareness of issues that I'm passionate about.  After the recent election, I've been especially vocal via social media about women’s issues, racism, sexism, as well as  gender and economic equality.  These Internet efforts on my behalf are certainly not enough - they barely even scratch the surface of effecting change, but I have engaged in or initiated several important (and controversial) dialogues with people from very different backgrounds, world views, and geographic locations than me and in a way, those conversations have been rewarding.  

I urge you to see what local grassroots social advocacy movements are happening in your area and join the fight.  Advocating for an issue with your mouse and keyboard only goes so far.  And if you can’t find any rally, demonstration, town hall meeting, or letter-writing campaign in your area - host one!  Furthermore, an effective way to advocate for an issue and push for change is meeting with your local representatives or attending events where they will be present.  Meeting a politician in person is a direct and personal way to voice your opinion on an issue and share what constituents want to see changed in our nation.

These three ways to give back this holiday season are just the start and I’m sure once you connect with more people, get involved in your community, and do your research, you'll find many more opportunities that positively impact your community and beyond.  One of the best ways to lend a hand is by advocating for something you strongly believe in, and being someone who improves your community.  Happy holidays and happy giving!

 

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