Helping people is nothing new to IML'ers. Here's what some of you told us:
Megan, 13, says: "I love volunteering! Recently, for church, we went around and picked up yards for people who can't do it themselves. I've also made gifts for widows on Mother's Day. And soon I'll be helping with a Christmas dinner for older or single people. I love the feeling I get when the people smile and I know I made a difference in their life."
Victoria, 12, writes: "I help younger children to learn how to read. My favorite part of it is seeing a little child's face light up when they learn a new word."
Here are some ideas for you how can help others through volunteering.
Your elderly neighbors
As people get older, it becomes harder to do many things we may take for granted, from walking to the store to opening a new jar of peanut butter. Senior citizens living alone or in group homes can also get lonely and bored, especially if they don't have family members nearby. As a volunteer, you can do a lot to help the older residents of your community:
- Visiting. Sometimes a little company is all someone needs to feel better. By visiting a senior in your neighborhood or by signing up to visit a group home for the elderly, you can brighten someone's day. You'll probably make new friends and hear some great stories, too!
- Helping with chores and errands. Volunteer to help an older person cook, clean up, or just do little household tasks. Many older people may need you to help by doing yardwork or shoveling driveways and sidewalks. You can also call a local senior home and ask if they need young volunteers to help the staff.
Helping the disabled
People who have disabilities are equal members of our communities, but many still need our help from time to time. You could volunteer to read books to the blind or run errands for people who can't get around too well. Meals on Wheels is one well-known volunteer group that delivers food to people who can't leave their houses; you could get involved by helping prepare the meals or going with your parents to deliver them. Check out the Meals on Wheels Association of America online at http://www.mowaa.org.
Visiting military veterans
Veterans' hospitals are filled with soldiers who bravely served their country but are now left with few friends or relatives. These men and women might need a friend to talk to, play a game of chess or checkers with, or someone to just listen to what they have to say. Try calling your local Veterans Administration office or hospital and ask what kind of volunteer opportunities they have for young people. Don't forget to think of these people on Veteran's Day (November 11th) in the U.S., when they would love to get cards and letters.
There are lots of opportunities to volunteer in hospitals and health care centers. Most hospitals rely on volunteers to help the staff keep things running smoothly. As a young volunteer (sometimes called a "candy striper" because uniforms used to be striped like a candy cane!), you can make beds, deliver flowers and gifts, visit with patients, greet families, help serve meals, and lots of other important jobs. You can also spend time with children or people your own age who are stuck in the hospital. The best way to get involved is to call your local hospital and ask what programs they have. In some cases, you may have to wait until you are a little older to participate.
Less fortunate families
In every community there are people who, for one reason or another, just don't have the money they need to get by. These may be working families who don't earn enough to buy new clothes for their kids, single parents struggling to pay the rent, or even people who have no place to live at all. There are many ways to help these people as volunteers. You might:
- Donate canned goods and other food to a food bank for the poor, or organize a community food drive.
- Gather blankets, clothes, and food to donate to a shelter or charity group (especially as the weather turns cold).
- Give your spare money to, or raise money for, a charity like the Salvation Army.
- Give your unwanted stuff to a charity shop instead of having a garage sale.
- Volunteer to serve at a soup kitchen.
- Start a club to gather school supplies for kids all over the country and world who need them.
- Start a club to knit scarves, hats, or gloves for people who need them.
Helping at the holidays
People need help and kindness all through the year, but sometimes they need a little extra when the holidays roll around. It's supposed to be a time of happiness and celebration, but for people who are alone or struggling, it can be a painful, lonely season. The holidays are also the perfect time to make a first step into the world of volunteering, because it's easier to find opportunities. You might:
- Deliver holiday dinners or cookies to less fortunate people.
- Visit with the elderly or people with no other family members.
- "Adopt" a needy family with children and send them toys and gifts. This is sometimes called an "angel tree" because you take an angel off a tree at the local mall, and the name of a needy family or child will be on it.
- Sign up to serve food to the homeless.
- Collect or distribute canned foods to less fortunate families.
- Raise money or send items to children in other countries.
- Buy new toys to donate for a local "Toys for Tots" program.
- Organize holiday entertainment like a chorus recital, play, or pageant. Or go caroling in the neighborhood to spread some joy!