Tag Archives: Volunteerism

How to really celebrate the Spirit of Christmas

 

Every year I make a list of the things that I want to do during the holiday season. Christmas isn’t just about getting presents for me — it never was. My childhood wasn’t filled with things like most American kids have nowadays. I was lucky if I got new underwear or pajamas from Santa some years. The Christmas season was more about experiences. Visiting the Rockefeller Tree. Attending the Natale festival in Little Italy.  Midnight Mass. These are my memories of Christmas. As an adult, I expanded my list of experiences and I want to share them today, because I think everyone should remember what the real spirit of Christmas means. It’s not about getting a new iPad or the latest must-have toy. It’s about experiencing the joy, hope, and love the season embodies and helping others feel the same way.

Here are a few things on my list to do this year:

  1. Volunteer. Those Salvation Army bell ringers don’t grow on trees! It takes a well-coordinated volunteer army to man those kettles you see around stores, in the mall, and on street corners. Give the gift of your time. Usually, shifts are 2 hours. Surely, you’ve got 2 hours you can donate to a worthy cause. 
  2. Attend a local holiday concert. Every year my town has a holiday concert put on by the local Pops Choir. They’re usually a fundraiser, so admission goes toward funding a local charity such as the food bank or a women’s shelter. Kicking back in an auditorium filled with like-minded people who want to enjoy some holiday music sung by people who should – in my opinion – be on American Idol(!) is a great way to spend a wintry, cold afternoon. Sit back, listen and enjoy, and know you are making a difference in someone’s life with the cost of your admission.
  3. Support Toys for Tots. I know I said Christmas isn’t about the presents, but kids, especially kids in foster care, those who have to spend Christmas in the hospital, those whose mothers or fathers are serving in the military thousands of miles away, THOSE kids deserve to get toys and presents. My daughter is an adult and I haven’t bought her a toy in quite some time. But I still toy shop during the holidays so I can hopefully make another child’s day a happy one.

         

         4. Volunteer at the local food kitchen or deliver food to shut-ins. This one is so self-explanatory I don’t need to define it, but I will, with this thought: Think of the meal you have with your family, friends, loved ones every Christmas. I’m sure your table is packed with more food than you all could possibly eat in one sitting. The house is decorated and warm. Everyone is relaxed, happy and glad to be alive. Now think about that family where the dad just lost his job, or the single mom who left an abusive relationship and took her kids with her. They live in a shelter. They worry if they’ll even get a meal a day, much less a holiday one.These are the people food kitchens were made for. Why don’t you take an hour out of your time and volunteer to serve these people.  Spend time with others who don’t have what you do, probably through no circumstances of their own making, and help them see that people really are kind and giving and the world isn’t a terrible, lonely place.

            5.Attend a holiday craft fair. I lovelovelove receiving home-made gifts. This is a great way to support local crafters AND do some holiday gift shopping

           6.Give blood. This may be the last thing you think of doing during the holidays, but believe me, it’s needed. This is the one selfless act that truly means giving because you’re literally giving the gift of life to another human being.

I’m sure you can think of many more worthwhile ways to make your Christmas a happier, more soul-fulfilling experience. I wish you all the most joyous of seasons, and my hope is that after reading this blog today, you’ll go out and make someone else’s life as happy as yours is.

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Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

So, Dancing with The Keene Stars 2017 has come and gone and this year was one that will go down in my memory banks and diary as one to remember for the rest of my life. For so many reasons.

Project Graduation is an event held in our town’s high school the night after the kids graduate. And yes, I did just call them kids. They are. All under legal age, mostly 17 and 18. And what do 17 and 18 year old kids like to do to celebrate, test boundaries, and prove their cool factor is off the charts? Some drink and/or engage in illegal drug use. Project Graduation provides every single graduate a safe haven for the entire night after graduation, and engages them–not in illicit, illegal behavior — but good, fun, funny, and memory making behaviors with their fellow graduates. It is a smoke-free alcohol-free, drug-free night where the kids (!) are locked into the high school and not allowed to leave without a parent picking them up and escorting them out. Keeping them off the streets and at parties where they could get into potential trouble is one sure fire way of keeping every graduate alive to get to the next stage of their live. In the 100 days between high school graduation and college start-up more kids this age die in alcohol and drug related ways than at any other time. That pre-frontal cortex of theirs hasn’t fully developed yet, so they still make stupid decisions thinking they are sound ones. Project Graduations helps keep this number down with a goal toward eliminating it from the statistical curve.

Now. PSA complete. Back to DWTS.

I saw my first DWTS show four years ago when it was brought to my town as a fundraiser for Project Grad, and I wanted to participate within the first 10 minutes of the show. I actively – and I mean ACTIVELY pursued a spot on the next year’s roster and was -Yippie- given one! I was a STAR! I thought I knew how to dance before being picked. Yeah…not so much. The 8 weeks of preparation were grueling and oftentimes frustrating. I’d just undergone surgical removal of a melanoma from my stomach and was in constant pain, worried about my deep incision line, and frustrated because I wasn’t doing well in practice. When all was said and done, I loved the experience.

The next year I was a judge.

This year I was partnered with a STAR and the Gods above gave me the perfect one. I call him my brother from another mother, although in truth I could have agewise been his mother! We were in sync from the first 5 minutes of meeting. Every rehearsal was a shear joy – physically testing – but shear joy.And when all was said and done, we came in first place both nights!

The backstage moments of the competition, though, are the memories I’ll cherish the most. All 20 dancers formed a solid wall of friendship and camaraderie, knowing we were doing something good for the community and for our kids. I met community leaders I’d never met before and found some true, lifelong friends among them.

Volunteerism is a facet of this country that more people aspire to than actually engage in. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of not knowing where to go to offer your time, your money, or your expertise. I’ve always thought that to have a strong community, you need to be engaged in that community, so ever since my daughter started school I volunteered for room mother, snack mom, to be a chaperone on trips, etc. She’s been out of the house for 10 years and I still feel a responsibility to my community to give back. Participating in annual 5ks for local charities; attending auctions to raise money for school upgrades. Heck, even saving the box tops on tops of cereal boxes all contribute to making my community a better, safer, healthier place to live and grow. Hence, Dancing with the Stars.

So. I said this last year when I wrote my after-dancing blog experience and I’ll say it again this year: VOLUNTEER. There are so many opportunities within your community to make a difference. And believe me, you may not think you’re making a big one, but you are. For me, keeping that one kid who had the idea to go to a graduation party, drink, and then get behind the wheel of a car to head on home off the road makes a huge difference. Just think of all the people effected if he crashes and dies: his parents and loved ones, friends, anyone else involved in the crash and their loved ones and friends, the response teams, medical personnel and grief counselors pulled in to care for the survivors, and the kid himself who has just now lost his future. All because he wanted to go to a party and celebrate his high school graduation and didn’t make wise choices about drinking.

If I am asked to perform or judge next years’ DANCING WITH THE STARS fundraiser for our town high school, you can put money on the fact I will say “Hell, yeah!” Whether I dance, judge, or just sell tickets, it will be one of the highlights of my year.

When I’m not dancing you can find me here:

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Filed under Author, community advocacy, Contemporary Romance, Dancing with the Stars, female friends, Friends, Life challenges, Project Graduation, Strong Women, Uncategorized