"If there’s a world here in a hundred years, it’s going to be saved by tens of millions of little things. The powers-that-be can break up any big thing they want. They can corrupt it or co-opt it from the inside, or they can attack it from the outside. But what are they going to do about 10 million little things? They break up two of them, and three more like them spring up!"
- Pete Seeger, in YES! Magazine

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Simple Help in the Park

One of the questions this project raises is, "How difficult is it to lend a hand?" What counts as a charitable deed? Today's deeds aren't earth-shattering, but if everyone were to do JUST THIS MUCH, would it change our world?

Today the whole family visited Santa Barbara's Natural History Museum together, then headed up the road to Rocky Nook Park. This nature park is a beautiful spot for tree climbing, rock scrambling, trail walking, mountain biking, horseback riding, picnicking and exploring the modern play structure. For some reason, even in beautiful locations people tend to drop their trash on the ground rather than take a few steps to hit the garbage can.

The project:
While swinging, climbing, and walking with the family, I picked up trash and deposited it in any of the multitude of trash receptacles scattered throughout the park.

While walking the trails, I spotted a woman trying to get photos of her family. Her husband and children were in the shot, but there was nowhere to prop her little camera so she could include herself. I saw her looking for a camera perch, so I walked the 20 feet to where she stood and offered to snap the photo.Picking up trash at the park. Lending a hand with a family photo.

5-10 minutes

Why bother:
Trashy parks make for less-relaxing visits. And family photos too often exclude one member.

Worth it?
Picking up trash always seems worth it, except the thought that the party in the nearby picnic area had trash spread under and around their tables. Would they pick it up or leave it to blow into the play area and trails for others to pick up? I decided not to go with that negative line of thought, and do my part anyhow.

Taking the photo was a cinch, and completely worth it when the family saw their image on the screen and the thankful mother/photographer gave me a heartfelt thank you with a big, warm smile.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - -- - -- - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - -- - -- - -- - -
In other news, community service is beginning to provide a direct payoff for service-minded youths. See this story for inspiration.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sharing Technology

Our family does pretty well, but we don't have a lot of extra cash. So donations of cold, hard cash are difficult to come by if you knock at our door.

Our family is also busy, just like everyone else. But most often it's easier for us to find time to share than money to share. And really, which do YOU remember most: time spent with friends, loved ones and strangers who rise to the occasion in your time of need; or the gifts, perhaps cash, perhaps goodies, that you receive? Over the long haul, I'm willing to bet most people remember the priceless gift of time spent together.

Today I spent the heart of the day with a family friend who needed some help learning how to make her camera, computer, CD burner and e-mail all work together. During a phone call earlier this week she expressed some confusion about how to get all these newfangled gadgets going. I volunteered to help out - at her home about 40 miles north of ours.

The project:
Teaching a senior how to make new technology work for her, to keep her in closer contact with her family and friends.

90-minutes driving
60 minutes at the computer (but there was a lot of visiting going on, too)

Why bother:
Helping older people keep up with technology can provide them access to family photos, family news and a plethora of social opportunities available in today's techno-centric world.

Worth it?
I've known Betty since I was 5 years old. Our relationship began when she took on the job of babysitting me, but we became family friends. For more than three decades now, she's provided countless lessons, hours of her time, gallons of hot chocolate and buckets of wonderful, dimpled smiles. This volunteer effort provided me the opportunity to help HER out for a change and provided us both an opportunity to catch up. Oh, and after we were finished with the computer stuff, we carried on our conversation over lunch, then a shared ride to the grocery store.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Being Neighborly

Not every charitable deed has to be a big one. In fact, it's the little things we do throughout the year that can really make a difference. We started today with something small, but with potentially big rewards for our neighborhood.

Mr. B has lived on this street for more than 20 years. I've lived here ever since we got married more than a decade ago. We've always gotten along with our neighbors. We know each other's kids and pets and even frequent visitors. Still, none has ever asked us to watch after their homes and pets while they're away - until this week.

The project:
Tending the neighbor's pets, bringing in the mail, taking out the trash and recycling, watching the house.

15 minutes each day (if we take time out to PET the cats)
25 minutes on trash/recycle day

Why bother:
Helping out those who live within shouting distance sure makes city life feel more friendly, safer, more enjoyable. It gives me the feelings my neighbors trust me, and thereby instills a bit more trust in them.

Worth it?
Absolutely worth the fraction of the day we're dedicating. The girls have enjoyed collecting mail, petting someone else's cats, and the excitement of a chore in someone ELSE'S yard. In the short term, they have peace of mind that their home is being tended to. In the long term, we've built a stronger relationship with our neighbors, and perhaps they'll reciprocate should the need arise in future.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A year of living charitably

How difficult is it to do a little something helpful now and again? Is it really that tough to pick up an errant piece of trash and dispose of it properly? Does it really cramp our style to hold the door open for someone? To improve someone's day by offering a simple smile?

In this age of jam-packed schedules, never-ending technological distractions, and rush-rush-rush attitudes, are we really so busy that we can't lend a hand now and again?

I confess I get distracted, busy, and just plain grumpy, but it really isn't difficult to help out, and it doesn't have to take a lot of time to be neighborly, to help make our communities better places to live, to help the people around us feel better about themselves and the world in which we're living.

Plus, it feels really good. According to various studies, performing good deeds, volunteering or otherwise helping others reduces stress, increases longevity and provides a higher-quality life. In other words, if you can't bring yourself to help others for their sake, perhaps you'd do it for your own good health.

People sometimes talk about doing "good deeds" or donating to "charity." What does this mean?

While in the 21st century, "charity" has come to be interpreted as "financial assistance" or "donation," Mariam-Webster defines charity as, among other things, "benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity," "generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering," and "aid given to those in need." Charity is, then, the act of helping others.

"Deed"is defined as "something that is done," "a usually illustrious act or action," and "the act of performing."

So how often do we really perform charitable deeds? Have you ever thought about it?

Our family volunteers in various ways. Sure, we hold doors open for people, but the girls and I also volunteered for nearly two years as docents at our local natural history museum. We've picked up trash throughout our neighborhood and on outings. Last year we enjoyed handing out roses to complete strangers throughout one random day - the reward for us was nothing more than smiles, sometimes hugs, and always thanks.

But as we picked up trash at a local pier recently, I wondered: do we do something charitable every day? Once a week? Less often? How difficult would it be to do at least one charitable deed every single day? How might it change us and our community if we kept a better eye out for opportunities to lend a hand?

In 2009, the girls and I intend to find out. We'll keep track of our deeds, however simple or involved, and keep you posted on the response, the feeling it gave us and any long-term changes we see as a result of our actions.

If you like the idea, have projects in mind for us or would like to spread the love, please feel free to share this blog with your friend, family, and, sure, even foes. Post your thoughts here or drop me a line.

Happy New Year!