Putting it All Together: How You Lend a Helping Hand

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Years ago, when Wade and I moved in together, we got rid of his twin bed. On a fluke, as we were loading things into the cars in the alley behind his apartment, we ran into one of his neighbors and started visiting. It turned out that this man volunteered for a group that provided hospice care for AIDS patients; they were always looking for donations. We have this bed, we told him. Can you use it?

Yes, he said, we can.

It was the best feeling, giving that bed away to someone who could really use it, even though the donation was totally accidental.

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You all have been sharing your give-back stories in the comments here; I'm amazed at what you all do to make your communities a better place to live and grow. Your volunteerism grows organically from your lives, from what matters the most to you.

Keri wrote; "Keith and I have been involved with Relay For Life (the American Cancer Society’s flagship fund raising drive) for the past 7 years. We got involved after Keith was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2001 by joining a team, and then forming our own team the following year. For the past several years I have been a member of the planning committee (except for a year off when I recruited my brother to fill in for me). Our whole family has been involved in one way or another the entire time. It has brought a lot to our lives."

You're also doing your part to get your children involved in giving back, which often means respecting the different ways that they choose to give. STL Mom wrote, "My kids are very different about giving. My son is very quick to give away his clothes or toys or books. It’s like pulling teeth to get anything out of my daughters’ room. On the other hand, she wants to donate her proceeds from this weekend’s lemonade stand to an animal shelter." That sounds eerily like my kids. Hmm.

Danielle is doing a version of the 1:1:1 savings plan with her kids (one part goes to savings, one part to charity, one part to spend). He son has a Tzedaka, or a Jewish charity box. She wrote, "When we give him coins he puts some in his piggy bank and some in his Tzedaka box. We explained it to him a few times and now he willingly does it. The plan is to take the money from both to the store and let him pick out one toy for himself and one to give away. We haven’t done it yet, but he seems excited to do it and talks about it in a way that makes us feel like he 'gets it'."

Like Keri, some of you have turned your own experiences of adversity into opportunities to give back. Jenn wrote, "We have spent time in Children’s Hospital with our own child for various medical challenges and we received help when we were in need. Now… We support our Children’s Hospitals in a couple ways. We volunteered by sewing for their grieving center ~ little pocket hearts they give away to families who have lost loved ones… Recently, my daughter and I hosted a sewing party … she and 4 friends made 100 hearts. We plan to host a heart party every year now!" I cannot tell you how much I love this.

BlogHer community member Jenna Hatfield shared her giving back story in the comments on this post: "When I experienced my unplanned pregnancy, I had no support. I was scared, alone and thanks to my kidney disorder, very sick. I was unable to work and unable to save money. We all know how that turned out...As such, I volunteer at our local and still new-ish pregnancy center. Last year I organized a huge drive and donated a bunch of baby and maternity stuff. (20 cases of diapers!) I also am on call if any expectant mother wants to discuss the ins and outs of adoption (whether she's just curious or needs some helping making the pro/con list). I've helped quite a few moms get on their feet, get organized and realize that they are fully capable of parenting. I've also counseled a mother who chose to place." That type of generosity truly does make the community a better place -- any community.

Giving back can not only make other people's lives better, it can make your life better, too. Jenndish had always loved volunteering, but everyday commitments were getting in the way of her passion. So she made it her job. "I took a leap of faith," she wrote. "An opportunity to work for a nonprofit I really love (homeless shelter for women) presented itself and I decided to take the plunge. It meant a pay cut, but it also meant being able to truly love going to work every day. As an added bonus, it gave me some other life treats that had been missing (like being able to spend more time with my kids). The funny thing is, I enjoy what I do so much that I almost feel guilty getting paid to do it." We should all be that lucky, I think.

In a couple of weeks, Michelle Woo and I will be off to Pioneer Woman's ranch to shoot a video all about giving back, particularly about how you give back. In the meantime, we're looking for more great examples of ways, big and small, to give. Please keep sharing your stories; you are truly an inspiration.

Susan Wagner writes about pragmatic fashion at The Working Closet and chic suburban living at Friday Playdate.

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