Sunday, July 28, 2019

Act 1: Tiny Tim's Toys

Thank you, Tim's Tiny Toys!

I entered into this week with a solid plan for an act of service I've been wanting to do for a long time, but then that didn't quite work out the way I thought it would, and I found myself casting about for a new way to make myself useful to someone.

I made it all the way to Friday before finally settling on what I wanted to do. I think  the combination of it being my first week and wanted to start things well, and the service I had planned to do not quite panning out was throwing me off a little. It was hard to find something that felt like just the right thing to kick this off this year of service. Which is silly, because all good things are good things, right? Every drop in the bucket counts!

In the end, instead of me finding "just the right thing", just the right thing found me. 

I took the kids out to lunch on Friday, which is pretty unheard of, because I try at all costs to avoid taking them anywhere on my own. But on Friday I just wanted a salad and to not have to make anyone another ham sandwich, so I loaded them all up and took them to Culver's where we were all happily snarfing down our lunches when a very nice gentleman came up and introduced himself, and asked if he could give the kids some toys. He then went on to explain that he was a volunteer with an organization called Tiny Tim's Toys, and their sole purpose is to make toys and give them to kids. He clarified that they usually bring them to kids around who don't typically have access to toys, as well as to children in hospital. And sometimes, they like to give them to local kids, just because. It's all volunteer run, and no one gets paid. Obviously, (although this gentleman didn't even so much as hint at it) they rely pretty heavily on donations to keep it all going. If you're local, you might also like to know that they invite volunteer groups to come in and help them make the toys. 

After my three lucky kids had each been given a nicely made wooden car, I knew that supporting Tiny Tim's Toys would be my first act of service. So I looked them up online, found that they accept donations via PayPal and sent a little love their way. Who doesn't love an organization whose sole purpose is making kids happy? 


Before Tiny Tim came along and saved the day, I did a little research into ways to volunteer and serve from home, and found a lot of ways to contribute. There are so many ways to make a difference and opportunities to do good, that it is honestly a little overwhelming! Fortunately, I've given myself a whole year and a minimum of 40 opportunities to try some of them, so it's really just a matter of picking something and making it happen. Here's a little taste of what I found:

  • I started with Just Serve. Just Serve is a service opportunity hub where organizations can post their volunteer needs, and volunteers can see where and how they can serve in their communities. You should know that  the website is run by my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), but you should also know that it is available to anyone, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. There are a lot of opportunies to dig into there, although I did notice that a lot of them are looking for ongoing volunteer relationships, rather than one-off service opportunities. 
  • Operation Warm (a great organization that I will be looking into later) offered this list of 25 volunteer jobs to do from home. A few cool ones that stood out to me: transcribe historical documents for the Smithsonian, knit or crochet afghan squares for Warm Up America, write a note for someone undergoing chemo therapy, volunteer to translate for Translators Without Borders. At 25 items, it's not the most comprehensive list out there, but it's got some items that seems both fun and worthwhile. 
  • Smiliar to Just Serve, Create The Good  connects volunteers with volunteer opportunities. Create the Good is run by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), so there are a few things I'm not old enough for (ha!), but otherwise there is a good variety of ways to get involved. 
I'll leave it there for now, but hopefully I can come back with more volunteer ideas and opportunities as I go. See you next week!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

40 Acts of Service

Me and my face, preparing for The (slightly less) Big 39.
I'll be 39 tomorrow.

Birthdays always make me a little contemplative and navel gazey, but this one even more so. Of course I've been thinking about getting older, noticing more little lines on my face that I know will only get deeper, and knowing that I'm well on my way from being a young person to a middle aged person, regardless of how old I actually feel.

My uncle (who is in his 70s) says I'm still young, so there.

Having accumulated a degree, a husband, four children, a house (and a mortgage!) and am impressive array of household goods, I feel like I've managed to check the majority of the boxes you're "supposed to" have done by this point in life, and I have to admit I feel quite good about that.

Mine is a good life, and I am so very grateful for it. It hasn't always been an easy life, as just having celebrated the third birthday of our little boy who is no longer here reminds us, but oh!: it's a good, rich and beautiful life I have been given.

Which brings me to the biggest thing I have been thinking about in regards to my birthday: when I have been given so much, what am I giving back? I believe in service. I believe in taking part in your community and giving back where you can. I believe in "if not me, then who? If not now, then when?" As a Christian, I believe in " Inasmuch as ye have done it into one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me*". I believe that that world is not going to get any better unless we stand up and do something.

So I have decided that my 39th year is going to be my year of standing up and doing something.

I want to celebrate my 40th birthday next July, knowing that I have made a contribution to this world, and that I have made service and philanthropy part of who I am. I want my children to see that part of being a human is stepping up and taking responsibility, maybe especially when it's not glamorous or fun.

I'm throwing it back old school with a good old-fashioned Project Project project (remember when I used to do those?) where I will undertake something and then write about it as I go.

Here is the plan:

  • I will make this coming year, leading up to my 40th birthday a personal year of service. 
  • Over the space of that year, I will perform at least 40 acts of service of varying size and intensity, at a rate of roughly one per week (that leaves 12 opportunities for life to get busy, or for an act of service to stretch over several weeks if necessary). 
  • When a cash donation is the best way to support a cause or organization, I'll give money. However, I am making it a rule for myself that I can't just give money every week. Giving money is easy, and I want to engage more deeply with the various people and organizations I come across this year. I'd like to learn, to get involved and get my hands a little dirty. Also our finances might not be able to handle me giving our money away every week. 
  • Each act of service has to be a new one. If I fall in love with an organization or a way to serve along the way and want to keep working with them, that's wonderful. I'll keep doing that. However, I will not be counting an ongoing relationship as a new act of service. I want to find 40 new ways to serve.  
  • Every time I serve, I will write a blogpost about it. I'll do this so I can have a record of what should be a pretty memorable year, so you can follow along if you're interested, and also so I can highlight a number of organizations and individuals trying to make a difference in the world. Maybe this  could even help some of you will find an organization that you'd like to work with too?
And that's it!

Before I end, I really want to highlight that I'm not doing this so you'll think I'm wonderful. I'm doing this to fulfill a strong desire that I have to contribute. Serving others makes me happy, and has been a lifeline to me at several difficult stages of my life. I'm happy when I'm busy, and happy when I feel useful. So while you could say that this whole thing is almost a little selfishly motivated, say that because I'm doing something that I love, not because I'm trying to attract your attention to how great I think I am. And hopefully, once your attention has been attracted, we can quickly deflect it to all of the great ways that you serve too. 

Thanks for reading! I'm excited for you to help keep me accountable in the year to come. And if you happen to know of any great organizations that I might want to look into, locally or globally, please let me know. 

*Matt 25:40