2015…The Year of Giving Back!
One of the greatest gifts I received this holiday season was a pen pal from Mexico. Her name is Jazmin and she lives with her family in a small village, on $96 a month! Less than my average grocery bill (per week) and often less than what I drop, without hesitation, for a meal and a bottle of wine at any number of restaurants around Michigan. Imagine living on less than $1,200 a year! I pay more than that a month for rent and utilities here at the Blog Cabin. How’s that for an eye opener!
As we move into a new year full of hope and opportunity, I plan to not only think more about others but to put those thoughts in action. Writing letters to Jazmin is just the start!
According to the Association of Donor Recruitment Professionals, blood is traditionally in short supply during the winter months due to the holidays, travel schedules, inclement weather and illness. As such, January is a difficult month for blood centers to collect blood donations and a reduction in turnout can put our nation’s blood inventory at a critical low. Since January has been designated as National Blood Donor Month (NBDM), this is the perfect time to start the year out in a BIG way.
Founded in 1955, Michigan Blood is an independent, nonprofit blood bank that supplies more than 40 hospitals across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Michigan Blood collects more than 120,000 donations each year at nine permanent sites and holds more than 3,700 mobile blood drives statewide. Related services available from Michigan Blood include a nationally-recognized stem cell (marrow) program, therapeutic apheresis, DNA tissue-typing, transfusion medicine consultations and Michigan’s first public cord blood bank. In addition to donating blood, you can also offer up your time.
Michigan is a natural wonderland and it’s strange to think many people are not only unaware of this, but they don’t take advantage of the opportunities found in the woods and waters of the Great Lakes State.
Twice a year, the Department of Natural Resources offers FREE opportunities for resident and non-residents to be introduced to the world of fishing. The 2015 dates for the Free Fishing Weekends are February 14-15 and June 13-14. During these dates, all fishing license fees are waived. Residents and out-of-state visitors may enjoy fishing on both inland and Great Lakes’ waters for all species of fish. All fishing regulations still apply.
Experienced anglers who offer a child or young adult the chance to take their first fishing trip can provide a rewarding experience for all. Research shows that young people today do not have access to fishing opportunities that were enjoyed by generations before them, given that they often live in urban or suburban areas where fishing access is not readily available; there is increased competition for time by an ever-demanding schedules; and there is too little time for unstructured leisure activities in today’s fast-paced world.
For many people, fishing is the most relaxing way to spend the day. Additionally, people who fish tend to understand the natural aquatic network of plants and animals that help to sustain fis,h as well as the regulations that govern fishing in Michigan, making it an educational opportunity.
Michigan boasts more freshwater coastline than any other state—some 3,177 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Not to mention 11,000-plus inland lakes (more than Minnesota, FYI) and 36,000-plus miles of rivers and streams. Anglers annually contribute $2.4 billion to the state’s economy rating the state fifth in the nation, with 1.1 million licensed anglers and drawing over $11.2 million in federal funds to fish and aquatic habitat conservation. Michigan boasts nearly 150 different species of fish as well!
Twenty five years ago, March 23, 1990, the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan opened its doors to provide a “Home Away From Home” for families of children and youth seeking medical treatment in the Grand Rapids area. You are encouraged to explore how you can become a part of “The House that Love Built!”
The 19,000 square foot facility was designed specifically as a Ronald McDonald House. Located on five park-like acres, the House has 17 bedrooms with private baths; two are isolation-equipped and two are barrier free. Common rooms include a large family-style kitchen with four complete cooking areas, a dining room, great room with fireplace, sitting room, sunroom overlooking a playground area and walking path, laundry room, toddler playroom, children’s place house, recreation room and a quiet room when privacy and tranquility are needed.
The RMH of Western Michigan registers over 450 families each year, with referrals coming from all hospitals and treatment programs, as well as outpatient services, from the Grand Rapids area. Many families come in and out over an extended period of time. While guests arrive from counties throughout Michigan, other states, and even foreign countries, the majority of the families served reside in the West Michigan area.
There are many ways for you to support the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan. The House is financially supported primarily through tax-deductible contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations. Corporations, churches, schools and community service groups routinely support the Ronald McDonald House through contributions, service projects and third party events.
More than 200 people volunteer at the House each month, cooking meals, folding laundry and driving families to and from the medical facilities in our shuttle van. They’re always in need of certain household items that help make this place a home away from home for families in need (a wish list is available here).
Since I was a child, I have loved to read. At one point, I even considered being a librarian. I remember riding my bike through town to check out books at the library, returning a day or two later to return them and check out others. Even in this world of electronic gadgets, there’s nothing like flipping the pages of an actual book.
Libraries also provide access to a wealth of information. They host free programs for adults and children, provide research opportunities beyond what can be found online and provide a glimpse back into the history of the community.
National Library Week will be observed April 12-18, with the theme “Unlimited possibilities @ your library®” First sponsored in 1958, National Library Week is a national observance sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country. It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support.
Libraries are not without their struggles. Funding is often an issue. Consider making a financial contribution to your local library. Or, perhaps you have historic items which may add to their collection that you could donate. Why not offer your time to children’s story hour? Or, for those of you with knowledge and no fear of public speaking, consider making a presentation to share your story. The majority of my Speaker’s Bureau programs are hosted each year at libraries around the state, and I’ve discovered most are looking for quality programming of interest to their patrons.
For more, visit the Michigan Library Association website.
On Saturday, May 9, the U.S. Postal Letter Carriers’ Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive celebrates its 23rd year helping the hungry. It’s easy enough—you leave a bag of non-perishable food items in (or on) your mailbox. Last year, on a national level, more than 72.5 million pounds of food was gathered.
Outside of this one national day, there are opportunities in nearly every community to make donations to food pantries, churches, missions and other charitable organizations which are then provided to families in need. Whether you make a personal donation or coordinate an effort on behalf of a business or organization, consider how fortunate you are to have a warm, healthy meal every day and make that a reality for another family.
Although I am not presently a pet-owner (given my irregular work and travel schedules), I do have many friends who are (and I thoroughly enjoy THEIR pets).
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest and most effective animal protection organization, providing hands-on care and services to more than 100,000 animals each year, as well as professionalizing the field through education and training for local organizations. As the leading animal advocacy organization, driving transformational change in the U.S. and around the world by combatting large-scale cruelties such as puppy mills, animal fighting, factory farming, seal slaughter, horse cruelty, captive hunts and the wildlife trade, the Humane Society operates dozens of chapters around the state of Michigan.
The Humane Society of Southwestern Michigan is a unique shelter in many ways. Unlike many shelters, they provide each and every animal with comfortable soft blankets, each dog receives outside playtime a minimum of twice a day. Also, each animal gets a healthy “new life” by providing standard vaccinations and routine blood tests. When selecting “forever homes,” the staff is diligent in searching for the best suitable home for each of our animals through our adoption application process.
For 130 years, Humane Society of West Michigan has operated under a seemingly simple mission, one that we feel provides both animals and those who care for them with an irreplaceable resource.
The Cherryland Humane Society is focused on finding responsible, loving and permanent homes for EVERY pet, while focusing on a heightened public awareness of the benefits of pets to mankind in addition to another 25 programs and services.
The Michigan Humane Society in Detroit has been in operation since 1877 and is the state’s oldest and largest animal welfare organization (and one of the largest in the country, based on the number of animals cared for and the scope of programs and services).
Additional Humane Society locations can be found around Michigan as well, including the Charlevoix Area Humane Society, The Humane Society of Huron Valley, Capital Area Human Society and Copper Country Humane Society, among others.
As the mother of two adult children, one thing I miss is having a house full of children to cook for, or share my passions and wisdom, whatever that may be. Last year, just before moving to northwest Michigan, I was introduced to a national organization that gives me—and other adults—the opportunity to continue to inspire young people!
For over a century, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping change kids’ perspectives and giving them the opportunity to reach their potential. It originally started in New York City in 1904 as the “Big Brothers” movement and a comparable group for girls organized by the Ladies of Charity which later became Catholic Big Sisters. Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when they joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
This non-profit organization has operated under the belief that inherent in every child is the ability to succeed and thrive in life. As the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country. We develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.
More than 100 years later, Big Brothers Big Sisters remains true to our founders’ vision of bringing caring role models into the lives of children. And, today, Big Brothers Big Sisters currently operates in all 12 countries and all 50 states. In Michigan, there countless regional chapters seeking adult volunteers.
There are some strange holidays and celebrations out there, but August has some great ones that encourage you to give of yourself—in the simplest ways: with a smile, kindness, friendship and forgiveness.
The first Sunday in August is both “Friendship Day” AND “International Forgiveness Day!” The first week of the month is “National Simplify Your Life Week” (and giving to YOURSELF, in terms of love and attention is just as important as giving it to someone else). Week #2 is “National Smile Week,” followed by “Friendship Week” (#3) and “Be Kind to Humankind Week” (#4).
Other August dates of note include “Lazy Day,” (Aug. 10); “Relaxation Day,” (Aug. 15), “Kiss and Make Up Day,” (Aug. 25), “Global Forgiveness Day,” (Aug. 27) and “Just Because Day,” (Aug. 27).
As kids head back to school, consider that some may not have the adequate supplies they need to succeed. While out purchasing backpacks, notebooks, pens and other items for your children or grandchildren, why not gather up a packet of essentials for a child in need. There are organizations that actively coordinate supply drives to collect these items.
Beyond that, consider that with cuts to education, many teachers dig into their own pockets to purchase supplies for the classroom. A simple note to your child’s teacher asking how you can help would be a welcome request. And, while you’re at it, consider donating your time to classroom—whether that’s on a weekly, monthly or event basis (such as field trips, holiday parties and school productions).
I remember when I was in church youth group as a teenager, and we’d gather together on a Saturday afternoon and walk door to door, rakes in hand, and offer to help clear yards of the older residents of the community. At the time, it wasn’t such an enjoyable experience, but we were young and full of energy so it seemed a good way for us to spend the day and teach us a valuable lesson about service to others.
In recent years, I’ve wondered why I didn’t see young people doing such activities—without the expectation of being PAID. Maybe this is the year to lead by example and to reintroduce this philosophy back to today’s young people with a family raking party!
Faced with being alone for the Thanksgiving holiday in 2014, I decided to spend a few hours at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Traverse City serving turkey and ham dinner (with all the fixin’s) to those who were less fortunate. I don’t say poor, although in financial terms most of them were. But they were rich in their gratitude, their smiles, their stories (whether verbalized or not).
One woman came in with several children of varying ages and they sat quietly at the end of a table, eyes drawn down to their plates. Every time a volunteer would walk past and offer more milk or juice, she flinched, cowered away and cautiously shook her head “no”— the kids never made eye contact. One man would ask for a carton of white milk every time someone came by to offer it, then he silently slipped them into the various pockets of his coat for later.
Another man went through the food line at least twice, maybe more—always with a smile and a kind word. He devoured the meal like he hadn’t eaten in days and wasn’t sure when he’d have the chance again. At the end of the day, he worked alongside all the volunteers cleaning and tearing down tables, taking garbage to the dumpster and helping carry boxes of leftovers to the bus for others. Clearly, he wanted to give back for what was given to him. He is the one who I remember the most.
Although this winter hasn’t nearly been as snowy as last (yet), it’s certainly has had its moments of cold. Imagine not having a warm home to go home to. Of spending the bulk of your time exposed to the elements of wind, rain, snow, sleet and general overall cold, without a descent coat, hat, mittens and other accessories to keep you warm. Now, think how many coats you have at home yourself. How many do you actually wear, regularly?
Back before I knew the finer points of how to dress for the winter weather in Michigan, I used to snag up every heavy, bulky coat I could find “just in case” I needed it. Turns out, thinner layers is the way to go when enjoying our state’s winter recreational opportunities. Now, those heavy winter coats no longer serve a purpose for me, but will do a fine job for someone else.
I’ve also become a hoarder of hats and mittens, yet I find myself wearing the same three or four pair all most of the time. Purging the drawer of excess gear will benefit someone else far more than it ever did me.
Are you looking for ways to give back to your community, support a cause you believe in, develop new skills, or make new friends? Whatever your reason, you can put your time and talents to good use by volunteering and the Michigan Community Service Commission—Department of Human Services operates a detailed website to help you find the organization that best suits your needs.
Additionally, the Michigan Volunteer Registry is an internet-based system enabling healthcare personnel and citizens to pre-register to volunteer their assistance during an emergency.
What are your preferred ways to give back? Share your thoughts at www.Facebook.com/PromoteMichigan2.