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Only One Day to Give
Story by Danita Boonchaisri
It is often said that actions speak louder than words, but what if you
only have a day - just 24 hours or less - to help those in need? Can you
truly make a difference?
The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy-fellowship with friends and family and hand-picked gifts topped with silver and gold bows. But suppose money is tight and the cupboards are bare? Michele Darr of Charles County knows that scenario all too well.
Two years ago, with an unemployed husband, the stay-at-home mother and her family of seven faced the prospect of a bleak holiday season. There was no money, even for the simplest gifts. Darr registered with Christmas Connection through the Charles County Department of Community Services and ended up on a list of adoptable families. What happened next, she says, was unbelievable.
"A member of the Saunders family of Charles County called me about four weeks before Christmas and explained that he was a former sharecropper from a large family with eight children. He knew what it was like being poor and remembered people bringing them food during the holidays. That year the Saunders decided, as a family, to give something back."
The Saunders settled on the largest family of adoptees on the Christmas Connection list, the Darrs. "Each of the Saunders adopted one of my five children and gave them toys, clothes, hats, gloves and socks,"she recalled. "Then they took my husband and me out to dinner and shared their hearts with us, along with food and gas cards, wrapping paper, bows, boxes, tape - everything we needed for a beautiful and magical Christmas day."
"I'm a giver myself," said Darr, "but I have never seen anyone give that big in one day before. It was absolutely amazing."
What a Difference a Day Makes
Nationwide, nonprofits and charitable organizations find that donations rise significantly around the holidays. Some donors want to share their good fortune with others or teach their children the importance of social awareness. Others feel a sense of duty and a desire to reach back and help those who are in a place where they used to be, like the Saunders did.
But is it possible to make a difference in just one day? Kelly Chambers, President and CEO of the United Way of Calvert County, believes it is. "Collectively, it is very meaningful when you can pull one person together with another," she says. "Even though the economy is down, volunteerism is actually up right now. People can't always help with money but they can help with their skills."
As Director of the Governor's Office of Service and Volunteerism in Baltimore, Barbara Reynolds agrees. "I think anytime a person gives themselves to another it makes a difference," she says. She notes that some projects, such as a stream clean up or a Habitat for Humanity build, can be done in just one day and have a positive effect. Of course, she explains, if a volunteer is able to give a more sustained effort, the benefit is even greater.
Sarah Merranko, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Service-Learning at Volunteer Southern Maryland, also urges people to "think about how you can make your volunteering opportunities last longer." She suggests offering to help organize a fundraiser in April, since organizations need help all year. If you're organizing a group of volunteers, ask what their skill sets are and what they can bring to an organization. Many nonprofits need help updating their websites or writing grants. "That's the kind of assistance that can have lasting benefits all year long," she says. Merranko also suggests that volunteers ask what is needed rather than assuming. "You might be collecting shoes when they really need coats."
The Charles County Humane Society, besides always welcoming dog-walkers, is greatly in need of volunteers with skills such as typing, accounting, book-keeping, and event planning. Often they cannot afford to pay professionals for these services.
"The great thing about Maryland is that we have a terrific network of matchmakers," Reynolds says. "Through our state's 14 volunteer centers, businesses, churches and organizations can be paired up very effectively with people in the nonprofit community who need help."
A Life Changed
The Darrs can attest to the power of giving, and receiving. "My kids still talk about the experience we had with the Saunders; it was their happiest Christmas ever," she says. "I've been able to accept being given to and it was very humbling, but I also reciprocate." Last year, the Darrs donated to Toys for Tots. "One day I'd love to be in a place financially where we can do that for another family. It's overwhelmingly awesome."
Jennifer Moreland, Director of Community and Resource Development for the United Way of Calvert County is optimistic about the difference one day of giving can make. Her favorite quote: "To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world."
Half Day Volunteer Ideas
12 hours: Patuxent Habitat for Humanity
If you have half a day to give, volunteer at the ReStore in Lexington Park stocking merchandise, cleaning or polishing furniture or helping customers. On Saturdays, you can help build a home: framing, roofing or siding, installing windows, hanging drywall, painting, fitting cabinets, trimming interior windows and doors or landscaping. Contact Laurie Walker: 301-863-6227, 410-326-9050 or www.patuxenthabitat.org.
8 hours: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maryland
In eight-hours, you can help plan a special event, solicit auction items, raise pledges for the annual Bowl-a-Thon, set-up, organize or clean-up after an event or help with basic office work, computers or recruiting volunteers: 301-290-0501 or at www.bbbssomd.org.
4 hours: Humane Society of Charles County or Freedom Hill Horse Rescue
In four hours, you can help shelter animals who need some loving kindness at the Humane Society of Charles County: answer phones, shop for supplies, walk or groom a dog or tidy cat cages: 301-645-8181 or www.humanesocietycc.org.
At Freedom Hill Horse Rescue, you can repair fences, groom horses, plan events, and fundraise. With experience, you can feed, walk or ride rescued horses on six farms in northern Calvert County. Contact: Melody Parrish at 410-474-7662 or at www.freedomhillrescue.org.
2 hours: Literacy Councils of Southern Maryland
If you can read this sentence, why not help those who can't? Two hours can help someone with literacy challenges find a better job, improve life skills or get a driver's license. Put materials together for tutor training workshops, distribute fliers to community bulletin boards, provide office help, or converse with an adult learner to improve his language skills.
Calvert County Literacy Council o (410-535-3233) o www.calvertcountyliteracy.org
Charles County Literacy Council o (301-934-6488) o www.charlescountyliteracy.org
St. Mary's County Literacy Council o (301-863-4847) o www.somd.lib.md.us/STMA/Literacy
1 hour: Blankets of Freedom
In 60 minutes make a fleecy blanket for a recuperating service person. The "no-sew" blankets are delivered to military hospitals for Christmas with the message: "Just a note of thanks for providing and protecting the blanket of freedom that all Americans rest beneath. It is our sincere hope that you find comfort and warmth under the blankets we have made for you. May God bless and keep you!" For patterns, instructions and information, contact Kim Kinsey at email@example.com.
10 minutes: Write a check
The easiest contribution of all is to simply write a check to your favorite charity. Donations are tax deductible to nonprofits (ask for a receipt). Charitable organizations can then buy what they need most. Southern Maryland has hundreds of deserving charities.
Use one of the matchmaker agencies below to find a volunteer opportunity that interests you.
Corporation for National & Community Service
Governor's Office on Service and Volunteerism
United Way of Calvert County
United Way of Charles County
United Way of St. Mary's County
United We Serve
Volunteer Southern Maryland
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As such, some of the information in this particular article may no longer be current.
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