Consider Giving the Gift of Volunteering

Consider Giving the Gift of Volunteering

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By Ingrid Schaefer Sprague

Lisa Durbin, of Twinsburg, wanted her family to experience the satisfaction of giving back, which she first experienced while working as a teacher of military dependents on a U.S. Air Force base in Japan.

Twenty years ago, Durbin helped serve prisoners on a naval brig. She then encouraged her husband, Mark, and children Kiara, Marissa and Liam, to participate in giving back at Hannukah.

“Instead of giving our children gifts each day of Hanukkah, on every other day of the eight days of the Jewish holiday, we opted to give back through various giving opportunities in our community,” Durbin says.

The Durbin family selected gift tree requests from a beauty salon in Twinsburg, the City of Twinsburg fitness center, a martial arts dojo, and a mitten tree at Bissell Elementary School.

“What I hope my family got is that the holidays are a season of giving, not just receiving,” she says.

As the holidays approach, do you wish you could provide your children with a gift that would give joy beyond the winter break? What about a gift that isn’t covered in wrapping paper and tied with a bow? This year, consider giving a gift of your time and effort by volunteering for your favorite organization.

Salvation Army

Many community organizations offer volunteer opportunities; one of those is the Salvation Army Red Kettle drive.

Andy Junn, Salvation Army divisional director of development and community relations, says volunteers are needed to ring the bell and collect money at the red kettle.

“It can be an individual or group, but it is easier if someone is with you,” Junn says. “Even families like to hold “battle of the bells.”

The Salvation Army (salvationarmy.org) provides many other ways to volunteer and donate. Christmas toy drives and distribution can be held at schools, churches and businesses, or through angel tree programs.

Food donations are needed year-round. Soup and hot meals are served at various community locations, along with food pantry services. Families can donate food, stock food, or distribute food or meals across Northeast Ohio counties.

While individual volunteers need to be adults, families who supervise their children can also volunteer with the Salvation Army, and the training is minimal.

“Volunteers are helping to provide hope, Junn says. “We are looking for people who have a great passion — people who are open, welcoming, and serve the public and those who need it the most. The most important skill is a compassionate and open heart and willingness to help others.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities

Another worldwide charity with local presence is Ronald McDonald House Charities, with a Cleveland House and Ronald McDonald Family Rooms within Cleveland Clinic Children’s, Rainbow Babies and Children’s, Fairview Hospital and MetroHealth.

Lisa Sinisgalli, volunteer manager, says Ronald McDonald House (rmhcleveland.org) provides basic and essential resources and services to families who have a child receiving inpatient or long-term outpatient medical services.

“This includes a home-like and affordable place for the family to stay or visit, hot meals, laundry facilities, free parking and other services to keep families together during stressful times, and aid in the child’s healing,” Sinisgalli says. “About 1,500 families are served at the Cleveland location, with a 96 percent occupancy rate.”

Long-term volunteers who serve weekly need to be at least age 18, but occasional volunteer work, such as house chores or meal service, can be done by those as young as age 13, when accompanied by an adult.

Long-term volunteers receive training, but not the occasional volunteer, Sinisgalli says.

She adds families who volunteer at Ronald McDonald House and Family Rooms, along with those who perform offsite volunteer activities, achieve something special: “the awesome feeling that you’ve lightened the burden for a family with a child receiving long-term and/or critical care services.”

Families can contribute in other ways by collecting soda pop tabs for their fundraiser, collecting for the Wish List drive or canned foods, or creating Breakfast Bags.

Planet Aid

Ever wonder what happens to the contents of the big yellow collection bins with the picture of the Earth on the side?

Planet Aid uses those clothes donations to support community based projects and organizations local and abroad.

Operations Manager Patrick Kearney says they serve people on 2 fronts; economically and environmentally by providing local jobs and a local service to collect and recycle textiles, diverting from the landfills and giving them an extra life to continue.

Volunteers can help Planet Aid (planetaid.org) by donating to the Yellow bin and or advocating support as a brand ambassador.

“They find homes for our donation bins, form relationships with other organizations and businesses that can help one another, and bring awareness to the public about what we do, how we do it, and why,” Kearney says about the brand managers.

He adds that this time of year, people are all about shopping and purchasing more.

“Clothing is a big piece of the puzzle and while people are receiving new items, we want to encourage them to donate the old stuff, not throw it away or let it sit in a closet,” he says. “Donate it and it will go on to serve others and preserve the environment at the same time.”

Youth Challenge

Cleveland also is home to Youth Challenge Sports, an organization that assists children and young adults with disabilities through physical activity.

Sarah Perez-Stable, director of volunteer services at Youth Challenge Sports, says once volunteers are trained and shadow a program, they are free to help out at activities season after season.

Youth Challenge (youthchallengesports.com) provides opportunities for sports and recreation, including basketball, baseball, football, kickball, volleyball, goalball, soccer, tennis, golf, archery, track and field, karate, fencing, swimming, rock climbing, kayaking, bocce, dance, drama, art, music, field trips, mixers, parties and more.

The programs are held at the facilities in Westlake and Shaker Heights, or off-site at bowling alleys, recreation centers, parks and pools, museums, art studios and more.

Youth Challenge volunteers must be at least age 12.

“While the majority of our programs run with the help of teen volunteers (generally junior high and high school students) who are paired one-on-one with participants and help them adapt each activity,” Perez-Stable says, “we also work with corporate and community groups (Scout troops, churches and schools) who are looking for ‘done in a day’ projects.”

She adds the organization does have a need for adult volunteers at its Youth Empowerment & Leadership Project (YELP) programs.

“Through Youth Challenge, participants with physical disabilities do so much more than simply play sports,” she says. “They are given the chance to be a part of a team and make lifelong friendships; build confidence by focusing on their abilities instead of their limitations; and push themselves to try new things they never thought possible. By helping their partners do these things, volunteers in turn learn to appreciate, embrace and value the differences of others; build leadership skills and self-esteem; and feel empowered by serving those around them — all while having fun in the process.”

Local Community Efforts

If you would like your family to contribute to those in need in your local community, consider volunteering at your city’s human services organization or food bank.

Some cities join together in their efforts to reach more community members.

Broadview Heights Director of Human Services Amy Washabaugh says the community has been working alongside Brecksville, Seven Hills and Independence for the annual Yuletide Hunger program, a non-perishable food collection drive.

“It is a great way to volunteer as a family — and many families do,” she says.

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