’Tis the season for giving thanks and giving back, and even if you don’t have much money, you can give of your time, talents and more. From something as simple as taking photos of animals, reading a children’s book and hosting a party to tutoring, mentoring and providing foster care, the ways to contribute to our community are endless — and there are ways of giving back that are uniquely suited to you. We’ve rounded up this list of 16 unexpected ways you can give back to the community, so you can find the way that you’d like to engage in the community you call home. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and as Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things — only small things with great love.”
So, get out there and do some small things with great love. It might change the world, but it will most certainly change you!
16 Unexpected Ways to Give Back
1. Host a dinner with friends.
Two years ago, Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) created an engaging and out-of-the-box fundraising idea called Gather. “We define Gather as a group of people who host dinners —potlucks, high-end, private and public — and believe in Jones Valley Teaching Farm,” says JVTF Executive Director Amanda Storey. “The Gather community thrives on tradition and community, momentum and change, and it raises money and support for Good School Food, JVTF’s PreK-12 food education model in Birmingham City Schools.” Anyone can host a Gather event at any time of the year, and they can be as fancy or as low-key as you like!
How to get involved: Invite your friends and charge a ticket price or simply collect donations at your dinner. You can submit your donations online at jvtf.org/give or via snail mail to 701 25th St. N., Birmingham, AL 35203. Inform your guests about the work of Jones Valley Teaching Farm, then have fun and know that you are connecting your community to Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s food education work with students. Lastly, make sure to take photos and post on social media with the hashtag #jvtfgather. To learn more, visit jvtfgather.com.
2. Become a “Big.”
Volunteer to serve as a mentor to a child. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham matches children facing adversity with a volunteer mentor. These mentors, or “Bigs,” as they’re called, spend time one-on-one with a child, or “Little,” as a positive role model. Time together might include taking in a Baron’s game, seeing a movie, helping with homework, visiting a museum or just hanging out. “Giving two hours of quality time a month to a child makes a huge impact,” says Brooke McKinley, Director of PR & Marketing at Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Research shows that children in this program are less likely to skip school, less likely to begin using drugs and more likely to get along with their families and peers.”
How to get involved: Those interested in becoming a mentor can attend a volunteer information session at the Big Brothers Big Sisters office at 1901 14th Ave. S., Birmingham, AL 35205, held every Thursday at noon and 6 p.m. To learn more, visit bhambigs.org.
3. Deliver a meal.
Volunteer to provide a meal for homeless women and their children as they work towards finding hope, seeking opportunity and growing spiritually, thereby achieving their full potential. First Light provides a haven for these women, and they are always looking for volunteers to help bring hope. “People can even host an afternoon of fun activities, such as a movie party with snacks or game playing with practical prizes,” says Deborah Everson of First Light, who hosts a monthly volunteer orientation. “It’s much more than a meal and a bed, so we want volunteers to feel they are part of the mission.” The shelter is also always in need of supplies and, of course, donations.
How to get involved: Anyone wishing to become an overnight volunteer must first attend an orientation. Being that First Light is a confidential shelter, it is important that volunteers understand who is here, why they are here and how the shelter tries to help them. To learn more, visit firstlightshelter.org/give_hope.
4. Take the pie-in-the-face challenge.
Unless U is committed to serving adults with developmental disabilities and their families through continuing education, life skills, social skills and an environment that promotes independence. “Take our pie-in-the-face challenge. It’s so much fun!” says Unless U Executive Director and Teacher Lindy Williamson Cleveland. “We encourage businesses and schools to participate as a group.” Get out your paper plates and whipped cream, and accept the pie-in-the-face challenge to help the school raise funds for a prospective future home. “Pass on the Pie” and donate $10 or take the pie in the face and donate $5. Or you can volunteer your time to assist with daily activities, field trips, fine arts performances and clerical tasks.
How to get involved: For the pie-in-the-face challenge, video yourself taking a pie in the face, and challenge at least three friends! Copy and paste these directions in your Facebook post:
Go to our facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/Unless-U-782727978454654/.
To become a volunteer, fill out the volunteer application and code of conduct, and submit them to Lindy Williamson Cleveland at [email protected]. Volunteers must be 16 years of age or older. Once the application has been reviewed, applicants will undergo a background check. For more information, visit unlessu.org.
5. Tutor someone learning to read or learning to speak English.
Give your time and talent to help people learn to read better and speak English at the Literacy Council of Central Alabama. You don’t have to be an educator or former educator to become a Literacy Council tutor, either! “Literacy Council tutors are truly the heart and soul of our agency. They are one of our most valuable assets,” says Missy Burchard of the Literacy Council. “They are the boots on the ground. Ask any of our tutors and they will tell you that tutoring at the Literacy Council is very fulfilling and they get just as much out of tutoring as our learners do out of their lessons.” The agency teaches volunteers how to become tutors and provides support.
How to get involved: Potential tutors start by attending a free volunteer orientation session prior to registering for training. A short general orientation is held on the first Thursday of every month at various times. Then, adult literacy and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) tutor trainings take place on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an hour-and-a-half lunch break. Both the orientation and tutor trainings are held at the Literacy Council office at 2301 First Ave. N., Ste. 102, Birmingham, AL 35203. For more information, visit alliteracycouncil.wordpress.com or call (205) 326-1925.
6. Share your pet with others in need of a little love.
Hand in Paw provides a unique way to give back by to the community through sharing your pet with others in a meaningful and impactful way. “We provide animal-assisted therapy to over 100 locations in North-Central Alabama thanks to our amazing volunteers,” says Catherine Gregory, volunteer department supervisor at Hand in Paw. “We serve hospitals, schools, nursing homes and many others by providing a wide spectrum of visits from targeted therapy work with a professional to friendship, patience and motivation.” This beloved organization has more than 100 locations on their waitlist for therapeutic services, so the more volunteer therapy animals they have, the better equipped they will be to meet the community’s needs!
How to get involved: A therapy animal is your own pet who lives with you — be it a dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig, goat or other animal. To start the volunteer process, your animal must be 1 year old, have up-to-date shots and have lived in your home for six months. The first step is to complete a volunteer application online at handinpaw.org. After completing a workshop and passing an evaluation, you and your animal are a Hand in Paw Therapy Team, ready to be placed in the community based on your availability and geographic location. For more information, visit handinpaw.org.
7. Become a social mentor to a woman in need.
The WellHouse rescues and helps restore victims of human trafficking, and their ministry in Leeds currently serves 22 ladies and three children. Become a social mentor and be paired with a long-term resident to guide them in their daily lives and provide spiritual help and hope. “Volunteering at The WellHouse will change your life,” says Ashley Anderson, Developmental Director at The WellHouse. “These ladies feel like less than nothing. When you provide your time to help a lady who does not know her worth, you are giving her a gift. It makes a positive impact on the community by ending this cycle of abuse and rape, and instead providing a generation with hope and love.” Interested volunteers can also organize a supply drive, provide a Bible study, deliver a meal or do a craft project.
How to get involved: Volunteer training is recommended for anyone interested in helping at The WellHouse, and social mentors are required to undergo a background check and volunteer training. Training sessions for 2016 are wrapped up but begin again in early 2017. The WellHouse’s administrative offices are located at 8121 Parkway Drive, Leeds, AL 35094. To learn more, visit the-wellhouse.org.
8. Foster a pet.
The Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) foster parents provide short-term homes for future pets who need a little extra love and attention before they can be adopted. Your home could play host to adorable puppies or kittens, as a safe place for them to grow for two to three weeks, or you could give a dog undergoing heartworm treatment a comfy spot to rest and rejuvenate for just a few short months. “Opening your heart and home to a pet in need is one of the most rewarding ways to make a difference,” says Allison Black Cornelius, president and CEO of the GBHS. “All you need is a small space and lots of love. We supply everything else.” If you can’t open your home and you’ve got photography talent, the humane society is always looking for volunteers to capture images of the newly surrendered animals as well.
How to get involved: Foster parents are required to attend a brief orientation session and must have all other pets in their home up-to-date on shots and spayed or neutered prior to having a GBHS pet placed with them. If you want to learn more about the foster care program, contact the foster care coordinator at [email protected] or apply online on gbhs.org/foster-care. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a photography volunteer with the GBHS, visit gbhs.org/volunteer and apply as a general volunteer. You will receive an email with information on upcoming orientations, where you will learn more about being a volunteer! For more information, visit gbhs.org.
9. Fulfill hospitalized children’s wish lists.
The holidays can be a difficult time for children in the hospital. “At Children’s of Alabama, child-life specialists help make these important moments of childhood special for patients, despite being hospitalized,” says Chandler Bibb, Director of Development of Children’s of Alabama. “By using age-appropriate education, preparation and supportive activities, they strive to minimize stress and help children and their families cope positively with their healthcare experience. The hospital uses donated items from the community to support these important activities.” Patients use more than 208,000 crayons, read more than 17,000 books and are even able to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other milestones all because of donated items from the community.
How to get involved: All donated supplies must be new and unused, and all donated gift items must be new and unwrapped. View the wish list and guidelines for patient donations. You can deliver all donations or toys to Children’s of Alabama via snail mail to 1600 Seventh Ave. S., Birmingham, AL 35233. For more information, visit foundation.childrensal.org or contact Kelly Baker at [email protected] or (205) 638-5014.
10. Purchase a coffee table book.
Sit. Stay. Plié. is a newly released coffee table book with gorgeous photos, celebrating the stunning beauty of the Alabama Ballet’s dancers alongside the unbridled joy of scruffy, four-legged friends given a second chance. All proceeds from the purchase of the book benefit Peace, Love and Dog Paws; Alabama Animal Adoption Society; Birmingham Boston Terrier Rescue; Alabama Chained Dogs and the Alabama Ballet. “The images give the reader a glimpse at what it takes and what it means to be a ballet dancer,” says Kay Simon, a co-producer of the book. “Our community has a jewel in the Alabama Ballet company, and we want more people to know about these amazing athletes. We also want the reader to know how hard those dedicated to animal rescue work, and ways they can make a difference in reducing the large number of unwanted animals in our state.”
11. Volunteer to assist in poetry workshops.
The Woodlawn Writers Corps is a collective of over 500 students from Avondale Elementary, Oliver Elementary and Putnam Middle School, who meet weekly in their classrooms for core-aligned poetry workshops. “We explore how poetry and language intersect with history, science, math and the arts,” says Elizabeth Hughey, Programming Director of the Desert Island Supply Co., or DISCO. “The writing workshops are designed to be challenging and fun, with the main goal of strengthening the students’ writing skills, intensifying their intellectual habits and giving them the creative tools they need to explore and document their worlds.” DISCO is always looking for volunteers to commit to assisting in the same classroom each week. At the end of each year of the Woodlawn Writers Corps, DISCO publishes a book of student poems, along with a book party and student reading at DISCO.
How to get involved: Purchase this year’s collection of poems, The Stars Are Lying, or apply to become a volunteer. Volunteers are required to have a love of reading and creative thinking. Great writing skills are helpful, but not necessary. Interested volunteers should fill out an online application at discobham.com/volunteer. For more information, visit discobham.com.
12. Speak about career awareness to a room of critically at-risk youth.
Maranathan Academy is a nonprofit school with a 25-year track record of changing the lives of critically at-risk youth throughout Birmingham and its surrounding municipalities. “Seeing the light of wonder enter the eyes of a 15-year-old who is learning to read, speaking on career awareness to a class of 12th graders, making it possible for a child to get a second chance to receive an education and helping to create a safe haven for children who have been severely bullied or abused is what individuals who choose to become involved with the work and mission of Maranathan Academy can look forward to experiencing,” says the academy’s Founder and Executive Director Donna Dukes.
How to get involved: To volunteer, sponsor or create speaking opportunities to spread the Maranathan Academy mission, contact Donna Dukes at (205) 591-8100 or email [email protected]. For more information, visit maranathanflca.org.
13. Buy gorgeous greenery.
The Red Mountain Garden Club was established in 1927 with the mission to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening through educational programs, historic preservation, conservation and civic improvement projects. Since 1955, the club’s primary project has been the design, installation and maintenance of the Memorial Garden at the Birmingham Museum of Art, which was recognized in 2010 by the American Planning Association as one of the “Top 10 Great Public Spaces in America.” The Red Mountain Garden Club’s extremely popular Annual Greenery Sale offers beautiful, fresh greenery and wreaths, mailbox decorations, mistletoe balls and boxwood trees, in addition to a curated selection of gifts and arrangements. And this year, earth-conscious shoppers can purchase compost made by WE Community Gardens at Urban Ministry. All proceeds benefit the Memorial Garden and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
How to get involved: Attend the Red Mountain Garden Club’s Annual Greenery Sale on Wednesday, November 30, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens at 2612 Lane Park Road, Birmingham, AL 35223. For more information, email Ginny Hutchinson at [email protected], or visit their Facebook page.
14. Clean out your home and donate things you don’t use.
Donate your gently used men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, accessories, shoes, home goods, electronics, furniture and more to Sozo Trading Co., an upscale thrift store in Avondale designed to create sustainable income for Sozo Children, a nonprofit ministry caring for children who have been orphaned or neglected in Uganda, Africa. And if you are a rock star in the neat freak department with no single unused item loitering in your home, offer up your organizing skills as a volunteer at the store. “We are always in need of individuals and groups to come down and help us in our warehouse to sort and organize all the donations given. Another project is cleaning up around the store property, making the store look nice and inviting for our shoppers. For instance, we have flower boxes around our signs and front door. It’s the little things like that.”
How to get involved: Take your donated goods to their store at 4 41st St. S., Birmingham, AL 35222, during operating hours on Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To schedule a pick up for large items or to set up a time to volunteer, call (205) 703-0553. For more information, visit sozotrading.org.
15. Read a story to a classroom of kids.
Volunteer yourself as a “Mystery Reader” at Mitchell’s Place, a nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive, research-based, educational, social and therapeutic services for children, adolescents and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental disabilities. And if reading aloud isn’t your thing, pitch in with some event planning! “Each year we have a fall festival, a holiday program, graduation and other school events, along with multiple outside fundraising efforts,” says Bry Davis of Mitchell’s Place. “Having extra hands during these occasions is very helpful!” Young professionals in their 20s and 30s can also serve on the Junior Council.
How to get involved: For more information about the Junior Council, contact Wes Naramore at [email protected], and for more information about volunteering as a “Mystery Reader” or party planner, contact Caroline Beauchaine at [email protected].
16. Buy holiday cards that give back.
Studio by the Tracks provides opportunities for self-expression to troubled children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders through the visual arts. If you’re considering giving a donation in honor of a friend or family member this holiday season, this nonprofit arts studio has these double-sided, embossed cards ready to mail! “We ask for a minimum $10 donation, and will hand-address each envelope to send to the recipient of your choice,” says Catherine Boyd of Studio by the Tracks. “We can also send a non-seasonal card if you prefer.” The proceeds go directly towards funding Studio by the Tracks’ programs.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” said Sir Winston Churchill. So, get out there and enrich your life by giving!
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