Tag Archives: Volunteering

‘Tis the Season for 3 Types of Gift-Giving

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 6.38.17 AMGift-giving is a complex human story which can either be inspired by the expectation of reciprocity or pure unselfishness.  Various religions deem giving as holy, a liberating act taking you out of the self and into the larger context of humanity.  And if you feel lonely and stressed, counselors and therapists will advise you to volunteer in order to meet people and get involved.

Basically, there are three styles of gift-giving.


  • Someone you know
  • Someone you don’t know
  • Someone you don’t like

Giving to someone you know sets the stage to reinforce a happy relationship. You think about the gift from the recipient’s point of view, and place a value on the relationship. This type of present involves planning, imagination and effort.  You are rewarding another person. Consequently, you are enhancing your own reputation, romancing someone, banking a favor or attracting an ally. Often there are invisible strings attached.

Giving to someone or a group you don’t know makes you an anonymous giver. The act is not about receiving acknowledgement for the thoughtfulness of your gift. The gift is an act of compassion, a spark of genuine concern to help others and put back some goodness in the world. This is the social glue which brings people together for common values.

Giving to someone you don’t like involves loving your enemy – an enormous potential for spiritual expansion. Of course, you could take the low road and make a metaphorical statement about your relationship like giving a set of knives to suggest that you have been stabbed in the back. Another option is to give a gift which highlights a salient weakness like giving a diet book to an overweight person. However, to create harmony out of discord by forgiving this person you don’t like can help you shore up your own weakness. Does the object of your anger/jealousy mirror something about yourself that you don’t like? Do you have a fear or insecurity which you are projecting? Have you honestly assessed your own shortcomings?  When you forgive, you achieve equanimity – you get even.

Aim to accomplish all three diverse styles to satisfy the different parts of your personality. Take an inventory of which personality trait dominates. Don’t forget to give yourself a gift.

What type of gift giving will you be doing this year? Share your tips in the comments below! 

Is it Possible to Give Too Much?

Giving Hands I’m a giver. Being born with a giant heart, I’ve spent my life compassionately trying to help others whenever possible. When I see a group of kids standing outside the grocery store trying to raise funds for whatever cause, I always open my wallet. Same with those who show up at the doorstep. I’ve given up nights and weekends to serve on volunteer committees. As an employer, I’ve showered my staff with bonuses and growth opportunities in gratitude for their service. At home, we regularly clean out our closets and cupboards and donate any excess we can. These actions, as small (or big) as they are, have just been a natural extension of what I stand for. Being of service to others is very fulfilling and, frankly, something the world needs more of. However, like all good things, it can have a dark side. Yes, I do believe it is possible to give too much. Let me explain.

When I went in to business for myself in 2008, we were blessed with rapid growth and business “success”. As our employee size and bottom line grew, I knew that I wanted to give back even more. I created a program for our employees to pick a cause in the community and take paid time off to volunteer. We also donated to many others causes through sponsorships and workplace giving programs. I was invited to chair a local non-profit event, which was a pretty big undertaking, but my big heart told me to say yes as I dove right in to the responsibility. And, any time a friend asked for support on a project of their own, I was there to help them in any way I could. It felt great to have the capacity to give back so much. So, what was the problem?

After several years of very strong business growth, we experienced our first major down cycle. The company started losing money. Fast. Instead of laying people off right away, which would have been a strategic business decision, I felt compelled to work even harder to get our profits back up and keep things chugging along. Tried as I did, the economy was taking its toll. I was essentially losing tons of money to keep others on the payroll. Ouch. The ship was taking on water fast and I had to do something before it went under. Alas, I had to get smart and do what my heart dreaded – lay people off.

At this point, I felt like a failure. I was stressed about money. My heart ached for those who had to find new jobs and I felt guilty because they would struggle to pay their bills. I was hard on myself for not magically pulling it all together. On top of that, I was spread very thin with my volunteer work, my home life, and I had just recently become pregnant with our second daughter at the time. People continued to call on me to ask for help, but I finally had to draw the line in the sand and say “no”. I just couldn’t do it any more. It was time to help myself.

I secretly wanted my former employees to be like “thank you for keeping us on so long even though I know you were losing a lot of money.” Some of them did. But, others, of course, were stressed out about their own situation and a little less gracious. Some even hurtful. I wanted the organizations that I volunteered for to be like “Oh, we totally understand. Go take care of yourself and your family.” And, some of them were. But, others seemed disappointed and became less friendly when I couldn’t put in the hours any more. I wanted the friends whose projects I couldn’t support to be like “I understand you can’t support all of them..” And, most of them were. But, others took offense when I didn’t help.

So, here I was, at a pretty low point in my life. I was trying to resurrect my business, feeling horrible about it, and trying to take a step back to pull myself together so I could focus on what mattered most, the beautiful life I was creating inside my tummy. And, instead of offering support, some of the very people that my big heart had gone out of its way to help in the past were upset or disappointed in me because I could not or would not give to them any more. That twisted the knife even more. And, it hurt.

But, I couldn’t blame them, really. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn’t their fault. It was I that had taught them how to treat me, after all. I had spent so much time give, give, giving that I never set clear boundaries for myself and what my personal limitations were. In my eagerness to help others, I forgot to help myself. People got so use to me being a “yes” that they seemed less than satisfied when I finally had to say “no.’ Also, it had occurred to me that, even in my toughest times, I never asked anybody else for help. I had let the world know that I was a huge giver, but sent a message that I was some sort of superwoman that didn’t need any help. Therefore people were, go figure, not likely to offer their support. Truth be told, whether in the form of understanding, compassion, or just a little pat on the back to say, “it will be okay,” I would have been wide open to receiving that type of encouragement.

Like with all times of trouble, here within lied some incredibly valuable lessons for me. I used the turmoil I was experiencing in my outside world as a reflection of my inner-workings and took some time to go inward and grow from it all.

I’ve since prioritized what matters most in my life and choose to focus my time and energy on what makes my heart expand with love. I accept that, inevitably, I will have to disappoint some people along the way. And, unapologetically so. We simply can’t help everyone. I’ve discovered that we can work more efficiently and have a greater reach when our own truth and boundaries are honored. Often, saying no to others often means saying yes to our own life and dreams.

I’ve learned that everything needs to be in balance to experience harmony. So, I’ve put my intention out into the Universe that, as much as I give, I also want to feel supported. It’s a yin and a yang thing. And, since then, many special people and blessings have turned up in my life. When we are open to receiving, the Universe shows up for us.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have the same big huge heart that I was born with. And, when my cup floweth over, you betcha I’m going to share with those who need it. But, now I am careful not to empty out my own cup completely in the process. I have to honor myself and my family first. Then, I can divvy out what’s leftover as I see fit. People respect and understand personal boundaries. But it is up to us to effectively communicate them.

It’s amazing how much more you can give when you’re careful not to give too much. It’s also pretty remarkable just how much more support you receive once you open yourself up to it and let the Universe know you are ready.

To my fellow big-hearted ones, may you continue to bless others with your graciousness. But, please remember to take care of yourself and be ever-so-careful not to empty out your own cup in the process.


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photo by: Artotem

A Million Reasons to Volunteer This 4th of July

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 10.40.44 PMBy Levi Newman

I’d like to believe that most of us are actively looking for ways to live healthier, more meaningful lives. It may be a “glass half full” way to view life, but to me you should always be looking to do more with the time you have. That’s why I think we should become more responsible citizens of this planet by finding ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Think about it; we’re always asking for help from dieticians, aestheticians, yoga instructors and life gurus, but how often do we ask what we can do for someone else? I’m going to let you in on a secret that I’ve been using to fill my own health and wellness needs—it’s called volunteering.

Wait, you mean you’ve heard of it? Okay, you caught me, it’s not a secret, but it is amazingly good for you!

There are a million and one reasons to volunteer at either a local or global level, but let’s focus on just a few. For starters, people who volunteer are linked to having better mental, physical and emotional health. According to a study by the UnitedHealth Group and Optum Institute, 76 percent of people surveyed said volunteering made them feel physically healthier, while another 78 percent reported lower stress levels. Researchers at the London School of Economics have even found a correlation between the amount you volunteer and the chances you’ll have of being “very happy.” In essence, the more you volunteer, the happier you become.

Of course, I don’t need statistics to tell me that if I trimmed my waistline and dropped some stress that I’d be a lot happier.

Did you also know that people who volunteer are more likely to land paid employment? In fact, people who volunteer are 27 percent more likely to find a job according to research by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Looks like all that time you spent passing out meals on Thanksgiving could pay even more dividends than you imagined.

Let’s not forget the social aspect. Your selfless service helps your community grow and come together. In today’s society we can sometimes lose those close ties because of social media, so it’s imperative that we build strong bonds with those around us. And while making new friends, expanding your social network (hooray for jobs!) and even boosting your interpersonal skills are important facets, we’re not even scratching the surface of the benefits of volunteering.

We’ve talked all about the selfish—in a good way—reasons we should volunteer, but let’s talk about how volunteering our valuable time affects those in need.

The single most important thing you provide those you serve is hope, and even a little hope inspires. Giving your time, time you may have otherwise wasted on some mundane, forgettable task, could have been time used to inspire someone that may have all but given up on life. It doesn’t matter if it’s volunteering at a food bank like Feeding America, or rebuilding communities around the globe with Team Rubicon, the point is that you’re providing a service to people that truly need help.

Volunteering is one of the few activities on earth that benefits the givers as much as the recipients. That’s why when you’re looking to take on a new hobby, project or adventure, choose something that can impact someone’s life in a positive way. It doesn’t matter if you decide to start down the street at a local church, or choose to take on the big jobs with the United Nations, know that you’re making the right decision.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we’re all looking to be happier people living more fruitful lives, I challenge you to take those words and volunteer to be that change. Here’s hoping I see you out there.

* * *

-1Levi Newman, a 10-year Army veteran and graduate of the University of Missouri, currently serves as the senior author for the Veterans United Network. He also works as the Director of Outreach for Veterans United Home Loans, where he builds and maintains relationships with businesses, organizations and individuals.

Reach Further: Your Life is Only As Big As the Communities You Serve

In a recent TED Talk, Dan Pallotta boldly stated, “No one ever went bankrupt giving to charity.” I love that line. The words remind us that we can give a little cash and still have enough to fill our own needs. That’s true of our energy, too. We can give a little time and still have enough to do the things we need to do.

So often we get caught up in the complexities of our lives and forget that we co-exist in a big world filled with people who need our help.  My vlog today is a loving challenge to parents. The hope is to inspire families to work together to serve the greater community, to spend time helping folks who can offer them absolutely nothing in return. Today’s message focuses specifically on parents because I blog about mindful mothering on Bringing Up Buddhas; but really this message is for everyone. CEOs and introverts, democrats and yogis, students and circus performers. We all have something to give.

So I’m officially dubbing this season the Summer of Service. A perfect time to let our babies use their superpowers to give freely, love wildly, and live fully.

Click to read the Huff Post article.

Click to read the story of my mentee and me.

The True Meaning of Life: In One Word

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve probably asked yourself this question time and time again. It’s a timeless question indeed — and something we’ve all been trying to figure out in this big, wacky, wonderful world.

What is the true meaning of life?

No matter what job title you hold, how many zeroes you have in your paycheck or where you came from, I know the TRUE MEANING OF LIFE can be summed up in one word: SERVICE.

Don’t believe me? Ask the 14th Dalai Lama himself. I was inspired to write this post after a stranger (who happens to be a Bay Area meditation teacher) gave me this lovely card. It was given to him during a visit from the Dalai Lama. So I wanted to share this gift with you:

I framed it and keep it in my apartment as a reminder that even though life is an intricate, complex layer of experiences, the meaning of life and key to joy is through giving back and serving others. I used to think being a TV reporter in a big news market and for PBS would bring me joy. I had it all figured out. I would go to a small market, medium market and then large market, uncover injustices as a journalist and make good money etc… etc… etc.

All of my dreams manifested, however, I still found myself feeling empty. My soul was still not satisfied. I was hungry for something else.

I believe we are all brought here on Earth for a reason. As a child, I remember praying to God and asking, “Please use me, use my life to make a difference, to help others.” As a student at the University of San Francisco, on the long Muni bus rides to my internships, I’d ask myself, “What am I supposed to do with my life? Why am I here? Am I on the right track?”

I felt like the Santiago, the little shepherd boy in Paulo Coehlo‘s, The Alchemist (one of my favorite books) who was searching for the treasure in the Egyptian pyramids that would bring him happiness. I too, was searching for that “treasure,” only to become disillusioned after I found it.

After many personal and professional twists and turns, I’ve finally found the joy that I was searching for through serving others via my nonprofit, Go Inspire Go (GIG). I believe we all have a power, some sort of talent that comes naturally to us. But it isn’t just about discovering this gift and keeping it to yourself.

As I’ve experienced, the true joy comes from giving it away. I am grateful to use my power of connecting with people and telling their stories to spark civic engagement and ultimately change. Service is the meaning of life and what will ultimately bring you joy.

Our hope is that the stories on GIG’s YouTube channel will help you “Discover and use your power to help others.” Along this journey, I’ve met incredible people from all walks of life — the true treasures in my life. I’d love your feedback on how these stories made you feel and what you will do to make someone else’s life better.

As you will witness from our stories, it doesn’t take much effort, just a small action. What can you do to serve others? Onward!

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Lotus Bloom Child & Family Resource Center – Closing the Achievement Gap

Go Inspire Go (GIG) is proud to share this month’s Social Good Spotlight, to raise awareness of individuals and organizations doing good in their communities in order to inspire others to take action and ultimately make real social change. GIG believes everyone can find inspiration in helping others, whether it’s through doing small acts of kindness or working at an organization dedicated to making a difference. If you know of an individual or organization that you think should be featured, please email Marcia and help us forward their stories to inspire the world.GIG Social Good Spotlight: 
LOTUS BLOOM CHILD & FAMILY RESOURCE CENTER – Uplifting Children and Closing the Achievement Gap
by Marcia Estarija Silva

“Often times, I see parents and children smile more, talk more, and playing together more.  These are indicators that our participants are gaining new skills and building on their school readiness skills.” – Angela Louie Howard, Executive Director

What is Lotus Bloom Child & Family Resource Center?
Lotus Bloom is a multicultural organization based in Oakland, California that develops and provides a safe, loving environment for inner-city children and families, offering developmental play and art activities to children from 0 to 5 years of age.  Last year, the center served approximately 600 individuals, of which 144 children and 138 adults participated in its 0-5 year old multicultural playgroups.

What is Lotus Bloom’s mission? What big changes is it trying to make?
Lotus Bloom’s mission is to empower individuals to realize their full potential and transcend their dreams into reality. In education, the “achievement gap” refers to the differences in academic performance – academic grades, standardized-test scores, drop-out rates, college-completion rates – and is most often used to describe the performance gaps between students from low-income families and those who are better off. In Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood, 86% of 3rd graders were not reading at grade level and kindergarten teachers reported that children entering school had no preschool or early care experience. To help fill this achievement gap, several local volunteers and social service providers came together to form Lotus Bloom in the Fall of 2006 to offer free access to playgroup and school readiness programs.

Counting and singing during circle time

How is Lotus Bloom using its power to help others?
Nationwide, the data is startling – 29 percent of 2-year-olds in poverty demonstrated proficiency in listening comprehension, compared with 39 percent of those at or above poverty, and 55 percent of those in poverty were proficient in expressive vocabulary, compared with 67 percent at or above poverty. The disparity increases in later years. Twenty percent of 4-year-olds in poverty were proficient in letter recognition, compared with 37 percent of their peers at or above poverty. Forty-five percent of 4-year-olds in poverty demonstrated proficiency in numbers and shapes, compared with 72 percent of their peers at or above poverty.

Dedicated to working with diverse populations and connecting people of different backgrounds to work collaboratively, Lotus Bloom promotes language development and early learning experiences through playgroups and classes, such as Asian Community Mental Health Playgroups, multicultural play groups by age, and Parent Child Yoga,. Many of these classes are free or offered or on a sliding scale of $1-$5 per child, per day.

Students learn about color mixing by blowing paint around on a canvas

What inspires Lotus Bloom to do this work?
“Seeing children and families make progress everyday inspires me to do the work, whether it is watching children play with other children, holding a pencil for the first time, or writing their first name,” said Angela Louie Howard, Executive Director.

The majority of the families that go to Lotus Bloom come from low-income backgrounds and third world countries and the concept of learning through play is a new concept to them. “I love to see parents in our programs get acculturated, learn new skills, new songs, count in different languages, and make new friends,” she said.

Getting their hands dirty on a field trip to Funk Town Farm, 
a local neighborhood farm in the San Antonio neighborhood

What is Lotus Bloom focusing on now? 
Lotus Bloom is working on a licensed community kitchen in order to help incubate small catering and food services within the community. The San Antonio neighborhood is plagued with fast food restaurants, such as McDonalds and Churches Chicken, and the organization wants to help the local neighborhood make use of their own cooking resources and build healthy and sustainable food programs. Food is also a great way to bring people together to share knowledge and culture and strengthen the community.

How can GIGSTERS get involved and support Lotus Bloom?
•Purchase a NSF certified oven/stove for their licensed community kitchen
•Volunteer and help by:
— Working on our backyard to build community garden
— Providing administrative support
— Starting and facilitating a parent leadership group
— Participating on Lotus Bloom’s Board of Directors
— Plan and administer two fundraisers
• Donate and provide financial resources to support our work

To volunteer or get more information on how to support Lotus Bloom, click here to fill out their contact form.

Gifts That Give Back: Gifts Of Family, Education And Perspective

By Jessica Chang,  voluntrekkers.com

I could smell it before I could see it. I had to cover my face with my hand to continue on. I didn’t even realize where it came from till I got there. The slums – a side of Jakarta, Indonesia most tourists don’t usually get to – or necessarily want to see. I was there in 2007 as a volunteer for a nonprofit organization, called International Humanity Foundation (IHF), escorted by a handful of children who I was there to work with on a digital photo project. This was their home – a place where no child should grow up.

It wasn’t long before I discovered where that stench originated – a mountain of trash right there in the middle of their “neighborhood”, just a few steps away from the homes.

The people there constructed their shack-houses with whatever materials they could find – bricks and plywood for their walls, tin and metal scraps for their roofs and random pieces of wood to fill in the gaps. A whole family lived in one shack the size of a walk-in closet by American standards.

Some homes had a river running through their backyard – a brown, multipurpose source for cooking, bathing and washing their clothes.

The children there ran around with no shoes on, making me nervous about what their little feet could step on. No matter the filth and squalor that surrounded them, I was struck by how happy these children seemed. They played, like any other kid, but they also helped their parents by collecting pieces of trash to reuse and resell, and made toys out of scraps. Xbox, PlayStation and iPod were not part of their vocabulary. They knew no different.

They also knew of no future outside these slums. That’s where the International Humanity Foundation steps in. Their local volunteers find orphans and impoverished children to live in their orphanage/safe-home, where they have a solid roof over their heads, regular meals and opportunities to go to school. When I was volunteering there, seven children lived in the center.

They were a family – the older ones picking up the younger ones from school, cooking with each other, singing together.

They were beautiful and loving children, so grateful for the chance to have a home, an education and a promising future they never thought was possible before IHF.

IHF provides these opportunities to children around the world. The organization has six different centers – four in Indonesia (Jakarta, Bali, Medan and Aceh); one in Chiang Rai, Thailand and another in Nakuru, Kenya. While it doesn’t cost much for a child to live there, IHF needs our help to give more children a chance to live on.

For $37 a month, you can bring a child into an orphanage/safe-home. That cost covers food, toiletries, housing, clothing, utilities and housemother wages.

For $10 a month, you can send a child to school. Public education is not free in most developing countries, which is why poor children can’t afford to attend. Many of those children end up working in sweatshops and rice fields instead.

For $30 a month, you can sponsor a class of 15-20 students taught by volunteers at each center. That’s just $1.50-2.00 per student! Because IHF cannot afford to send every child to a public school, volunteers teach English, math and computer classes.

For $15 a month, you can sponsor a child’s medical and dental expenses, including regular exams, prescription medications and emergency care.

Please go to International Humanity Foundation’s website for more information and to sponsor a child or a class.

Sponsoring a child through IHF is one gift that gives back, but how would you like meet them in person? Maybe you can plan your next vacation in Indonesia, Thailand or Kenya. My trip to Jakarta in 2007 has forever made an impact on my soul. While I was there to teach the children photography and English, I gained so much more in return. The children there taught me about compassion, resilience and the importance of family. They helped me put my life into perspective and realize how privileged, and often spoiled, we are in the United States, and that happiness isn’t measured by how much money you have or the car you drive, but by the people you have around you.

That trip got me hooked as a voluntrekker. Since then, I was consumed by wanderlust – waiting for the right time, when I had enough money, when I could take a break from work to serve others in a third world country again. This past summer, I made it happen. I spent three months traveling and volunteering in 2 other countries in Southeast Asia – teaching English in a rural village in Thailand and taking care of disabled orphans in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. That was the best gift I could ever give myself. To read about my experiences and voluntrekking opportunities for you, visit my blog – voluntrekkers.com.

No matter a donation or a volunteer vacation, you make your mark around the world.

Jessica Chang is a journalist, volunteer, traveler and adventurer. To learn more about her and her volunteering adventures, visit her blog voluntrekkers.com.

Gifts That Give Back: 5 Reasons To Serve

Service is a word that shows up a lot these days. It can mean very different things, depending on whether we are talking about sports, cell phones, the military or volunteerism. In ServiceSpace, an organization where I volunteer, we use the word to refer to the practice of selfless giving — something that each one of us has the capacity to do. When we do take that opportunity, it turns out that we benefit tremendously. Here are five reasons to serve:

1. Serve to discover abundance: the radical shift from me to we

When you serve, you discover that often the most important things you have to offer are not things at all. You start to uncover the full range of resources at your disposal — your time, presence, attention — and recognize that the ability to give stems from a state of mind and heart, a place much deeper than the material. Inspired by the possibilities this opens up in every moment, you begin to discover humble opportunities to serve — everywhere.

This process begins a shift from a me-orientation to a we-orientation. You start to look at people and situations with an eye for what you can offer them and not vice versa. You break the tiresome tyranny of questions like “What’s in it for me?” The mindset shifts from consumption to contribution. Paradoxically, serving in this way, you are no longer operating from a space of scarcity. Your cup fills and overflows.

2. Serve to express gratitude

Such joyful gratitude becomes a foundation in service. When you acknowledge the fullness of your life, you can manifest a heart of service in any situation. In that sense, service doesn’t start when we have something to give — it blossoms naturally when we have nothing left to take. And that is a powerful place to be.

Yes, external change is required for the world to progress, but when coupled with inner transformation, it can affect the world in a radically different way. “We can do no great things — only small things with great love,” maintained Mother Teresa, a woman who made a difference to the lives of millions. It’s a matter of what we focus on. Or, in other words, it’s not just what we do that matters, but the inner impetus behind our action that really counts.

3. Serve to transform yourself

Any time we practice the smallest act of service, even if it’s only holding a door for somebody, but doing it with a full heart that says, “May I be of use to this person,” that kind of giving changes the deep habit of being self-centered. In that brief moment, there is other-centeredness. That other-centeredness relaxes the patterns of the ego, a collection of unexamined, self-oriented tendencies that subtly influence our choices. This is why no true act of service, however small, can ever really be wasted.

To serve unconditionally in this way takes practice and constant effort. But with time and sharpened awareness, we begin to brush against the potential for transformation that is embedded in every act of generosity. It’s a realization that “Oh — when I give, I actually receive.” You begin to internalize this, not at the intellectual level but by experience.

4. Serve to honor our profound interconnection

Over time, all of those small acts, those small moments, lead to a different state of being. A state in which service becomes increasingly effortless. And as this awareness grows, you inevitably start to perceive beyond individualistic patterns: each small act of service is an unending ripple that synergizes with countless others.

As Rachel Naomi Remen puts it, “When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole.” With that understanding, we begin to play our part — first, by becoming conscious of the offerings we receive, then by feeling gratitude for them, and finally by continuing to pay forward our gifts with a heart of joy. Each of us has such gifts: skills, material resources, connections, presence — everything we consider ourselves privileged to have. And when we actually start to use our gifts as tools to facilitate giving, we deepen our understanding of relationships and start to sync up with this vast “inner-net.

5. Serve to align with a natural unfolding

When we increasingly choose to remain in that space of service, we start to see new things. The needs of the current situation become clearer, we become instruments of a greater order and consequently our actions become more effortless. When a group of people perform this kind of service as a practice, it creates an ecosystem that holds a space, allowing value to emerge organically. All of this indirect value, the ripple effect, has space and time to add up, synergize with other ripples, and multiply into something completely unexpected. In humble fashion these ripples continue to seed unpredictable manifestations. Such an ecosystem can have its plans and strategies, but places more emphasis on emergent co-creation. So a lot of the ripples will remain unseen for years; some perhaps will be the basis for a seventh-generation philanthropy. It doesn’t matter, because they are unconditional gifts.

What each of us can do, on a personal level, is make such small offerings of service that ultimately create the field for deeper change. The revolution starts with you and me.

Nipun Mehta is the founder of Servicespace.org, an incubator of gift-economy projects that aims to shift our collective narrative towards greater generosity.  This article is a result of a collaborative effort that included several ServiceSpace coordinators.

This week on Intentblog, we will be featuring 1-2 new blog posts a day that will give you ideas for gifts that give back this holiday season: charities you can donate to, products you can buy that give back to worthy causes, and more. Check back every day this week until December 25 for more blog posts on gifts that give back. 

Giving the Gift of You: Serving Your Community

To live harmoniously, we need to be supportive and helpful to all people, creatures, and plant life that share this earth with us. While “being of service” is part of being a good citizen of the world, it also feels good to help others. When we do something for others in service, without the expectation of anything in return, we are turning our actions into offerings.

There are many ways to be of service to our community. There are the obvious and much needed volunteer opportunities, such as serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter, mentoring our youth, or cleaning up a beach. Then, there is the kind of service that we may not even think of as being acts of service. Learning a new language (perhaps sign language) so that you can talk to more people is a way to reach out to others. Inviting someone who isn’t motivated enough to exercise on their own to join you on your daily walk is a way to give of yourself. Sharing flowers or vegetables from your garden, organizing a poetry reading, offering to babysit for a busy parent, or donating pet food to an animal shelter all are simple ways to offer your services to your community.

There are many ways that you can serve the world. Imagine the impact we would have on the environment if we picked up one piece of trash off the street everyday and chose not to drive our car once a week. Even gardening tactics such as throwing wildflower seeds onto a vacant lot can brighten the lives of others – including the lives of birds and insects. Everyday, you can do something to make this world a better place. During meditation, ask for guidance on what you can do to be of service. This can be a wonderful way to start your day. Smiling at a stranger who looks down in the dumps or teaching your neighborhood kids how to whistle will impact someone’s day or even their life. Giving of yourself is the best gift that you can give.

A Volunteer Story to Inspire All of Us

If you asked me who my heroes are, my answer would be: my mother (the subject of a future blog post) and Alison Thompson. Whether responding to an earthquake in Haiti, a tsunami in SE Asia, or a terrorist attack here on US soil, Thompson selflessly devotes her life to serving those in need.

I had the good fortune to work with Thompson on compiling and editing her memoir about volunteering around the world, The Third Wave, which hits bookstores this week. However, I am writing this article for just one reason: because knowing Thompson has made me a better person.

Ten years ago on September 11, most New Yorkers fled lower Manhattan in horror as the first World Trade Center tower collapsed in a paroxysm of glass, metal and fire. Not Alison Thompson. The investment banker-turned-filmmaker feared that many of her friends, who had been working on the building’s top floors, were at that very moment fighting for their lives. "I had to help," she recounted.

So Thompson strapped on her rollerblades and fought her way south from her apartment against an endless stream of shell-shocked refugees toward Ground Zero. There, she tore off her blades and dove, unmasked and unprotected, into the rubble to search for signs of life. The petite blonde-haired, blue-eyed young woman must have appeared as a hallucination to anyone who caught sight of her through the dusty haze: an angel descended to Earth.

Thompson remained volunteering at Ground Zero for the next nine months with the Red Cross, caretaking the rescue workers. The experience gave her "the volunteering bug." She realized that service to others mattered more to her than any career objectives or personal goals.

Therefore when a massive tsunami hit Southeast Asia just three years later in December 2004, Thompson dropped everything to go help. Her boyfriend at the time, Oscar Gubernati, decided to join her. They quickly pulled together their meager savings, solicited donations of medical supplies and took off for Sri Lanka, where they wound up living for the next 14 months. Partnering with volunteers Donny Paterson of Australia and Bruce French of Colorado, they rebuilt the coastal village of Peraliya, including a school, hospital and shelters for hundreds of people.

In Sri Lanka, Thompson relentlessly combated corruption from international NGOs and death threats from disgruntled locals who accused her team of pocketing their aid money. She witnessed people at the edge of survival behaving cruelly towards one another and at one point "lost faith in humanity." But in the end, laughing with local children or consoling a grieving mother always kept her going.

Thompson’s background makes her uniquely suited to a life of volunteer work. Born and raised "in the bush" of Australia by missionary parents, she spent her childhood traveling to remote areas of Asia. Moreover, she acquired valuable nursing credentials by working for years at her mother’s elderly hospital.

Nevertheless, leading the relief efforts in Peraliya taught Thompson that everyone who wants to help can, regardless of their training or expertise. She witnessed dozens of volunteers with "no skills" make a positive impact in Sri Lanka. "You don’t have to be a doctor or a construction worker to be of service after a crisis," Thompson insisted. "Anyone can give a hug."

Being a filmmaker, Thompson had brought a video camera with her to Sri Lanka. Upon returning to the US, she put together a documentary to inspire other people to volunteer. Sean Penn ended up choosing "The Third Wave" as his Presidential pick at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. That’s why, when an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince in January 2010, Penn reached out to Thompson first. He texted her just one word: "Haiti??"

Within 48 hours, Thompson had gathered an expert team of doctors, and Penn had solicited a major donation from Bosnian philanthropist Diana Jenkins. Donna Karan offered her private jet to fly Alison’s team from Manhattan to Miami. Penn’s political pull got them all safely into Port-au-Prince. Thompson then spent months helping Penn to establish the Jenkins/Penn Haiti Relief Organization, or J/P HRO, which manages one of the largest tent villages in the city.

Thompson has remained working in Haiti ever since. However, she has left Penn’s non-profit to run her own, called We Advance, which she co-founded with actress/activist Maria Bello and lawyer Aleda Frishman. The NGO’s vision is to advance the health, safety, and well being of Haitian women.

Winking, Thompson said, "Come to Haiti to help. You’ll lose weight, get a tan, make hundreds of new friends and save lives. You might even fall in love like I did." Thompson met her new love, Albert Gomez of Miami, while volunteering in Port-au-Prince.

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