Dec 9, 2015

Giving back for the holidays 2015 edition

Ashland University

Winter break is a great time for high school students to start actively volunteering in their communities. Nonprofit organizations are in desperate need of hands-on help as well as donations to help make the season a little more festive for those in need.
And if you’re waiting to hear from colleges or are otherwise stressed out by the college application process, what better way to work off nervous energy than by helping others?    
For those ready to accept the challenge, here are some holiday ideas for more “entrepreneurial” high school students: 
  • Organize a toy collection drive. Find a “Giving Tree” (or other community gift exchange for kids) or add contributions you’ve collected The Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots initiative.
  • Sponsor a family for the holidays.
  • Host a food drive or volunteer at a local food pantry or food bank. Check out Youth Service America’s service learning lesson plans for some ideas on projects targeted to ending childhood hunger.
  • Gather classmates to make holiday cards to distribute to local nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, and to send to troops overseas. Visit for specifics!
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter or a family crisis center. Enlist friends and family to help cook and/or serve a meal to those in need. Or organize a holiday party complete with decorations and presents.  The National Coalition for the Homeless offers a number of ways for volunteers to help combat homelessness and support families in shelters. 
  • Put your craft skills to work and host a sewing party to make sleeping bags or blankets for the homeless. Check out Maddie’s Blankets to see what one local high school student was able to do.
  • Organize a coat drive and donate the items to One Warm Coat.
  • Host a present-wrapping table at your local mall or help wrap presents for an organization serving others. The wrapping service provided at the Fair Oaks Mall by DECA students from Fairfax County Public Schools is a great example.
  • Sponsor a gift card drive and collect cards from local grocery and department stores to donate to organizations serving the needy.
  • Rake leaves, shovel snow, prepare a meal, or simply visit an elderly neighbor or relative.  It’s estimated that over 50 percent of nursing home residents never have visitors.This simple gesture can make a world of difference during the holidays (and throughout the year).
  • Organize a knitting circle, get yarn donations, and make hats for newborns, the homeless or chemo patients (free patterns may be found on the Knitting for Charity website).
  • Host a story hour at a local library.
  • Gather friends together and go caroling at a local senior center or a senior care community.  Include songs representing other languages and cultures.
  • Sign-up for a charity walk or run. There are walks for breast cancer, diabetes, leukemia and hundreds more. Winter is a great time to plan ahead by seeking out a charity, setting a goal, and beginning training. Don’t forget to get your family, friends, and community involved. Donations to your cause make great holiday gifts!

  • Foster a dog for the holidays or volunteer for weekend pet adoption events, which become very busy just before Christmas.

  • After the holidays, volunteer at a local recycling center to help manage the influx of post-holiday waste.
In northern Virginia, Volunteer Fairfax has put together an online Handbook for Holiday Heroes, in which agencies and nonprofits are invited to list their holiday needs and wishes. Check it out for some additional ideas.
The point is to use time over the holidays to begin the process of community involvement and to give a little more than you receive.

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