January 23, 2014
I met Jeanna Coleman while I was a student at the University of Alabama, more than 20 years ago. While in college, Coleman and I pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a public service organization committed to promoting academic excellence and providing assistance to those in need. When Coleman was a student at the University of Alabama, she always made a point to give back to her community.
She helped pick up trash from busy highways, volunteered at the American Red Cross and served and tutored children. Friends shared Coleman’s passion and made commitments to help charity programs, too. Once they graduated, their desire to give back didn’t dwindle. It swelled. They helped nonprofits by volunteering through their jobs and their churches, but by also making financial contributions to worthy causes.
Helping others has been something they’ve been unable to ignore.
“Volunteering strengthens your overall personality because it allows you to meet and interact with people and situations from all walks of life,’’ said Coleman.
More than 20 years since leaving college life, they are still going strong with their philanthropy.
Every December, Coleman and her friends gather in Birmingham to volunteer as a group for a Birmingham-area nonprofit. Past public service jobs have included serving meals at homeless shelters, donating food to shelters that serve women and children, wrapping hundreds of gifts and donating gift wrapping supplies to shelters.
“Nonprofits rely on the volunteers to serve the people. People should make working with charities a part of their monthly routine. While you are changing their lives, they are changing your life,’’ Coleman said.
Here are some tips on giving back:
- Make it a family affair. Recruit relatives to join you in doing a community service project.
- Don’t think your donations won’t help. No matter how small, all donations are a big help. Find an organization you like and inquire about their needs. Could a cash donation help them? Do they need food for their pantry? Do they need gently worn clothes for residents?
- Follow your heart. If you want to help in a unique way, do it. Can your talents (cooking, writing, computer programming, etc.) help a nonprofit? Ask. You may be just what they’ve been looking for.
- Know that volunteering is fun. Jump in and enjoy the ride. You will help others and yourself.
- Step up to be on a committee. Does the nonprofit need help with its annual fundraiser? Contacting donors?
- Write your elected officials. If there is something wrong in your community, speak up about it. Let your voice be heard.
- Share your volunteer experiences on social media. Your posts could encourage others to volunteer. If you had an amazing time helping others, Tweet about it, mention it on Facebook or share it on Instagram. But to protect the identities of those you help and where they live, don't mention where you are or take clients' photos. Instead, express how good you feel in feeding a hungry soul, painting someone's home or helping someone prepare for a job interview. There's power in your work and your words.
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