Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place
The following is an excerpt from Vicki Julian's forthcoming work, Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place: Vicki is a published author of inspiration, a Stephen Minister, an M.S. Advocate and a supporter of many local charitable efforts. Follow her make-a-difference articles at Examiner.com or contact her firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is an excerpt from Vicki Julian's next book, Simple Things to Make This World a Better Place. Vicki's forthcoming book offers insights into how we can adapt our thinking to see opportunities where we can make a difference. With many unusual pay-it-forward ideas, alternatives to the phrase, "if there's anything I can do"; and inspirational narratives from individuals who have seized the moment to make a difference in the lives of others, it will inspire you with simple suggestions that each of us can do in our daily routines. Vicki shows us that it doesn't take great wealth, countless hours of volunteering, or dedicated effort to make a difference and ultimately make this world a better place. (This book is annotated with Biblical reference for those who are interested).
RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS AND EVERYDAY ACTIONS
A random act of kindness is something that we have all heard about or even done. These actions are in the same vein as “pay it forward” (John 13:34). What a great feel-good exercise for both giver and receiver! Feel the joy of giving to others while hopefully encouraging the recipients of our benevolence to do the same (Titus 2:7). Following are some general suggestions for performing random acts as well as for people in specific situations.
PAY FOR or DO SOMETHING FOR ANOTHER PERSON
- Fast Food
- Dry Cleaning
- Car Wash
- Parking fees (especially at an amusement park or sporting event)
- Anonymously buy lunch or dinner for someone who is dining at the same restaurant (you can ask wait staff to give you their bill, but don’t forget to add a tip)
- Surprise your local fire, police, or emergency personnel with a special treat (Check first to see if it needs to be pre-wrapped and store-bought)
- Give your mail or paper carrier a gift card just to say thanks
- Near or on holidays, give someone a BIG tip (i.e. giving a $20 tip for a $5 meal could really brighten someone's day)
- Smile at complete strangers and ask them how they are doing (Proverbs 15:30)
- Put extra money in your parking meter so that when you leave, the next car will have some free time
- Offer to return grocery carts for those who are leaving when you are going toward the entrance of a store
- Buy mittens, hats, scarves, and warm socks to give to the Salvation Army, shelters or schools serving impoverished children and adults, or give to other agencies serving those in need
- Buy fast food certificates to give to someone who needs something to eat
SIMPLE ACTS FOR: Strangers
- Show your appreciation, via tip or verbally, for someone who is serving or helping you near to on a holiday
- Follow one man's example. He greets all checkers and service people by name. He often inquires about how they are doing, and when he uses their name, they know that he truly cares
- Leave extra coupons on the grocery shelf next to the item
- Contact armed services reserves or bases to find what deployed servicemen need and then provide it. Orchestrating a drive to obtain those items through a church, community organization, etc. will increase your efforts even more
- Buy cookies or other goodies from local fundraising groups and give them to shelters. (You double your good deed)
- Find out what shelters exist in your community (First Step, Battered Women's, Expectant Mothers, Drop-in, etc.) and ask what they need. It could be anything from clothing to children's toys to make-up
- Ask groups such as the above if they need magazines or books. Also check with non-profit groups such as free clinics that have waiting rooms. Instead of recycling, offer them to those mentioned or to a community center
- Buy gloves, hats, scarves and warm socks to make available for those in need who are residing in or frequenting a shelter
- Contact your local humane society to see if they need volunteers to walk animals, etc.
- Ask an animal shelter what items they need. Many ask for towels, blankets and consumables such as paper towels, dish and laundry soap, treats, toys, etc.
For Persons in Assisted Living Facilities or Nursing Homes
- Check with nursing or assisted living facilities to see if any residents need clothing. Since some residents have no family or may be on Medicare or Medicaid, any new clothing could be a luxury. You may be able to donate good, used clothing or even buy something new
- If permissible, offer to take a resident outside to sit on a bench or swing
For the Elderly or Shut-ins (Note suggestions for the Disabled below)
- Store extra prepared food in a freezer proof container and share it with a shut-in or single person
- When you are going to a discount store or pharmacy, ask the person if there is anything that he/she needs or wants
- Check Senior Centers to see if they have a holiday bureau where you can adopt a senior in need for the holidays. They may even have options throughout the year when you can help
- Read to them
- Offer to write letters or help them pay bills
- Offer to play a game with them and bring cards, checkers, etc.
- Give them your time and just chat
- Offer to take them for a ride or use a wheelchair for an outside excursion
For the Disabled (Note suggestions for the Elderly/Shut-ins above)
- Offer rides or to go with the person to church or the grocery store. (Most people don't realize that some disabled persons would like to shop for themselves, but they need someone to push the cart and carry the groceries). Once home, putting groceries away is a big assist
- Shovel their walks when it snows and help water lawns in dry climates or dry spells
- Surprise them with a nice treat or homemade dish
- Offer to take their trash to the curb
- Offer to change the sheets on their bed
- Help put dishes away from the dishwasher
- Always let the phone ring or the answering machine pick-up to give the disabled person time to reach the phone and give ample time after ringing the doorbell or knocking
- Offer to or buy an assortment of cards so that the disabled person can send them to family and friends. You might even offer to address them, but remember the stamps
- Offer to return grocery carts for those using handicapped spaces
- In restrooms or wash areas, offer to hand a paper towel to a person in a wheelchair or on a scooter. Many dispensers are placed high on the wall
- Let the handicapped person use the end sinks if they wish. (It's often difficult to navigate a wheelchair or scooter between people who are also using the lavatories)
- Offer to take them for a ride or use a wheelchair for an outside excursion
For Family Members
- Buy a surprise gift for a family member. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, just something to say “I love you” like a CD, favorite candy, game, or personal item
- Make special time for just the two of you. Children, parents, and spouses love the undivided attention
- Buy a gift card for gas or the movies
- Buy the ingredients for a special treat and invite your child to help make it. Then decide with whom to share it
- For Friends
- If you see something that you would like, pick up an extra one for a friend (lotion, scented holiday hand soap, seasonal decorative towel and hot pad, etc.)
- Remember friends on their special days, (i.e. bring them flowers, a small gift or have an impromptu lunch on their birthday. Even guys like to be remembered)
- Give cookies or a casserole dish, just because….
- What a nice treat it would be to come home to an already prepared meal! And that is something that you can easily do for your neighbors. Just prepare twice your normal recipe and then share. Be sure to use disposable containers that won't need to be returned
- Shovel your neighbor's walk when you do your own
- If the newspaper is in the driveway or on the lawn, throw it closer to the front door
- Rake some of your neighbor’s leaves
- Share some of your fresh cut flowers or garden produce
- Wave and smile at your neighbors
For the Needy Who Ask You for Money (Matthew 5:42)
- Buy fast food certificates and have them handy to give to those who are hungry
- Buy bus tokens or discount store gift certificates to give
- Keep numbers and addresses of agencies who can help and give it on a card to the person if they are unaware of where to go for assistance
For Charities (Proverbs 14:31)
- Give monthly through payroll deductions
- Give extra income (bank interest, annuity payments, coins from a change jar) to a respected organization
- Donate credit card membership rewards points that are convertible to cash
- Buy space heaters in the winter for organizations to give away. If the main heat is turned off, someone can at least have direct warmth
- Buy fans to give away in the summer and give to agencies that can distribute them
- Buy a single room air conditioner or form a group to buy several for people susceptible to the heat. Work with senior groups or local charities to determine who most needs them.
- Give blankets to shelters, including Humane Societies but check with them first to see what is needed
For Not -for-Profit Clinics
- Some clinics accept out of date or unused medications. Check to see if they can use yours
- See if they can use donated medical equipment that you no longer need
- Check to see if they can use your old magazines or other reading material
For Hospitalized Persons
- Offer to make calls for the person who is ailing or for relatives who are spending much time at the hospital. If long distance is an issue in their calling, buy a phone card to give them
- Offer to pick up bills to be paid, mail or papers. Even offer to bring pictures from home to brighten up the hospital room, especially if there is an extended stay
- Bring reading material and maybe a bag full of assorted snacks. (If the patient can't eat them, they can share with other visitors or hospital staff
- Offer to read to the patient)
- Offer to comb or brush the patient's hair
- Bring pre-stamped postcards or note cards so that the patient or family can write notes. You can even offer to do it for them!
- Bring a spiral notebook or something fancier to log visitors
- Instead of offering to go buy food for a relative staying with the patient, state that you are going to the food court and ask what they would like. Most people don't want to be a burden on others, so they will decline unless they think you are going there anyway. You can also offer to bring something to the patient, but check with nursing staff for approval first
- Check on the patient's home, and let them know that all is well
- Once the patient is out of the hospital, make a casserole or quick-to-eat food to last a few days until the person is stronger. You can also give gift cards to restaurants that deliver or have curbside-to-go options. Grocery stores may also offer handy, prepared meals
- After the patient is home for a few days, offer to help write thank you notes
- Offer to pick-up meds, or food that can be eaten now, or buy staple groceries
- Offer a timer to turn on lights or appliances if the patient is having an extended stay
- Offer to pet sit or take the pet to a kennel
For Preschools or Schools Serving Low Income Students
- Schools seem to always run out of extras such as facial tissues. Especially in mid year, ask the principal if they need snacks, extra crayons, pencils, etc. Shoes can also be a desired item because children outgrow them very fast, especially if they only have one pair
- Younger children, and even those in lower elementary grades can sometimes have accidents. Give extra pairs of underwear for the school to have on hand. You might also ask the school for a wish list
PRAISE GENEROUSLY (Philippians 4:8)
- Recognize good customer service, whether it occurs in person or by phone. You can always write a letter via the Internet or ask to speak to someone's supervisor to give praise on the phone
- If you see someone doing something nice for someone else, mention it! Positive behavior that is reinforced is often repeated
BUILD CONFIDENCE IN OTHERS
Many believe that a good supervisor or leader does not need to be the best at the jobs performed by her subordinates or followers. Her job is to find the best people for those positions. This can be generalized to build confidence in others (Proverbs 16:24). When you help someone to be the best that he can be, you reinforce what is right in this world and that makes things better for you, too.
It's the simplest thing that you can do. Not only does it help you as many studies support, but it puts others into a better frame of mind.
PASS ALONG COMPLIMENTS
A good way to brighten another person's day is to pass along a compliment (Proverbs 16:24). First person compliments are nice to receive, but if you pass along a compliment made by another, some studies show that it is considered even more valuable to the recipient.
Most of us drive with self-absorbed behavior, mainly because we think we drive with anonymity. A question to ask yourself is: If other drivers knew me, would I still drive the same way? To respect others, drive responsibly (Titus 3:1-2).
- Be ready for the light change. Whether you are the first car, the second car or anywhere else in line for the turn, be prepared to go. Lagging far behind the car in front of you can cause others to miss the light
- Obey stop lights. If it's red (or yellow and you can safely stop), then STOP. If it's green, then GO. When you run red lights, it endangers others, and at the very least, you shorten the time that others are able to go on their green light. The last person to run the red light may also become a straggler who prevents a break in the traffic for motorists wanting to turn from a side street
- Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead. You never know when someone might have to brake suddenly or have sudden car problems. Driving too closely can also be construed as aggressive driving
- Music on your radio is YOUR music to enjoy. "Sharing" it with others because it is too loud or the bass too high is invading their listening preferences
- Use your cell phone to contact police or the highway patrol if you see a stranded motorist or someone walking along the highway with a gas can, especially if you can't give personal assistance. Authorities will be able to provide help
KEEP PHONE CONVERSATIONS PERSONAL
- Cell phone use should be respectful of others. Keep conversations private, just audible for you and the person on the other end of the line
- If you reach a wrong number, apologize rather than just hang up
- Don't hang up on people, even telemarketers. Say something simple such as "Thank you, but I'm not interested. Goodbye," and then hang up
- For the person who has everything, give to someone who has nothing. You can donate money or items to a charity, or even purchase a commodity for someone in a third world country
- Give consumables. Give steaks or other meat, fruit, or unusual delicacy for special occasions. Create a gift basket of snacks, themed food, or exotic special foods. Give a certificate for something fun such as round of golf, the movies or a favorite restaurant
- Write something special for the person. For a son or daughter, write about the day of your child's birth. This can become a cherished keepsake for children as they learn about the special moments and details of their entry into the world -- something no one else can give them. You can also write about a special birthday memory for others, or what you have learned from your parents and grandparents on Mother's, Father's and Grandparents' Days.
AT THE STORE
- If a grocery item that might be somewhat of an extravagant purchase is on sale, buy two and give one to the community food bank. How often do you think someone who is needy gets that type of item? (Proverbs 14)
- Pay the toll for the car behind you when entering an amusement park or other event requiring a toll to park
- Keep voices low, especially at night, when walking through halls and outside walkways at hotels and motels
- If you have a two-for-one coupon and are only purchasing one ticket, ask the next person in line if they would like to split the cost with you
- Extra tickets or discounts for anything can be given randomly or ask to leave them at the hotel desk for others checking in
- Keep conversations low when outside visiting with friends, especially if it's late
- Turn down car speakers when going through residential neighborhoods.
- Compliment your neighbor on his flowers, lawn care, etc.
- Don't judge, especially by attributing your response to someone else. People tend to think others do something based on what they themselves would do (Matthew 7:2)
- Laugh and give others the benefit of a doubt. You might be wrong, but so what? It's better to live life as an optimist who can see possibilities rather than a pessimist who can see none
- Use the name of a checker or waitperson, and try to engage them in brief small talk to show interest in them as a fellow human being. They may be very busy so a simple, "How are you, _______?" may work just as well
MAKING COMPLIMENTS OR GIVING CRITICISM
- When making compliments, be specific. If you are complimenting someone over the phone, let the person know that you appreciate the service they provided to you, and ask to speak to a supervisor or where you can write to offer praise.
- When giving criticism or making a complaint, always try the honest and direct approach first, and be nice about it (Proverbs 15:23). It is possible to be assertive and still maintain a friendly approach. You can always take the next step if you need to, but realize that the old adage that you gain far more flies with honey than with vinegar is true.
- But before you give advice, make sure you are correct and that it is wanted (2 Timothy 4:2). While you may think that your advice is valuable, and even warranted, the other person must be receptive to it. Establish a caring approach, not a judgmental one.
IN TIMES OF NEED
Natural disasters, calamities, and challenges that affect a number of people always bring three responses; caring, taking advantage of others' misfortunes, or apathy. Fortunately, there seems to be evidence of more caring behavior than the other two, and we often see the best of people brought out in these circumstances. What follows is how many people have responded to the various events, along with ideas of how you might also respond.
Death of Someone Close
There is nothing to equal "being there." A simple expression of "I'm sorry" is always appropriate. People who have just experienced tragedy often don't know what they need so it is good to offer options. Instead of saying, "Is there anything I can do?" Consider offering from the following list.
- I'm going to the grocery store. I'll pick up some basics for you. Do you like 2%, whole or skim milk? White or whole wheat bread? What kind of cereal? Etc.
- I know you have many things to do. Can I drive you somewhere tomorrow?
- Can I help you write thank you notes? I'll pick up some more notes and stamps and bring them by
- Here is my telephone number (if you have a close relationship). Please call me day or night if you are having a hard time and just want to talk Is there anyone I can call for you to let them know?
- Do you need a sitter? (Child, house or pet)
- Call the person to make offers weekly. (The person may have needs later, weeks or even months, but they don't want to inconvenience anyone or ask them for help). For instance, say, "I'm going to the store. Would you like to go with me?"
- Give restaurant gift cards, especially those that offer delivery or curbside service
- Don't just sign a sympathy card. Write something personal
- Keep in touch. Things change for those left behind.
- Give the person who experienced the loss time to grieve. You can encourage going out to lunch, etc., but realize that "time to move on" is a personal matter
- Purchase extra books that have provided comfort or encouragement to you and offer them to others experiencing the same challenges or crisis
These are just "get-started" examples so try to think of other things, too, and I'm sure your list will triple. The person in the following account did just that.
A woman who had been widowed earlier bought a "buddy pillow" for her newly widowed friend. While the pillow could never replace the warmth of having her husband lie next to her, the friend knew it provided something to fill the voided space in the bed.
Of course, money is always needed by the agencies that can quickly and competently assess and respond to the immediate needs of the victims. And there are always on-going and later needs for hands-on efforts. But even if you can't contribute financially or physically, many credit card companies allow you to donate membership rewards points that convert into cash for the charity of your choice. And, if that isn't possible, here are a few more suggestions as to how you can help. (It's always wise to first check with the agency through which these will be donated).
- Personal kits (for hygiene and health). Many organizations will publish what is needed, and depending upon the type of disaster, area churches and agencies may have specific suggestions
- Food and snacks
- Music and something to play it on
- Games or cards for entertainment
- Sheets, towels, blankets, pillows, and small bottles of shampoo, deodorant, lotion, etc. (Just think of what you use everyday and would want)
- See prom dresses (page 32)
- Hand sanitizer (waterless)
Personal Loss/Job Loss
Job loss can mean different things depending upon the age of the person and/or responsibilities, but there are always things you can do
- Offer to help create a resume
- Offer to help post information on jobsites
- Offer to babysit if the person needs to deliver an application or has a job interview. Check often with the person as many people will be hesitant to call and ask for help
- Ask what type of job the person is looking for and help them look by checking your own paper, websites, networking, etc.
Loss of Home or Other Property
- Ask if clothing is needed along with a list of other personal items
- Offer to take them to their insurance company or to agencies that can offer some assistance
- Offer temporary shelter if that is possible
- If a car was involved in the loss, offer to drive them where they need to go, or give bus passes
- If you are close to the person who had the loss, check to see if you have pictures that might have personal meaning. Losing items of personal value is often the most difficult loss
- Offer to make calls for them to employers, friends and other family, or offer phone cards
- Help them make contact with credit card companies, driver's license bureaus, etc. if those have been lost
- Help them make contact with utilities
Weather Related Concerns
- People often shine in helping others during severe weather events such as snow storms and tornadoes. Here are just a few ideas of how you can help.
- If the person has lost heat, invite them to your home or offer a night stay in a hotel. If they still have electricity, loan a small space heater
- If you have a basement and your neighbor does not, leave a standing offer that the door will be unlocked if the tornado warning sounds
- Keep a shovel, mulch or kitty litter in your car during snow storms. These can help other stranded motorists stuck in the roadway.
- Shovel your neighbor's sidewalk or driveway
- If you are spring cleaning your gutters, consider doing that for your neighbor as well
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