“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves” reads a quote in the volunteer kit. I was reading up ahead of my scheduled day at Mane Stream, an adaptive horsemanship and equine therapy center in Oldwick, NJ. I would quickly learn that Mane Stream was much more than a therapeutic program. It is a community of joy and healing. The special staff, therapists and volunteers who work at Mane Stream light up the lives of their patients and their families.
One day in the not too distant future the world will belong to our children. They will make decisions on the environment, policies on poverty and social services, and be responsible for making decisions about resources, war, and peace. They will be the problem-solvers (and problem-creators) responsible for the well-being of future generations.
How can we support our children and young adults so they become their best selves in a global society? How can we fuel within them a sense of service and civic engagement? How can we expand their minds to include causes bigger than themselves?
Most importantly, how can we help them develop the resolve and confidence they will need so they believe without a shadow of doubt they can make a difference, effect change, and improve the world?
The speaker stood up at the front of the auditorium….
“Several times a year our group goes into local cities and towns and asks, ‘Who are your missing children?’ We get their names and photos, then make posters of these children.”
(She holds up one of the posters with the faces of at least 15 children on it)
“We then stop at motels and hotels” she continued, “and ask the staff, ‘Have you seen any of these faces?’”
“EVERY TIME we’ve done this we’ve had at least one rescue. Sometimes several. The children are usually going by different names, but we always find someone who recognizes at least one and it allows us to start to work towards finding them and rescuing them.”
These children… they are typically between the ages of 12 and 16. These cities and towns? …. They are in New Jersey….
Because this is New Jersey, and aggressive, caffeine-fueled commuting is standard, I pass 7 Dunkin’ Donuts and 3 Starbucks on my 40 minute, 11 mile drive to work.
Not only do all these coffee shops ensure I can always find a boost of energy, they provided the perfect venues for me to work on this week’s charity – Kindness.org.
According to the NJ Department of Children and Families, there were 59,151 referrals for child abuse and neglect in 2013. All were referred for investigation. Just about 10,000 of them became active/open cases. Ongoing neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse, domestic/school/community violence… these are the environments of children living in trauma… of families in crisis. It’s a world behind closed doors, a secret space in society. It is into this world that Family Intervention Services (FIS) steps, with the goal of protecting children and rehabilitating families.
One of my goals for this 52-week journey is to explore a wide variety of ways to get involved – from more structured organizations to grassroots efforts. Sometimes volunteering can take a pretty big commitment of time, resources, or planning. However, there are also many simple ways to tie volunteering and kindness into your life in much more organic and simple way. SpreadKindness.org is one such avenue.
DoSomething.org is the future of volunteer and activism experiences. The non-profit uses a digital platform to power offline action through hundreds of grass-roots volunteer, social change, awareness and civic action campaigns.
Targeted at ages 13 – 30, the campaigns can be completed by individuals or groups, without any need for transportation, funding by participants, or oversight. Young adults love to get involved and make a difference. They are passionate about causes they identify with. DoSomething.org taps into that potential and makes getting active super easy and super fun, empowering teens and young adults to drive social change.
Let me tell you a story…
Since the early 1960s civil war between the Tutsi and Hutu had flared across Rwanda. For decades, propaganda by politicians on both sides fueled a deep hatred between the groups. Tutsis were perceived to have greater wealth and social status as cattle ranchers, than the Hutus, who were considered lower-class farmers.
A generation grew up in the midst of this turmoil, influenced by never-ending cries of hatred and bias towards the other group. The conflict spread like a slow, smoldering burn across the country with the Tutsis killing thousands of Hutus in ongoing conflicts over the years. Rwanda became a tinderbox of anger and hatred, ready to ignite and explode at any moment. That moment came in 1994 and would rock the world…
I wanted to include my grandson Jason in a few charitable activities this holiday season. He’s 4 years old, cute as a button and has more energy than a wild bronco, so I needed to find something that was both active and would make sense to him. The Salvation Army Angel Tree program fit perfectly.