Merry Christmas, but…

So today is Christmas Eve (I don’t know why my calendar says “Christmas Day Observed” it’s not the 25th day of December!)…many of us are finally at the family home or en route there, whether by plane, car, or bus.  We’re gathering to share the joy of the season and, of course, lots of food and perhaps to exchange presents.  It’s finally the end of the year…and boy 2010 was a doozy so I’m glad to bid it auf wiedersehen!  For sure I’m counting my blessings and looking forward to improving my life and trying new things next year, things that just weren’t possible or feasible in 2010.  One of the things I’m definitely looking forward to is being more involved in my immediate and Jamaican communities through volunteering…I was for a while, had a bad experience with an organization + life happened + I began school all of which equaled no time for volunteering.  And I didn’t push to make the time either.  But if it’s one lesson 2010’s experiences have hammered into my psyche is the need to make the time to do what is important to me, to find, follow and live my passion.  Anything less is a miserable and unfulfilled life in my opinion.

Volunteering is one of  those things that I’d like to be a part of my life for two reasons: (1) I feel great helping people…it simply makes me happy to know that I have lifted someone’s spirit or helped them fulfill a dream; and (2) helping others is a necessary part of balancing out the many selfish pursuits of life.  A few months ago I asked my readers Are you a Volunteer? and folks answered.  Thank you for taking my poll!  I’ve been looking at and analyzing the results for a bit and here’s what the data says: 96% of those who completed the poll were interested in volunteer activities. Yes! Sixty-four percent of respondents are in Jamaica (most in the KSAC region, St. Catherine, and Clarendon) with the remaining 36% in the United States (primarily on the Eastern Seaboard). Ages ranged from 25 – 54.  I loved the range of activities in which people indicated an interest: feeding the homeless, literacy activities (adult literacy and reading to children), working with children, working on domestic violence issues, mentoring teens and young children, and working with the “less fortunate.” But by far the most striking responses were about how much time people were able to commit per week to volunteer activities – an overwhelming number of the survey takers could only commit 0 – 5 hours per week. (In hindsight I should have included a question on how much time people actually wanted to commit to volunteering.)  Being able to commit zero to 5 hours is not a lot of time and I think it’s simply a reflection of how busy we are – school, work, friends, family, personal time, travel.  We all have our responsibilities and our priorities.  However, I don’t think that having a little time means being able to do nothing.

Many, many organizations need some hands to make their work light, and it does not mean that one has to join a board and start attending meetings.  If you can do that, then fine.  If not, explore other options and get cracking.  Get out and work with an organization like Martha’s Table here in DC that goes out each day regardless of weather to serve a meal to the homeless.  They simply need people to staff the van that delivers meals to “homeless hotspots” (a mere 2 hour commitment) or to help cook meals or mentor children.  I’m sure that there are  similar organizations in other states.  Check your local animal shelter.  Perhaps there’s a local toy or food drive.  Does a local school have a reading program? Can you mentor a teen?  A good friend out in California does Big Brother/Big Sister for a future engineer.  Get out and do something. Ya know, be the change you want to see and all that.

Now a word to you Jamaicans heading or already home for Christmas (I am jealous but have fun all the same :)).  I know that when you get home it’s usually about checking family and friends, visiting the beach as much as possible, and party party party.  I know that we expats try our hardest to cram  A LOT of fun into short periods of time.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  But I believe that there has to be more to visiting home than shelling out money for this or that party or alcohol for a bottle party and there really is only so much fried fish and festival that you can eat in a short period of time.  This time and every other time you visit The Rock, I’m encouraging you to take a few hours, up to maybe half a day, to find a local charity or cause that needs some assistance. Start this Christmas….Merry Christmas, but…this year start a new tradition of bringing some joy and hope to someone else’s life.  Be what I call an 876 Vacation Volunteer: donate a bit of your vacation time and make a difference in your country (yes, I said your because very few expat Jamaicans that I know reject The Rock as home even if they’ve lived abroad for years).  There are three causes that I  wholeheartedly  suggest this Christmas:

  • iFED1: I learned about this from fellow tweeter @RachieVPA. This charity recruits volunteers to deliver meals to Jamaica’s homeless population on Christmas day.  I skyped with her about it and I’m assured that it’s well run and well meaning; what began as folks donating  a meal from their own Christmas dinner is now donations being cooked at a central location and meals being delivered across Kingston & St. Andrew and in sections of Spanish Town.  This year they would like to add Portmore to their target area.  In  2009 they fed 450 homeless Jamaicans.  Do I really need to say that Jamaica’s homeless are among the nation’s forgotten citizens? In my opinion this is a low key commitment that allows you to make a big impact.  Click here to register.  Also, check out & “like” iFed1’s facebook page.
  • Blood Donations: I can’t count the number of times that the National Blood Bank has appealed for blood donations; in my recollection they always seem to be running short.  Don’t wait until there’s an appeal or some disaster or – God forbid – a friend or family member needs a donation.  Here is a list of blood donation centers and some FAQs from the American Red Cross about blood donation (sorry couldn’t find any online from the Jamaica Red Cross).  Generally to donate blood one must
    • be in good health;
    • not have a communicable disease, or have traveled to certain areas of the world within a specified period of time or not have been otherwise exposed to certain diseases;
    • not have had a recent medical procedure;
    • not have had a tattoo within the last year; and
    • not given blood within the last 60 days

And even if you can’t give blood, it wouldn’t hurt to accompany friends and hold someone’s hand while they donate!

  • The JSPCA: Near and dear to the heart of my good friend @ayeshaalexis, the JSPCA I think would welcome volunteers.  Fill out the volunteer/membership form here.  Dogs may need walking, maybe the veterinarians and their assistants need help in the clinic, maybe a kennel or 2 needs to be cleaned.  They may also need help fundraising or you may be able to sponsor a dog for neutering (yes, I know that sounds painful but there are too many unwanted animals running around and it’s cruel). There are options for animal lovers who have dogs, those who do not, and those who are thinking about it…check them out

Of course don’t forget to look around your community to see what needs to be done — what community projects are already underway that could do with your two hands for a few hours?

As I write this I think of @therealnicmack‘s post about Giving Love + Hope on Christmas Day – and every other day! which I reviewed for her and wondered at the timing – I’d been planning this post that you’re reading since I first opened the poll about volunteering way back in September. Was it kismet? *smile* Her post lists many other volunteer opportunities – such as Jamaica’s Children’s Homes and Food for the Poor – that need a steady stream of volunteers.  Make a quick phone call during your vacation to see what you can do, how you can help.  And of course if you’re a resident of Jamaica I encourage you to explore these opportunities for consistent volunteer time.

Merry Christmas and here’s to a new tradition *raises glass of sorrel, with lots of rum of course*

(p.s. the iFed1 and JSPCA marks are the property of the the respective organizations. )

12 Responses to “Merry Christmas, but…”
  1. Carole-Anne says:

    Excellent post Ren… And such a good idea re: 876 Vacation Volunteer. I plan to make more time for volunteering next year. It is in my new year resolution and this is one I pledge to stick to. It does feel good to give back whether it be here, Jamaica or Trinidad. Well said as usual babes. 🙂

  2. NickMack says:

    Loving this Ren and you know, the timing was so *right* when you’d read & reviewed my post. I’m glad that more of us are becoming socially responsible and aware of the fact that helping is *SO* easy to do!! =). Very much written in the spirit of giving, loving, sharing & Christmas Ren! Good on you! (Gonna link back to this post in a minute)

  3. Lloydette says:

    Is it that we don’t have a lot of volunteering organizations in Ja or are the people (citizens) not interested in giving back? Or are these organizations so caught up in being unsung, that nobody hears then ‘sing’?

    I would be interested in being a volunteer but it seems like my home parish is lost in the back. There need to be more widespread volunteering groups, across the island, allowing for more persons to be able to join these well needed and worthwhile ventures.

    I wish I had the time to organize a volunteering venture. And I know of others that would be interested in it as well. But I digress.

    Volunteering is an important part of any developed and developing country. We all should pay our part and do what we can. With Christmas being the season of giving, helping someone less fortunate could be a first step to being a volunteer. Volunteering is never a waste of time.

    I hope more persons would (will) volunteer voluntarily.

    • Thanks for commenting! I don’t think there’s a shortage of volunteers or volunteer organizations in Jamaica. I think that what happens is that established groups tap into existing networks to get the work done — the groups aren’t closed off but there’s no widespread or visible volunteer advertising/database. 876 Vacation Volunteer is not meant to supplant any of those activities. Instead I’m interested in supporting them with folks like me who no longer live in Jamaica but still are connected and visit.

      I’ve noticed also that one who is interested simply has to keep asking around until something of interest is found so I encourage you to keep asking folks — friends, family, co-workers, twitter fam. What’s your home parish? I think Food for the Poor and Missionaries of the Poor are good places to start. There’s also a lot of individual effort — like what @ayeshaalexis does; no umbrella org, just a few friends doing what they can. Also, I think a lot tends to be focused on KSAC + MoBay, and maybe St. Catherine now (well at least Portmore). There’s also the phenomena (best word I can come up with at the moment) of the “disappearing church” and by that I mean that most of us used to attend church and get involved in community based or church sponsored activities in that way. I get the impression that many churches in Ja are now insular and focused on cultivating their existing flock and have become political bodies of one sort or another…consequently there does not seem to be much outreach and visibility to surrounding communities…I don’t know, that’s just my impression.

      O there’s also the “Labour Day” holiday in Jamaica that perhaps relegated volunteering and community activity to one day instead of being a habit. And even the last few Labour Days in Ja have been lackluster according to what I’ve read in the papers…something missing…
      If you find a volunteer opportunity please let me know! If not, also let me know and I will do what I can to help you find one.

  4. Shumpynella says:

    Great post & even better idea! I am going to make a special point to volunteer next time I am home. In fact, I need to make regular arrangements for volunteering here. Time is an issue but when will it not be one? No excuses!

    • Good for you Shumpy. I’m going to be making regular arrangements here as well…it really is habit forming so the important thing is to find something interesting to you and keep at it. And as for your point on time: agree wholeheartedly.

  5. Claudia says:

    We all should find the time to give of our time, talent and treasure not only at Christmastime but more importantly throughout the year.

    I agree, tis the season for linking friends and family. Enjoy the time everyone. RLV, sorry you won’t be here for this Christmas.

  6. D. N. Gordon says:

    Great entry here…very encouraging. Unlike last year, I didn’t have a chance to do much around the actual holiday season. However, for a few of us who are here in Jamaica all year round, there’s the opportunity to try to play a part and make some sort of difference throughout the rest of 2011. Definitely thinking it should be among everyone’s resolutions.

    • Thanks for your comment! I agree that it should be an important part of everyone’s 2001 plans (I hesitate to say resolutions since the only resolution many people have is to break resolutions!) But remember, don’t just restrict your volunteering to the holiday season…there’s lots that happens outside of Christmastime and is possibly more important. Whatever you find, please share because I’m trying to compile a list.

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