Some of life’s most meaningful gifts don’t come with a price tag. As so many of us are moved to give back to those in need this holiday season — but also stretched thin financially — we asked the Thrive Global contributor community to tell us their most fulfilling experiences helping others that didn’t include donating money.
Their creative gifts — of time, of talent of friendship — warmed our hearts and inspired us with plenty of ideas for what we could offer this year as well.
Use your time to mentor school students
“I volunteer my time by going into schools with various organisations and sharing my career journey to help students understand their options. I also help them with their business studies and support teachers by taking a lesson and discussing a range of subjects with students. I love spending time with and helping them. As someone who’s worked through her career, I enjoy sharing stories, lessons, mistakes and more so they can learn from me, ask questions, and more. I spend a couple of hours doing this every week and it really lights up my day.”
—Tina Leigh McDonald, leadership facilitator and youth career coach, Milton Keynes, UK
Share your talents with a nonprofit
“One meaningful way to give back is to share your talents with an international or local nonprofit organization. I recently joined the board of Arts for the Aging (AFTA), a nonprofit in the Washington, D.C. area that brings arts programs to older adults with dementia and other aging impairments.”
—Svetlana Dimovski, PhD, general manager and executive coach, Arlington, VA
Lend parents a hand with their kids
“I believe that everyone has talents and gifts that can help others. I like to give back by playing drums at the church we attend and in the community. I also like to aid parents who need help with their children during difficult times. Sometimes I’m surprised what simply showing up and listening can do.”
—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, SC
Love your family
“We try to do what we can to give back. We clean out our closets and give items away to local charities. We also say ‘yes’ to helping local groups and schools. Additionally, we attend church events because we know that being present is also a gift in itself. More than anything, it’s about being generous in spirit, but most of all, I like to live by Mother Teresa’s words, if I can’t do anything more: ‘If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.’ That’s so true — we owe it to the world to do the best we can with our own family.”
—Holly Morris, clinical research nurse, Gainesville, FL
Make people feel seen, heard and understood
“Feeling seen, heard, and understood is one of the most precious gifts we can get. This holiday season, I’ve been offering free listening circles in my community for victims of the Malibu fires, the Borderline Bar shooting, and for elderly people who are struggling with loneliness, grief, and loss.
These meetings offer connection and intimate conversation without the stigma that’s often associated with mental health. They offer vital fellowship that reminds everyone that we’re not alone and that we need each other, to belong, and feel whole.
The most rewarding part of these events is the joy I get from seeing the best of humanity show up in the room, even though people are struggling to find a new normal after hardships.
My best tip for happiness is to offer a part of your heart through service. So roll up your sleeves and be generous with your emotional and social capital. Then, watch the magic unfold!”
—Lisa Cypers Kamen, optimal lifestyle management expert, Los Angeles, CA
Do some pro bono work
“In my line of business, all consulting projects have a fee, but the pro bono ones are the most gratifying! Believing in a cause and doing all you can to help it succeed without being paid shows that you’re a loyal partner and also helps elevate the cause. This past year, I’ve enjoyed giving my professional skills to hardworking social entrepreneurs the most. I’ve helped increase the social impact of these projects by securing media placements and establishing valuable public and private partnerships. These changemakers expressed priceless gratitude, and were indifferent about making a profit. Not all giving should have a price tag — what comes from the heart is the most valuable.”
—Jackie Abramian, PR, social media marketing executive, Kittery, ME
Help someone maintain a meaningful friendship
“When I rented a beach house in Indian Shores, Florida, in 2015, I lived between two elderly ladies named Violet and Anita, who were friends for more than 40 years. I enjoyed hearing them talk about how our community had grown and changed from beach shanties to condos and crowds, and we all became friends. In early 2017, Violet moved about an hour and half away to be closer to her daughter. Anita was caring for her husband and wasn’t able to visit. Sadly, he passed this fall. But this year, I’m taking Anita to visit Violet for a holiday luncheon and reunion because they haven’t seen each other since Violet’s move. My husband and I also helped Anita hang her holiday lights.”
—Teresa Collins, purchasing manager, Clearwater, FL
Reverse a classic calendar
“Here in the UK, poverty problems have increased, and food banks are getting busier. But instead of buying an expensive Advent calendar, I’ve been doing a ‘reverse Advent calendar’ by putting food and essential items into a box to deliver to a food bank distributor on Christmas Eve.”
—Susan Heaton-Wright, impact, presence and speaking expert, executive voice, UK
Show up and give hope
“The holidays can be a challenging time of year for recovering alcoholics. Whether it’s corporate celebrations or family gatherings, they can often seem like a booze fest for someone trying to stay sober. I got sober when I was 18, and now I’m 50. That’s a lot of sober holidays in between, and it’s why I still go to 12-step meetings. In a rural state like Wyoming, showing up to weekly meetings really matters. I’ll open the Tuesday night 12-step meeting on Christmas because someone was there for me 32 years ago when I needed a meeting.”
—Mary Billiter, arts education specialist and novelist, Cheyenne, WY
Volunteer to wrap presents at the mall
“One of my favourite ways to give back over Christmas is to volunteer as a gift-wrapper at our local malls. During December, most of them have gift-wrapping stations that support different charities every day. The malls donate the gift wrap and ribbons, but need charity volunteers to wrap the gifts. Customers make a donation to the charity for the service. It’s a great way to help them raise money, especially when finances are tight and many people can’t afford to donate as much as they would like to.”
—Amanda Renwick, HR manager, Johannesburg, South Africa
Give children and those down on their luck a Christmas they’ll remember
“Giving back has always been a huge part of my life. I started volunteering my time at an emergency shelter for children who were abused, abandoned, and neglected. I’d give them games, spend time with them, and throw pizza and ice cream parties. I’d also put on an Easter egg hunt with prizes, and the kids’ joy was so worth it. When I witnessed the desperate need at this center, I made fliers and handed them out to friends and family to collect clothes, sneakers, toys and toiletries for Christmas. It soon grew to more than 200 children, and I did the same for them every year for 21 years. Many of them had never had an enjoyable Christmas, but I made sure that they were memorable each year.
I currently make snack packs for hurricane victims and the homeless. I fill them with food, socks, blankets, and toiletries in my car and hand them out when I see any homeless people around town. We do the same in my birth country of Panama, where we make food bags and deliver them to mountain residents who have very little means of transportation. When my family cleans out their closet, we donate clothes we don’t want to disabled veterans.
There are many ways that my family and I give back, but each is fulfilling in its own way. It’s nice to lay our heads down at night knowing that we are making a difference. Making sure the kids have a wonderful Christmas helps us to enjoy ours. I couldn’t imagine my life without giving back to those in need.”
—Kiki Dahlke, designer and author, Tampa, FL
Focus your time and energy at a homeless shelter
“I was a homeless person, so I understand what this feels like from experience. In Illinois we have PADS (Providing Advocacy, Dignity and Shelter), where various churches in our county provide food, shelter, and counseling. When I had the opportunity to give, I had my kids help out. We volunteer to set up the beds in the shelter, cook meals for the overnight guests, and make simple lunches for the next day. Additionally, we collect shampoos, conditioners and lotions from our friends who travel, and provide gloves, socks and underwear. The older kids pick up laundry, wash and fold the bedding, then return it to the shelter. It’s a quiet way to make a tremendous difference. We humbly serve as a family.”
—Renee Tarantowski, mindfulness teacher, Chicago, IL
Use your creative talents to benefit others
“When you help someone, seeing their solemn expression transform into to a positive one is the ultimate reward. You’ve just helped someone understand that they matter. Volunteering as a speaker, writer and musician is how I give back. This past November, I was an emcee/musician at a mental health awareness function for Waterloo Suicide Prevention. It was a blast. I’ve been through an intense life roller-coaster, so my rationalization of ‘why’ has been to gain experience so that I can help others. It helps me feel great about myself, and I see the positive impact it has on others!”
—Craig Dubecki, speaker, author, musician, life coach, Ontario, Canada
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.