Back To Americana Basics!

Let’s Live United Again!

Social change has never happened without a community coming together and rising as one. And, volunteering and trying to make a difference is a key factor in a successful outcome. Let’s rewind to our Americana basics. The ‘coming together and the living as one,’ that our founders talked about, is possible. We shouldn’t shelve away ‘sharing the bounty’ as an unattainable ideal or somebody else’s task, instead let’s morph it into our reality. Lifting the veil off our American poor is a start. Do we see the poor? Do we notice them? I bet they see us! And, yes there’re around us, in every city in our bountiful America. Why has ignoring our poor become the status quo? Why, while we are one of the most developed countries in the world, do we continue to have a huge poverty problem? Poverty stats have not really changed that much since our economic collapse in 2008. Yes, sadly there are about the same! There are over 1,750,000 homeless Americans around us, 40% are reported to be veterans. And 31M of our American neighbors don’t have enough to eat… with annual children’s food stamp recipients hovering at 9,300,000. Sadly, the 46.7 million people in the United States reported to live in poverty, according to the US Census’ 2014 report, are still living in poverty.

Obviously, we don’t all live the American dream! Some of us have it easier than others, and volunteering to make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling might prove rewarding for both, us and them. I don’t know about you but it’s becoming hard to wrap my head around our daily anguishing news! From terrorism, to divisive rhetoric to social media bashings in our presidential election coverage. Well, I refuse to accept this as our new normal. I think we can do something about it. I really do. I think bad news has always been around but we didn’t feel it as much because social media access wasn’t as immediate. If I’m confused and disillusioned, I wonder what our kids are thinking. I wonder how they are processing all the extreme behavior out there! The outcry of inequality and racism is valid but cops are not responsible for our ills and they should not have targets on their back. We need to find a way to reaffirm to all including our kids that most people, especially our cops, are good meaning and protective of their communities. Let’s say to all out loud that a bad apple doesn’t justify cutting the entire apple tree? This is such a crucial time in our lives as we come upon our presidential elections. People seem to be eager to point out the divide in our country. Partisan rhetoric fuels dissatisfaction and anger when instead we should focus on the bigger picture. Many have died to ensure a better life for us and a call to our basic Americana core seems to be in order. We as Americans have invested into our society all that’s needed for equality and justice for all. We only need to refresh our minds and revisit what our country stands for. True, sometimes injustice is seen but even the smallest voice can be heard, near and far, as a thundering roar from a united front. Our children can show us the way if we let them. Parents and educators can come together in schools, and offer kids a chance to help the less fortunate, running food bank, cheering up sick children in a hospital, help clean up a city park for all.

As we stand up, rise and unite in our small or large communities with more awareness of the less fortunate, we move back to Americana basics. Let’s call it “We Are All Americans!” Maybe an altruistic movement of sorts is what’s needed now. A basic reminder that what led to our comfort is tied to what led to our liberty and freedom. Would volunteering and social engagement remind us of the America our founders had in mind? I believe so. Maybe then, we’ll appreciate this ‘land of the free’, where everyone is treated equally no matter of creed, gender, belief, or social status.

There is a direct connection between entitlement and contentment. Volunteering is the best way to expose children to differences and the best way to build their self-worth. The earlier the better. Much of the disgruntlement in our communities seem to stem from anger fueled by a sense of entitlement. I strongly believe that if we find a way to teach children, as early as possible, about differences, we’ll grow better humans. Since 2012, I have been on a mission, with a series of mainstream children’s books with multiracial characters, to instill acceptance of diversity and more tolerance. Parents and educators can open young minds before they get bombarded by extremist propaganda. I’ve witnessed how humanitarian efforts cut through to the core of human nature while working as an international journalist and at the United Nations. I’ve seen altruism and true volunteering cross all boundaries, physical and mental, to reach humans, in the most dire conditions. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” taught us Mahatma Gandhi and his words truly resonate at this moment in time. We learn so much about ourselves and the world through service. Service teaches compassion, appreciation of what you have and the realization that it can all be taken away by an illness an accident etc. Mei Cobb shares on the United Way blog children‘s love for volunteering as they felt they could do something too. This reaffirms to me that you don’t need to wait to change the world. Children and teen volunteers are creating change every day. The United Way has seen the benefit of involving youth and created volunteer projects in many countries and US states. They have partnered with schools, youth organizations, nonprofits, community and faith-based organizations, volunteer and national service programs, as well as with government agencies, to activate young people to improve their communities. For example, the York County chapter in Pennsylvania offers youth a way to help out by sorting food for a food bank, cleaning up a city park, and improving the garden at a local Head Start facility. While the El Paso Texas chapter partnered with the Ysleta Independent School District to teach kids the value of volunteering by bringing service-type projects to afterschool programs. Children learn to appreciate what they have as they learn about homelessness, poor children’s struggles for basic needs, to assemble toiletry kits for the Salvation Army to distribute. I agree with Cobb, “Kids and teens bring a fresh perspective to most everything, including how to change their communities for the better. We invite children and youth on a regular basis to volunteer with us to help improve the building blocks for a good life: education, income and health. Take a moment to ask a child, “What would you do to make the world a better place?” Shouldn’t we heed Cobb’s call and do just that? I bet we’ll be surprised by our children’s perspective on things and their vision of a better world and how to make a positive difference!

Young adults can volunteer on the local levels with chapters of the Red Cross, to children’s hospitals, to senior care facilities to libraries etc. Yes, there is a national volunteer organization, (https://www.voa.org). In fact, more than 64,000 VOA volunteers devote more than one million hours nationwide and help to transform many lives. Young people can check out faith-based organizations with international aid programs like the Red Cross, the Peace Corp and the United Nations. Volunteering fosters social inclusion, provides basic hygiene and humanitarian needs, alleviates financial operational burdens of humanitarian organizations and therefore increases distribution of survival necessities and goods. Volunteers were crucial in making many aid programs successful from remote African villages to Cambodia, Honduras and the Middle East. Whether through humanitarian aid or through education or agriculture such programs have lifted villages out of despair.

Volunteerism isn’t just beneficial for those being helped — research shows that volunteering has also mental and physical health benefits for those doing the helping. The young learn to be responsible, tolerant, kind and engaged in their community. This altruism fosters positive self image and strengthens social and family relationships. Seniors who volunteer benefit by feeling relevant and vital. The National Institute on Aging has reported that volunteering may lower some health problems in seniors, including dementia, as well as improving longevity. They indicate that social activities that occur through volunteering keep the brain and the body active, which contributes to continuing cognitive health.

Ask a volunteer why he/she are volunteering and you see their eyes sparkle! Here are a few of the reasons that were given to me over the years:

1. I really feel like I am making a difference.

2. I love my community and it’s the best way for me to stay engaged in it and make new friends.

3. I’ve had such good luck lately and I wanted to give back. That makes me feel blessed!

4. I’m trying to get working experience and it is a great way to build up my resume. I thought it would improve my college prospects.

5. This is the cheapest personal therapy I could find. It keeps me grounded. I no longer dwell on small mishaps and like myself more.

6. I wanted to learn something new and be around different people.

7. I wanted to keep my mind sharp and share my skills even though I’m retired. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to work with and help many young people. They taught me so much and kept my mind open to new things.

8. I was very close to my grandmother so I wanted to volunteer time with senior programs. I love it and it keeps me close to the memory of my grandmother.

9. I was looking for a physical activity that will keep me fit while making a difference and I found it by volunteering on local projects of building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

10. I wanted to do something worthwhile together with members of my family. I thought it brings us together more.