Giving time, energy, and resources to others in need is one of the most generous and rewarding things you can do. While your intentions are good, however, you may worry about hurting the pride of others involved when you volunteer.
You want to share hope, friendship, and kindness, but if not handled correctly, even the best actions can come across as patronizing. Here are some practical ideas for helping families in need while boosting the confidence of everyone involved.
Instead of simply gifting a monetary donation to a struggling family, invite them into a fundraising enterprise. Coordinate a yard sale or bake sale, and inspire everyone to pitch in. Working shoulder-to-shoulder lets neighbors get to know one another much better than most traditional serve-and-be-served gatherings. At day’s end, count up your profit and offer to send the cash straight to something they need—their mechanic, for example—to cover a critical vehicle repair. Then, invite them along the next time you serve or volunteer in the community.
Bettering someone’s career by teaching English or basic computer skills is so noble, but what if you honored him or her by asking to swap lessons? They may have a skill of their own they’d love to share in return. Whether your beneficiary is brimming with recipes or conversational Spanish, tap that well of knowledge by asking for reciprocal lessons and thus lifting the person’s confidence.
My family serves regularly at our town’s soup kitchen, and after our shift we sit and eat with our neighbors at the community tables. We’ve had more lively discussions there than anywhere in town. There’s real value in letting the dishes pile up while you hit “pause” to join the people you came to help. It’s at these meals that we realize we’ve benefited from the event more than any of the families in need of food. Once you’ve befriended your fellow diners, invite them for a meal at your own home sometime soon. Opening your doors to a neighboring family is the best way to be (and make) a friend.
Donate the Best
When collecting clothes or food to donate, offer the best. Families in need benefit from organic food and cruelty-free products just as much as your family. Bestow your favorite used items and avoid broken, dirty, or worn goods.
When donating hats, gloves, shoes, and similar gently used clothing to a donation center, ask whether you may also stop by with new-in-package lipsticks, blushes, eye shadows, and concealer. Too often, the people served by nonprofits are offered the basics and nothing extra. Do your part to turn this time around, and restore a person’s dignity in the way only a good mascara wand or lip shimmer can.
Learn, Learn, Learn
Invest time and energy into finding the root causes of poverty. Read, ask questions, and consider the hidden side of the issue you’re tackling. Listen to view-challenging podcasts from thought leaders like the Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality and TalkPoverty Radio. When someone feels understood, dignity is restored, no matter what volunteer activity you pursue.
Don’t Be a Stranger
However you choose to build confidence in another person, do it regularly and often. There’s something to be said for the theory that volunteering once does more harm than good. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes, and ask yourself whether you’d like a handout or a hand up. Helping families in need means more than just swooping in to ladle soup one afternoon. True restoration comes through repeated, regular encounters where organic friendships inevitably grow.
How do you preserve the pride and confidence of those you’re serving? What would you add to this list? Tweet your ideas to @TomsofMaine.
Image source: Flickr
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.