by Svetlana Grobman, CPL Librarian
Originally published by the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Once again, a holiday season is upon us. Holidays are a great time for giving presents. They also are a moment to think more broadly about giving — not only to our families but also to those less fortunate.>
Giving is not a new concept. In America, its roots go back to the time of the English colonists, for whom helping each other with barn-raising other projects was a practical necessity.
That culture of collaboration was further advanced by Benjamin Franklin. In Philadelphia, Franklin created perhaps the first personal system of civic philanthropy in America. His efforts resulted in the establishment of America’s first subscription library in 1731, as well as a hospital and much more.
Since Franklin’s time, many Americans have lent a hand to their country. The list of great American philanthropists is long, and it includes Andrew Carnegie and most recently Bill and Melinda Gates. Yet there’s more to giving than just money. It also includes the giving of time and energy.
Today, volunteerism is on the rise in our country. According to Department of Labor statistics on volunteering, in 2008, approximately 26 percent of the population volunteered at least once, 23 percent of men and 39 percent of women, mostly ages 35 to 44, and there also is a rise in teen volunteers. Now, let’s take a look at the library’s shelves: “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) is Bill Clinton’s call to better the world. The book describes how people, both famous and obscure, have given time, money and skills to causes. It includes a resource guide.
At once practical and inspirational, “The Idealist.org Handbook to Building a Better World” (Penguin Group, 2009) asks readers simple but penetrating questions: Are you an idealist? If so, what are you going to do about it? The book is a must-read for anyone interested in making a difference.
“The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering” by Jenny Friedman (Robins Lane Press, 2003) presents ideas for families with children. It also includes charts on the developmental abilities of kids, which explain how and when children can participate.
Parents who want to pass the “volunteering gene” to their children will learn from Jill Rigby’s “Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World” (Howard Books, 2008) and Sondra Clark’s “77 Creative Ways Kids Can Serve” (Wesleyan Publishing House, 2008). Ideas range from becoming a junior forest ranger to "Do Something Club,” and each idea includes steps, Web sites and necessary materials.
If you’re a leader working with volunteers, don’t miss “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Recruiting and Managing Volunteers” by John Lipp (Alpha, 2009). The book covers all aspects of management: interviewing, managing performance, building teams, fundraising and more.
Want to combine travel with a worthy cause? Read Sheryl Kayne’s “Volunteer Vacations Across America” (Countryman, 2009) and Fabio Ausenda’s “Green Volunteers: The World Guide to Voluntary Work in Nature Conservation” (Green Volunteers, 2009). Both are packed with helpful facts and information.
Those who enjoy reading personal accounts will appreciate Eve Brown-Waite’s “First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life” (Broadway Books, 2008), an absorbing true story about an idealistic young couple who wanted to make the world a better place and ended up in rural Uganda. Another book in that category is James Maskalyk’s “Six Months in Sudan: A Young Doctor in a War-Torn Village” (Spiegel & Grau, 2009). Maskalyk, a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders, draws a moving and troubling account of life without clean water, reliable electricity or access to medical care, food or education.
There are many books written by idealists and altruists. Yet, did you ever wonder why they give so much? Why do they put themselves in harm’s way? What are their rewards? Stephen Post explores these questions in “Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves the Link between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life” (Broadway Books, 2007). Post writes that “giving” shifts our psychology and biology, no matter our age, experience or walk of life.
Giving doesn’t have to be big. It can be as small as a phone call or spare change. Yet it can create a worldwide movement, as did Cami Walker’s book “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” (Da Capo, 2009). The act of giving is transformative, says Walker, and it enhances the giver’s health and happiness. Or, in the words of Charles Dickens, "No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another."