The dawning of spring and subsequent theme of rebirth always have a way of nudging me to reevaluate my life: my choices, my actions, who I am as a person. I've realized that my life is, well, mostly about me. As a young adult, I've been focused, if not obsessed, on budgeting my time, developing my nascent career, and steering a tight ship through the choppy waters of my uncertain future. Age aside, so many of us are consumed with day-to-day affairs and planning for what is yet to be. Maybe it's time we look beyond our homes, jobs, and tiny worlds for the answers to what is lacking in our lives. A place where there is a community in need of contributors. A place that can only grow by the love and participation of good people.
Ways to give back and feel rich without spending or receiving a dime:
Strut your skills. Teach your talent. One of the most beautiful parts about being human is that we are all unique, each with our own perfect flaws, idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses. And because this diversity exists, we all are born with a special knowledge or insight and the opportunity to share it with others. Are you good at something that others seem to struggle with? Do you have a passion or a hobby that other people seem interested in? Brooklyn street artist, RAE, recently lived this ethos in Ethiopia where he helped school children turn art into proceeds for the Alemu Woldehanna Community Library. Find your talent and get creative! You could host a free class at your home, a cozy restaurant or in a public park. An organization in Atlanta called the Atlanta Free School hosts free daily classes on myriad subjects. Everyone can teach and everyone can learn. See if something similar exists in your neck of the woods. If not, start one.
Fill bellies. Feed souls. There may be no better way to nurture the soul than to provide someone with a warm, delicious meal. You can take a hand-on approach, joining the ranks of groups likeFood Not Bombs, and directly contribute to foraging, cooking, and sharing meals with the hungry, you can volunteer at your local soup kitchen, or with an organization that distributes meals weekly in public places. Dine at a restaurant like Café 458, where all the workers are volunteers and all the proceeds (and tips) go directly to programs and services aiding the homeless. Whether you are volunteering to feed the homeless or simply sharing a feast with your friends, filling bellies feeds souls, and everyone deserves to go to sleep full.
Offer a free service. In our modern-day world of capitalism and consumerism, the exchange of money for goods and services seems to be a never-ending transaction. "Time is money" is an oft-repeated phrase. Let's reinvent the concept of doing random acts of kindness before it becomes an obsolete one. Offer childcare services for a busy family, tutor a student, clean for an elderly couple. Offer a ride to your coworkers, do yard work for your neighbors, send snail mail to a soldier, or give an hour of good conversation to someone in need of a friend.
Get your hands dirty. If you've ever been interested in working on an organic farm, now is the perfect time to learn. Sustainable agriculture is a growing movement and there are a variety of services that match volunteers looking to work and learn with farmers in need of little help. In exchange for a few hours of work a day, the host farm provides a free meal, a place to stay, and the opportunity to learn the ropes of rural life and the local lifestyle of a new community. Organizations like WWOOF and Workaway are great places to start, and each lists farms, gardens, and projects in almost every country in the world. Spend half a day at a local farm or half a year in a foreign country. Leave dirtier, heartier, happier.
Use the Internet for good: Many of us would love to volunteer, but can't find the time because of demanding, jam-packed schedules. Yet, we all find time, sometimes hours a day, for the Internet. Using Sparked.com, online volunteering for busy people, you can peruse a list of nonprofits and help them overcome their challenges based on your interests and skills. Copywriters, graphic designers, techies, social media buffs, and researchers wanted. It's a great way to volunteer digitally and to break up the monotony of email-checking and web-browsing. Instead of being sucked down the Internet vortex that often leads to Buzzfeed, channel your cyber savvy towards the betterment of your community. - Josalin Saffer