Have a community service Christmas

Debbie Jacob  -
Debbie Jacob -

Debbie Jacob

ONE CHRISTMAS season, when my daughter Ijanaya was a teenager, she said, “I have told all my friends to give money or a gift to the charity of their choice instead of buying me a gift.”

That same Christmas, she decided on random acts of kindness. Ijanaya bought fast food meals, and we drove around looking for people who needed food and cheer.

We gave the gas station attendant who always spoke to us about the latest movie he saw dinner and movie vouchers at a cinema. It was one of the most memorable Christmases I ever had – right up there with the time former superintendent of YTC Sterling Stewart allowed me to spend Christmas Day with my students after my children had moved away. I had a Christmas turkey for my YTC students and macaroni pie .

Another favourite Christmas memory is the year that the late Owen Baptiste, editor-in-chief of the Trinidad Express, pulled me from all work to identify needy community projects and then find companies or individuals to support them.

I remember TSTT sponsored six hearing aids for children in the School for the Deaf.

Right up there in my Christmas memory bank is the holiday when Ijanaya decided we would donate a Christmas tree and ornaments to the Port of Spain Prison waiting room. We transformed a sad and dreary place to a place of light and hope.

Presents under the Christmas tree for friends and family are fine, but a community service-driven Christmas embodies the true spirit of the holiday.

Find an NGO to see if you can contribute time to help the disadvantaged in this country. Identify needs in your community. Involve your children in these projects.

Community service helps children to develop empathy. It raises our social consciousness to another level and roots us in our communities. Volunteering actually changes our brains, makes us happier, helps us to combat depression and creates a feeling of togetherness. CT brain scans show that the part of the brain that controls happiness and fulfilment lights up a larger area in people who participate religiously in community service. Volunteering helps us to erase socio-economic boundaries.

Check out NGOs like Let’s Read, which creates elementary school libraries and stocks them with books. See how you can contribute to this worthy cause. Check out the Living Water Community, which helps displaced immigrants and the poor. If you like animals, find ways to enrich the lives of animals in animal shelters.

There may be opportunities for dog walking or playing with dogs and cats. Find ways to donate toys, treats and medicine for needy animals.

Check places like the YMCA, the YWCA and women’s shelters to see if they need books, clothes and toys. Make sure you buy new items. I can’t tell you how many times I have got bags of tattered clothes, literally rags, donated to Wishing for Wings for inmates.

This is an opportunity to give from the heart and make people feel special. Put yourself in the place of the person you are giving to. Would you like someone to give you used clothes or toys for Christmas?

Buy new books – especially Caribbean literature – to donate to school libraries, shelters and prisons. Inmates always appreciate Caribbean literature and motivational books.

Provide a generous food-care package for a poor family. Some grocery stores have such bags ready to purchase, but it can be fun to involve your children in making your own food bag with tins of Christmas cookies and essential items. Check out the Blind Welfare Association, which needs funds to buy teaching materials like Lego blocks and books in Braille for their students.

The possibilities for community service are endless. Identify your passion, think creatively and be consistent in your commitment. Help develop research skills in your children as you gather information about the NGOs that exist in this country and the services they provide.

All NGOs can use financial assistance. If you’re not ready to participate in person for a Christmas community project, donate to a cause that speaks to your heart.

Most importantly, come through with your promises. The people who need support live on the periphery of this society. They live with broken promises every day. They don’t need to be disappointed any time of year, let alone Christmas. Your aim is to make the holiday special for them.

Use your imagination and make this a Christmas that can change the course of your life.


"Have a community service Christmas"

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