Everyday philanthropy: Small, simple acts enrich others

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 5 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

While surveying mounds of crinkled wrapping paper strewn across the floor after the holidays — each piece a symbol of your decreased bank account — finding more ways to give is probably the last thing on your mind.

But a generous spirit can be maintained even after the Christmas lights are put away, and author Nicole Bouchard Boles teaches you how to easily do just that with her book "How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist."

Philanthropy isn't just old, rich women writing out big checks. Boles' book shows how the true definition of philanthropy — "an active effort to promote human welfare" — doesn't require spending any money at all.

Boles said people can use their existing belongings or daily waste to promote human welfare, along with giving their time.

And as our society increasingly revolves around time in front of the computer screen, philanthropic work can quickly be done with a few clicks of the mouse.

For example, Boles donates to 20 charities every day, all before getting up to make breakfast.

She visits HungryChildren.com, TheNonProfits.com and other click-to-donate charity Web sites that provide food and medication to needy children and educate students in developing countries as she sips her morning coffee.

Seven years ago, Boles, a stay-at-home mom, had an itch to serve her community. But she knew that her budget, time and opportunities were limited.

She began interviewing charities and compiling a list of ways people could give in small, simple ways.

"This book helps people realize that the small things they've been doing all along really are significant," Boles said. "People make small choices every day that show they really are philanthropists, so the book makes them feel validated."

Once people gain that validation, she hopes they will continue improving their community in ways close to their hearts.

"Philanthropy isn't really one-size-fits-all," Boles said. "When you assist the causes you care about, you are fighting for something you believe is important.  … For most people, that is the desire — getting to the heart of something they care about."

Boles recommends using personal talents to make a difference. Mothers can hold and nurture neglected hospitalized babies. Musicians can play for the elderly in nursing homes. Cosmetologists can join Hairstylists for Humanity, and scientists can volunteer for human-rights organizations with On-Call Scientists.

Boles assures people that whether they are building an impressive resume or fulfilling a church duty, any reason to give is a good reason.

"You don't have to be a saint to do this. It's OK to expect to get something out of giving," she said. "In a practical way, whenever we give to others, we are doing good for ourselves. It's a natural process of improving quality of life, but it doesn't mean we are selfish."

Boles suggests reaching out to your own community before seeking out national charities, which can be done by talking to city leaders or searching your city on sites like www.Volunteer.org, or in Utah, www.UnitedWayUVC.org.

Once people are aware of ways they can help their community, participation is relatively easy. Take Kay Johnson, an American Fork resident who has been involved with numerous local projects for the past eight years.

Johnson, her cousin, sisters-in-law and daughters meet about three times a month to work on humanitarian projects of every kind — from sewing T-shirt dresses for Utah-based charity Hearts and Hands in Action to making dolls for Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

The six women have made quilts for the Food & Care Coalition in Provo, knitted hats for local shelters, sent school bags to the LDS Humanitarian Center — all while getting together to chat.

"We tell people we like to talk, so we may as well keep our hands busy while we're gabbing. That's kind of become our motto," Johnson said.

Recently, Johnson and her family prepared Christmas gifts to send with her sister-in-law, Mapleton resident Mary Lynn Van Sickle, to a Navajo reservation in Chinle, Ariz., where Van Sickle and her husband have gone to build houses for the past two years.

"We don't need to go to another country to help people," Van Sickle said. "There are people in the U.S. that live like people in a Third World country. ... I go down there, and it just makes me so grateful for what I have."

Though the women initially relied on the Web site www.LDSPhilanthropies.org to seek humanitarian projects, now they frequently find giving opportunities by word of mouth. Like when people clean out their closets and pass on unused fabric.

"The whole thing just kind of snowballed," Johnson said. "People hear that you sew, and they ask you to do something, so we just try to sew what people need. And we have a lot of fun together."

Often never knowing just who receives her clothes and goods, Johnson said she probably benefits more than the recipients of her work, taking pleasure in putting her sewing skills to good use — in an "everyday philanthropy" kind of way.

e-mail: bbrown@desnews.com

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