Make a dif­fer­ence with one gift

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Ron StrandSor­rell

On the cold­est night in Novem­ber, I was sleep­ing out­side on a card­board box.

It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last. Ev­ery year, a hand­ful of my co­work­ers and I leave our cozy beds to sleep out­side in Ex­plo­ria Sta­dium. It’s usu­ally cold, some­times rainy, and it gives us a tiny taste of what hun­dreds of chil­dren and teenagers in our com­mu­nity strug­gle with ev­ery day.

The Sleep Out ben­e­fits Covenant House Florida, a non­profit shel­ter for run­away, home­less and at-risk youth — a cause that’s es­pe­cially close to my heart. The shel­ters aren’t just a place where kids can find a safe bed and meals. It’s a chance for them to earn a GED, to ac­cess health­care and ther­apy, and to gain the job skills and financial ed­u­ca­tion they need to be suc­cess­ful long af­ter they leave.

At the hol­i­days, we look for ways to give back to the com­mu­nity. Above all, it’s a re­minder that one per­son can have a big im­pact — and no im­pact is too small.

Here’s how you can make a dif­fer­ence: one night, one hour and one con­ver­sa­tion at a time.

Reach out: In­ter­ested in vol­un­teer­ing, but not sure where to start? The hol­i­days are packed with char­ity events, mak­ing it a great time to get on board. Look up lo­cal groups and find a cause that mat­ters to you, whether that means vol­un­teer­ing at an an­i­mal res­cue, serv­ing meals at a shel­ter or par­tic­i­pat­ing in a lit­ter-col­lec­tion hike.

It’s also a great chance to find out how you can stay in­volved on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Char­i­ties and non­prof­its need your help — all you have to do is ask.

Give to­gether: There’s no rea­son to vol­un­teer alone. Not only is it more re­ward­ing to share the ex­pe­ri­ence with your friends and fam­ily, but it’s also bet­ter for the char­ity you sup­port. By bring­ing just one other per­son, you can dou­ble your im­pact — and they can help spread the word, too.

Plus, there are plenty of ways to share the giv­ing spirit be­sides vol­un­teer­ing. Pass around a do­na­tion box at your work­place, host a bake sale at a school or neigh­bor­hood event, or just have a con­ver­sa­tion.

Keep go­ing: On Thanks­giv­ing Day, hun­dreds of vol­un­teers flock to food pantries to serve meals to the com­mu­nity. It’s a dis­play of over­whelm­ing gen­eros­ity and com­pas­sion — but at the end of the sea­son, when the hol­i­day fer­vor fades, there are still peo­ple who need your help.

Make it your goal to sus­tain the giv­ing spirit through­out the year. Pledge to vol­un­teer on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, do­nate monthly, or sign up for an email list to get alerts when vol­un­teers are ur­gently needed.

No matter what mo­ti­vates you to give back, I hope you take that first step. The sac­ri­fices we make are so much smaller than the pos­i­tive change we can cre­ate.

STEPHEN M. DOWELL/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

Vol­un­teers wrap gifts at the Covenant House Florida in Or­lando.

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