Give the ultimate gift this holiday season—yourself
By Stephanie Garcia
There's no denying that Christmas (in the commercialized sense) has become a celebration of consumption. The minute Thanksgiving has ended, visions of barcodes, prices and endless lists dance in our heads, making the holidays either an extremely bountiful or stressful season.
Aah, Christmas in a corporate, gift-wrapped, sugar-coated society.
For our Last Minute Gift Guide, the staff at the Alibi wish to step aside from the holiday season mania for just a moment and focus on the act of good will. So before you take one more trip to the shopping mall to encounter more number crunching mayhem, take time out to reflect upon these figures.
• 5,000 homeless people a year are documented in Albuquerque (source: St. Martin Hospitality Center and Joy Junction).
• 13,403 cases of child abuse and neglect are investigated in New Mexico (source: 1997 National Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
• 504 women at the Rape Crisis Center in Albuquerque visited the nurse examiners unit in 2003, and 757 rapes were reported in 1999 (source: Rape Crisis Center and New Mexico Department of Public Safety).
• 17.9 percent of people over 60 years old live at or below the poverty level (source: U.S. Administration on Aging).
• Approximately 20 percent of New Mexicans function at level one literacy--the lowest level on a scale of one to five (source: New Mexico Coalition for Literacy).
• In New Mexico, 30 percent of children live in poverty (source: UNM Career Works).
• Half of Americans with young children earn less than $35,000 a year (UNM Career works).
These are only a few of the startling statistics we face not only through the holidays but throughout the year. Giving the gift of yourself could be the most valuable gift you can give this year. By doing our part to volunteer, perhaps we can make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Here are a few suggestions on how and where you can volunteer through the holidays and all year long.
Spread the Warmth This Winter
Freezing cold temperatures are bringing many homeless people into shelters this holiday season.
There are approximately 10 homeless shelters in Albuquerque, and many of these are overpopulated and short-staffed.
One of the ways to help this Christmas and throughout the year is to volunteer at a local homeless shelter. There are various ways to do so.
I spoke with a few representatives from shelters here in town. They provided a few suggestions on how people can volunteer their services and what donations are greatly appreciated.
Joy Junction is an emergency shelter that offers meals and clothing for women, couples and parents with children. Jeremy Reynalds, founder and executive director of Joy Junction, said that there are several unconventional ways that someone can volunteer beyond the usual serving of holiday dinners (which is also greatly appreciated). People can also help out by doing manual labor on the grounds (this consists of whatever the facility might need at the time). They can help organize special performances, plays, etc. for the holidays.
They can dress up as Santa Claus or clowns to bring cheer to the less fortunate. Musicians are also encouraged to put on musical performances to entertain the homeless. If you've got a talent, surely you can put it to good use by sharing it with others.
Cuidando Los Niños is a child care program for homeless children 6 weeks to 5 years old. Kevin Gick, community outreach specialist at Cuidando los Niños, said that they also graciously accept volunteers. They need help in the child care facility. They also need administrative help in the office. This includes filing, organizing and whatever is needed at the time. They need somebody to help with maintenance in the kitchen. Gick also stated that they are very busy on Parent Night (every Thursday) and need volunteers to help out during this time.
Good Shepherd is an emergency shelter for homeless men. Brother Charles said that volunteers can feed families at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it is important that people know that they can help any day of the year. Throughout the holidays, they have an abundance of volunteers, but after that these numbers drop significantly. Brother Charles said Good Shepherd's volunteer needs vary. Call and ask what you can do to help.
In terms of donations, these organizations have their own list, but you might also want to call to see if your donation is appropriate.
Reynalds said that they need unwrapped, "nonscary" toys, uncooked turkeys, money, canned goods and clothes (clean, not ripped or torn). What they don't need are damaged items. "We don't need stuff that donors will not give their own family," Reynalds said. For a complete listing of Joy Junction's wish list, visit their website.
Gick said that they encourage people to have diaper drives, clothing drives, fundraising parties and toy drives. They need toys that are suitable for children up to 5 years old. He also said that Cuidando Los Niños is in desperate need of a van because they provide transportation for children to and from the facility everyday. Gick said he encourages people to give a little all year long as opposed to just during the holidays. Throughout the year, there is a major shortage of donations. Gick said that the one thing they don't need are used toys.
Brother Charles said that canned foods and cereals are greatly appreciated. People can also have can and clothing drives. They are in desperate need of winter jackets and clothing. He encourages those who wish to send women's and girls clothing to the Barrett House Foundation, which is a homeless shelter for women and children.
These are just a few ideas of the many ways you can help the less fortunate this holiday season. Below is a list of homeless organizations. Give them a call to find out what you can do to make the world a better place.
You may want to donate something even more important than your money—you may want to give your time. And, although there are countless worthy organizations out there that focus on critical issues such as the environment, homelessnes, or even the impending voter recount, you can't get more community focused than by giving back to the future.
There are many varieties of youth organizations, and many varieties of folks who are welcome to volunteer. As Thomas Williams, Program Director of Big Brothers and Sisters of Central New Mexico says, volunteers should be as diverse as are the children they're helping. This is especially true of Big Brothers and Big Sisters volunteers, who range in age from 16 to 70, and whose interests vary as widely as their years. This organization is always on the lookout for helpers, and currently has a waiting list with as many as 300 kids looking to find a friend. Being a Big Brother or Sister takes as little as four to eight hours a month, and, although the organization welcomes anyone, they're in dire need of adult males, especially Hispanic adult males. So if you have some time to take a child to a park, build a model airplane, or if you could use an assistant while baking your Russian teacakes and slathering icing on your gingerbread, you might want to give them a call, 837-9223.
If your interest in helping the youth is a little more long-term, you may want to consider calling Amigos de las Americas, an organization that brings a slightly older crowd of kids, ages 16-24, down to Central America to work on projects such as developing gardens, building latrines and showing the locals how to purify their water. If you fall into this age range and have at least two years of Spanish under your belt, or if you're interested in helping the group raise money and providing other services, then you may be just what they're looking for, 822-9870.
You could also look into your local 4H Program, which has 20 different clubs in Bernalillo County alone. If you like arts and crafts, animals, or just about anything else, and you want to work with youth, this is a good place to call. This organization focuses on teaching life skills to children through leadership, home economics, livestock and other programs, 243-1386.
If you love birds, think bats are cool, or generally get a kick out of reptiles, Talking Talons is always looking for adult and youth volunteers. Their motto is "caring about wildlife and youth," and if that's you, give them a call. You must be 18 or older to work with birds and bats. Kids that want to volunteer can learn how to take care of snakes, turtles and salamanders, and do public presentations, 281-1133.
This is just a sampling of what's available in our city in the way of youth organizations, not to mention other nonprofits with goals that are just as admirable. No matter what your skills or interests, there's likely a group out there that would love your help. A good way to get involved and find out about organizations that you might like to work for, is to simply slap open your local yellow pages, check the various listings for youth organizations and call around. So this holiday season, you can feel free to get back to working for something positive in our community, and give the gift of time.
By Stephanie Garcia
A lot of people this holiday season just need someone to turn to.
Here are a couple of suggestions on what you can do to help local crisis intervention organizations that offer support to those who are facing difficult times.
The Rape Crisis Center provides extensive support to sexual assault victims and their families. Crystal Carrasco, crisis services volunteer coordinator at the Rape Crisis Center in Albuquerque, said that they need committed volunteers to take phone calls for the Center's 24-hour hotline. Volunteers must complete a sexual assault exam as well as other exams. She said that they greatly appreciate volunteers, but they need people that will be dedicated and committed to complete training. Volunteers must be 18 years or older and can be either male or female. Check the center's website for more details on volunteering, www.rape-crisis.org.
The Women's Community Association Shelter for Domestic Violence provides services such as counseling, advocacy and support services at its shelter for victims of domestic violence. Anita Cordova, development coordinator at the shelter, said that there are many ways that people can volunteer. They can coordinate events. The shelter needs help wrapping gifts for the holidays and help serving big dinners such as Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Volunteers can also participate in whatever project the shelter is currently working on. They can help with marketing, graphics and administrative work. They can also volunteer at Second Chances, the shelter's resale shop, by sorting clothes and organizing the store.
Agora UNM Crisis Center is a listening service where people can call and talk about their troubles to an agora counselor. Jeremy Jaramillo, public relations director, said that they need committed volunteers who will complete a 40-hour training session and commit one year to a year- and-a-half of phone-answering service. They also need volunteers for their street team. This entails spreading the word about Agora and posting fliers. People who are computer savvy can provide technical assistance. They also encourage volunteers to plan fundraising events. Jaramillo said any skills will be considered. Give them a call at 277-7855.
You can donate a variety of items to these crisis intervention centers. Carrasco said that the Rape Crisis center could always use cash donations. They need new carpeting and someone to help with the installation. Carrasco said that the center has different needs at different times of the year. Those interested in volunteering should call and find out what the center needs at that specific time. She also said that people can sponsor a hotline, which is $150 a day, or a counseling session, which is $50 a session. Call the center to find out if your donation will be acceptable, 266-7711.
Cordova at the Women's Community Center for Domestic Violence said that they have a goal to get a gift for everyone in their care. They need socks for women and children, underwear, gift certificates in increments of $5, personal care items and office supplies. What they don't need are stuffed animals and used items that are in poor condition. For more information on donations visit www.swcp.com/wca.
Jaramillo at the Agora UNM Crisis Center said that money is needed. They also need office supplies and media equipment, such as digital cameras or old VHS cameras. They need a place for storage. Jaramillo said that anything people can offer is greatly appreciated, but he encourages people not to drop off their furniture there.
Call these organizations or check in the phone book for a list of other crisis intervention organizations, and find out what you can do to offer support.