Include Newcomers In Your Holiday Volunteer Projects

Karen Overstreet  |  11/30/2005 11:12:57 PM

Although some hurricane evacuees still need donations to meet basic needs, others may welcome the opportunity to participate in local events, like a Christmas parade. Invite newcomers to join in the fun.

News You Can Use For December 2005

As you get ready for the holidays this year, look around you. There likely will be many families who have been displaced by the hurricanes. They aren’t necessarily living in shelters or in trailer cities.

Thousands of displaced families have purchased homes, rented apartments or are still living with other family members, which makes them easier to overlook.

Although some evacuees still need donations to meet basic needs, others may welcome the opportunity to participate in local events, according to LSU AgCenter family resource management specialist Dr. Karen Overstreet.

Does your town have a Christmas parade? Have a community celebration to decorate the town square or other traditions. Are your kids busy practicing for holiday plays? Are you singing with a choir? Invite newcomers to participate.

Taking the initiative to join existing programs can be difficult for newcomers, especially if they don’t know many people. Offer to pick them up or share babysitting services so that they can become involved, Overstreet suggests.

Many families have traditions that involve volunteering during the holidays. The activities may be organized by a local church, community group, work place or school. Individual families may plan something on their own.

Collecting food for the food bank, caroling, wrapping toys for children in need, decorating a tree for neighbors whose spouse is overseas and baking cookies as a thank-you for volunteer firemen are all activities that can be done by families or small groups. Consider inviting a new family to partake in yours this year to share your traditional activities.

"Volunteering is a way that displaced families can feel like they are contributing something back to a community that helped them," Overstreet says, adding, "The opportunity to help others can be an important part of the healing process."

Keep in mind that every community, just as every family, has different traditions. As newcomers participate with you, ask about their traditions. This may be an opportunity to start new ones. Expect that there may be some tears as people cope with their losses.

Favorite recipes, cherished decorations or the children’s stockings may have been washed away. Although these are not essential items, they are part of who we are.

"We can’t replace the sentimental items, but we can help to create new memories," Overstreet says.

A cookie exchange is a fun way to try out new recipes and share in the fun. Instead of everyone taking several dozen cookies home, create baskets as gifts for the homeless shelter or other community group. Many relief workers are also a long way from home and would appreciate being remembered.

Overstreet says to consider documenting your activities and putting together a community scrapbook to give to each participant or sell as a fundraiser for community projects. It’s a good way to remember the positive things that have occurred and the new friends we’ve made.

For related holiday topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Source: Karen Overstreet (225) 578-1425, or Koverstreet@agcenter.lsu.edu

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