If lending a hand in the new year is on your list of resolutions, you can volunteer even if you have physical limitations.
The new year is all about a fresh start, whether that’s shedding an old habit that’s holding you back or embracing a new one to improve your life. For someone with multiple sclerosis (MS), the act of making New Year’s resolutions can inspire a sense of optimism and productivity for the future. While many of our goals may concern our health, such as resolving to eat more nutritious foods or to exercise more often, I encourage you to consider adding an act of service to your list.
Before I developed MS, helping others was a regular part of my life. I enjoyed this work immensely because it deepened my connection to the community. But my illness severely curtailed my ability to lend a hand in the traditional way. Standing for long periods of time or caring for children or animals were no longer viable options for me. However, lately, I’ve found creative avenues for giving back that maximize my special gifts.
Now, I make at least one community service resolution each year. Helping others takes my mind off my own circumstances, and as before, it helps me feel more connected to the larger world.
Volunteering while living with MS can be a bit of a challenge because of our physical limitations, but it’s entirely possible with a little creative thinking. Below, I share several ideas and tips for making a difference in your own way.
So many people in the world today go without having their basic needs met. Fortunately, countless organizations accept donations of everything from food to clothes to household goods to distribute to those who are in need. You can easily donate clothing and household goods to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store, as well as to local organizations. Many of these places even provide a drive-through lane for drop-offs. The same is true for my local food pantry. The volunteers there will happily unload my trunk when I arrive with cans or boxes of nonperishable food items, and I don’t even have to get out of the car.
Food is one of humanity’s most basic needs, and bringing nourishment to other people is one of the most fulfilling things you can do. Not only do I regularly donate to the local food pantry, but I also cook for others. Because pie shells are sold in packs of two, and my husband J.P. and I can eat only one pie at a time, I often bake an extra pie for someone else. Or if I’m making granola bars, I’ll double the recipe and share the extras with an elderly friend at my church. Making small batches of food for others helps them and doesn’t tire me out.
Joyce, one of my dearest friends, has found a special way to serve others, and all it takes is a little time and a postage stamp. She sends cards or letters of encouragement to those in need in our community, which is a simple act of grace that brings both comfort and cheer. In fact, I was so inspired by her example that I’ve started sending my own notes to others. There are no expectations for this activity, which means I set the pace and do the work at a time that accommodates my needs.
This is another easy way to give back that offers enormous benefits. If you know of someone who is homebound, lonely, or living in a nursing home, consider visiting them regularly. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the faces of our dear friends Lenton and Sue, who are both living in a skilled care facility. Catching up and trading stories with each other brings as much joy to me as it does to them. If I have a day when I don’t feel like leaving home, I will call them instead, and our visits are just as meaningful.
Even if you’re not able to travel at all, you can still be of service within the convenience of your own home. If you’re computer-savvy, the internet offers many options to promote a good cause, from reposting social media messages from your favorite charities to online participation in meetings. The National MS Society, for example, provides many opportunities to volunteer virtually through its Digital Activism page, such as connecting with other MS advocates and interacting with legislators on matters regarding the disease.
Becky, a woman I met through my church, has a talent for knitting, and she makes winter caps for the homeless. While I can’t knit, I did assist Becky with another mission by purchasing a bundle of notebooks intended for women in prison enrolled in college courses. This year, I also helped assemble bags with goodies donated by others for our church’s holiday gift drive for the homebound. Because this was a group effort, the responsibility was shared by others, which minimized the stress on me.
Do you have the ability to read or speak another language? If so, you can volunteer time to translate written materials or help manage related projects. For more information, visit the website for Translators Without Borders, which is a global community of over 100,000 language volunteers committed to helping refugees and other people communicate regardless of the language they speak. This is another activity where you can control the pace and work entirely from home.
Do you like to read? If so, and if you have access to the internet, consider spreading the word about books written by authors you admire either by writing book reviews or promoting the author’s website. As a service to my favorite authors, I follow them on social media and help celebrate their latest book releases. This also advances the value of reading, which improves literacy and builds empathy and understanding among others. With this goal in mind, you could also volunteer to help others learn to read, perhaps even remotely. Contact your local literacy council or library for more information.
Staying vigilant about events affecting your community is an invaluable service that may save a life. Be the person who reports events that you may observe from your window to the authorities, such as dangerous obstructions on the street, abandoned vehicles, or lost animals. You can serve in this way simply by using the telephone.
I’m unable to personally participate in charity bike rides or walkathons, but I love sponsoring someone who does. The monetary contributions and the emotional support will assist not just one individual but will lift up the entire organization and help even more people. Cheering on others allows me to participate but still protect my health at the same time.
Signing up to be an organ donor is one of the best and easiest things you can do for the world. It will also pay dividends well beyond your own life. You can register as an organ donor either online through your state registry or at your local motor vehicle department. For the greater good, encourage your friends to do the same.
As you consider the best service opportunity for you, consider activities where the sole responsibility doesn’t fall on you. This way, you have a backup if you find yourself fatigued or unable to fulfill the work. If you’re new to volunteering, I also suggest that you start small and don’t overcommit yourself. You should also remember that even the littlest things count. A prayer, a smile, or a kind word goes a long way toward making the world a better place. Think about it like this: If everyone made an effort to do the little things, the big things might take care of themselves.
Medically reviewed on January 03, 2023
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