Helping others is good for the soul―and your health. Here are five ways to reach out during the holidays and beyond.
1. Start simple. Offer to take your grandfather's car in for servicing. Help an office colleague wrap Christmas presents. Invite somebody over for dinner. Make a call to a long-lost family member or friend.
2. Extend your world. Talk to the folks who live on your block. In one Ann Arbor, Michigan, neighborhood, a resident took the initiative and created a computer directory, with photos and e-mail addresses, for 50 neighborhood families. You can also set up newsletters and regular block get-togethers.
3. Combine personal and community interests. A singles club in Washington, D.C., plans all its events around volunteer activities. Hundreds may show up to lend a hand on a community project and meet new people. (For more local examples, check out the stories at www.bettertogether.org).
4. Go online. Match your interests and schedules with the needs of community groups in your area. VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org) will ask for your ZIP code so it can hook you up with one of the 45,000 nonprofit organizations it represents nationwide. The Points of Light Foundation (www.pointsoflight.org) maintains a similar national network.
5. Keep it going past the holidays. "Every year, organizations that serve food to the poor are overwhelmed by people who want to work on Thanksgiving or Christmas," says Beth Davis, who left an advertising career to work full-time with Denver's Metro Volunteers. To compensate for the seasonal bunching-up, Davis helps match volunteers with times and organizations that can use the help year-round. "These organizations only have so many slots they can fill during the holidays. But when they ask if people can come back to help in January, they don't get the response they need." If you're connected in March, June, and August, then chances are when Christmastime rolls around, you'll have plenty of new friends to celebrate with.