by Sarah Johnson
Earlier this month, while stopped at a busy, downtown Grand Junction intersection, I saw two men pushing a beat-up old truck that had broken down in the middle of traffic. The men, one in khakis and a tie, the other in a hoodie and jeans, didn’t seem to know each other, but they did wear something in common: a big, wide grin.
They managed to wrangle the truck to the curb, laughing and high fiving each other and the driver, then quickly headed back to their vehicles. The driver was clearly relieved and appreciative, but the two men who helped him out looked pretty happy, too.
They could just be good-natured guys, but it’s likely they walked away feeling better than they did before. That’s because doing good is actually good for us. Volunteering, for example, is associated with lower blood pressure and decreased mortality rates. But it also just feels good.
Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, notes that our brain responds differently when we do something out of generosity to others rather than for ourselves. Altruistic actions, he explained in a New York Times article last fall, result in a sense of well-being that typically lasts longer than the fleeting positive emotions of a self-centered act.
The upcoming holiday season brings out the giving side in many people, but it can also be a time of stress and loneliness. Regardless of how you experience the stretch from Halloween to New Year’s, doing something good for someone else is likely to boost your holiday spirit.
Our family, for example, has for the last several Christmases sponsored a family with a child with a developmental disability. According to Tanya Workman, the Family Support Services Coordinator at Mesa Developmental Services, raising a child with special needs can more than quadruple the already high cost of raising a child, making holiday expenses especially burdensome.
Giving money is, of course, always helpful, but we look forward to getting the wish list from the sponsored family and shopping together for the things we know they will enjoy. Even though the other family gets the “gifts,” we come away with a stronger sense of community and connection and a positive family experience. Contact Tanya at email@example.com or (970) 244-5519 if you’d like to sponsor a family, too.
Mesa County Libraries and Grand Valley Catholic Outreach partner to offer a similar opportunity with their Giving Tree program. You can pick a recipient off the tree at the Central Library and the Clifton, Orchard Mesa, Fruita, and Palisade branch libraries, starting November 19. Gift requests are also available on the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, located in Mesa Mall; they need volunteers to help staff the tree and sort toys, as well. Call the Salvation Army at (970) 242-7513 for more information.
Canyon View Vineyard Church prepares and delivers more than 2000 meals over the Thanksgiving holiday, which requires an army of volunteers. They welcome help from the community for the two-day effort on November 21 and 22. Details and sign-up forms are available on the church’s website.
Hope of the Grand Valley, a local organization that helps fill the gaps for underemployed parents who do not receive other assistance, needs extra contributions of time, money, food and gifts this time of year. Their busiest holiday stretch is the week of December 16, culminating in a party on December 22, so if you want a festive volunteer experience, set some time aside to help out then. More information and a sign-up form are available on their website.
The Marine Toys for Tots collects unwrapped toys at community sites across the country during November and early December. They need volunteers to pull it all off, including here in Mesa County where volunteers assist in the warehouse, transport toys, and help with meals. Sign-up is available online; local toy drop-off locations are listed on the organization’s website, as well.
For those who are struggling financially, the generous contributions of individual community members and non-profits like these can mean the difference between a stressful and a merry holiday. If you or someone you know would benefit from receiving assistance this season, call Western Colorado 211 by dialing 2-1-1. But don’t delay – many opportunities for assistance have registration deadlines.
“It’s better to give than to receive” is a phrase often repeated around the holiday season. This year, though, consider putting some time and money into one of these efforts, or another of your favorite causes. It’s good for our community and for you.