The Spirit of Giving
What does “holiday spirit” mean to a teen? By the time a child is in middle school or high school it is expected that they know the holidays aren’t only about gifts, glitzy decor and delicious food. Yet so much of what they see, hear and experience might suggest otherwise. How are children expected to reconcile the discrepancies between what we say the holidays should be and the way they are portrayed in the media and by advertisers? A great way to start is to get kids involved in community service projects that will promote a spirit of generosity and teach them the value of giving back. ( Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine )
Here are four local programs to consider:
Lazarus House Ministries provides emergency shelter, food and clothing to people in crisis, and welcomes volunteers of all ages. There are many ways to help, but for starters, young people are encouraged to mobilize toy or clothing drives. New and used toys are accepted, and items such as socks and mittens are much needed during the holiday season. Project Bethlehem is Lazarus House’s gift-giving program, in which young people can wrap presents or shop thoughtfully for age-specific items that have been personally requested by individuals in need. Organizing a holiday party at the shelter, coordinating the donation of an artificial Christmas tree with decorating supplies, and leading evening activities for children (crafts, story time, and gingerbread house, cupcake or cookie decorating) are other ways teens can help Lazarus House meet its holiday goals.
Teens who are interested in getting involved should contact Volunteer Coordinator Kelly Townsend at (978) 269-5217 or via email at Volunteers@LazarusHouse.org. To learn more about Lazarus House, contact Kathie Clark, director of communications, at
(978) 269-5210 or via email at KClark@LazarusHouse.org.
Lazarus House Ministries Inc.
The Anna Jaques Hospital Aid Association raises money to purchase special equipment for the hospital, and it runs several annual events that are well-suited for teen involvement. The Newburyport High School Varsity Choral Group performs every December at the Tree of Light ceremony held by the AJH Aid Association, and teens with performing arts skills are encouraged to contact AJH to find out about other performance opportunities within the hospital and at fundraising events.
“It is very encouraging to see the level of maturity these teenagers have,” says Mary Ann Abbott, president of the aid association. “The time they take to volunteer is huge. It means so much on a college résume, and it helps them develop into the kind of adults we want in this world.”
Contact the volunteer services office at Anna Jaques Hospital for teen opportunities, (978) 463-1150.
Anna Jaques Hospital
MSPCA at Nevins Farm protects and helps homeless animals. The Nevins Holiday Tree & Christmas Feast for the Horses will be held on Dec. 5 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Kids can share a meal with adoptable horses by collecting carrots, apples and peppermint candies to place in their stockings. Teens can also organize their friends, classmates or teammates to help provide items on the animals’ “wish list.”
The winter School Break Program for ages 6 to 15 and the Junior Volunteer Program for ages 12 to 15 offer kids the chance to roll up their sleeves and work alongside adult volunteers to help clean, care for and socialize with the many adoptable animals at Nevins Farm. Groups might enjoy organizing a holiday bake sale to raise funds for the animal shelter. If you are an animal lover and want to help during the holidays, contact HumaneEducation@MSPCA.org for questions or a copy of the wish list.
Pre-register for all programs at MSPCA.org/NevinsEducation.
MSPCA at Nevins Farm
SHED Inc. is a nonprofit organization that offers learning programs for children ages 2 years and 9 months to 15. Shed’s focus on building relationships with families and the community translates well to the organization’s holiday outreach efforts. SHED’s Adopt-a-Family program was created 15 years ago by Facilities Manager Joel Greer. Its goal is to assist 25 local underprivileged families. Families in need submit wish lists ranging from food items to Santa gifts. Each SHED classroom adopts a family, and students then shop for items specific to the person making the request. Names and ages are provided, making the effort more personalized.
Linda Shottes-Bouchard, a director of SHED’s Kid’s Club Program, says the spirit of giving that’s fostered during the holidays shines at the school year-round. One student rallied a group of peers to raise more than $1,800 for the Jimmy Fund in honor of a friend, she says. “The giving spirit is contagious,” Shottes-Bouchard says. “It has its own energy and momentum.”
SHED welcomes outside participation in its Adopt-a-Family program. Interested teens can call (978) 623-8460. For more youth service opportunities during the holidays, or any time of year, inquire with your local library, church, YMCA, nursing home, youth center, senior center, chamber of commerce, food bank or food pantry.