What It Is All About

by Jenn Ledonne
Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
St. Mary Parish, Alexandria, Kentucky

Assisting Others During the Holidays

We are seeing the green of Christmas trees, and the bright colors of the holiday advertisements. Youth will be talking about what they want for Christmas. Wish lists are being written and modified almost up until gift giving time. What is a youth minister to do in the face of all this materialism? How do we shift the focus of a ‘me first’ culture to an ‘others first’ mindset?

As the holidays approach, many corporations and groups schedule time to help at local soup kitchens and charitable organizations. These volunteer opportunities provide the chance for youth ministers to help teenagers shift their holiday mindset by serving others. Prepare for the first rumblings of ‘I want’ and ‘that would be cool to have’ among the youth with some social justice teaching, research, and creativity.

Challenge youth to make a Christmas wish list with a twist. For every one item they write down for themselves, they must list two items for a person, organization, or cause in need. The wish list with a twist becomes the list they give to their families and friends. In this way they are helping others while sharing in the holiday spirit.

Gift Cards Galore

Gift CardsAnother way young people can help others is to look for unused gift cards lying around the house and donate them to charitable organizations. Many people love to give gift cards, yet many recipients do not redeem them. According to an article in The New York Times, two-thirds of holiday shoppers in 2006 planned to give someone a gift card. It was estimated that $80 billion was spent on gift cards in 2006, while roughly only $8 billion were redeemed.

The following organizations take gift cards as donations to help others:

  • DonateAGiftCard.com—This organization works with various organizations to raise funds through unused gift cards.
  • Charity Choice—This site allows you to purchase a gift card and designate the funds to the charity of one’s choosing (over one hundred major charitable causes are organized into twelve categories).
  • Chemo Angels—Located in California (where gift cards do not expire), the organization uses gift cards to assist individuals undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
  • America Supports You—This website is sponsored by the United States Department of Defense, and allows donations that will be given to troops overseas or their families back at home to purchase items from base commissaries.

Other Ways To Help Others

Websites providing information on various charities

Another worthy project in which young people can help others is to raise money to give gifts to those in need. Consider Heifer Project International, where youth can join together to purchase a cow, or numerous other animals, for a person or family in need. The recipient in turn shares any offspring with others in the community, thereby continuing the gift giving for years. Another idea is to work with the local thrift shop Christmas store, where lower income individuals and families have the opportunity to purchase new gift items at reduced prices. Often the biggest need is items for children and teenagers, giving the youth a chance to make a difference in the lives of their peers.

Finally, these ideas need not be limited to Christmas. Birthdays, Easter, and other gift giving celebrations are a great time to talk more about others and their needs, and less about the things that we want, but truly don’t need. One family asked guests attending an annual Super Bowl party to bring canned goods to be donated to the local food pantry. Another family, whose daughter wanted a pink party, turned the party into a breast cancer party and raised several hundred dollars.

With the right amount of creativity, and the support of Catholic social teaching, we can help shift young people’s perspective from an ‘it is all about me’ paradigm to an ‘it is all about them’ mindset.

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