I first learned about philanthropy during college, when my sorority chapter required us to participate in the Race for the Cure and other Susan G. Komen events. While I'll save my current rant on what I now think about the Komen Foundation, I will say that it was a life-changing experience. I loved how good it felt doing the various tasks that were required for particular events, knowing that even just a small contribution was making a little bit of a difference for someone else.
After college, I continued to volunteer for Austin-area Komen events, and later for the American Cancer Society's Cattle Baron Ball. Eventually, the politics and cattiness of working with so many women got the best of me, so I decided to look for something else. Having always been an animal lover, yet not able to have a dog (due to a schedule that rarely had me at home), I decided that volunteering with animals might be a fun and rewarding way to spend my time. I went to an orientation meeting at the local animal shelter, and I was sold. Not even the depressing video showing animal euthanasia was going to stop me. Just the thought of spending a little bit of time with a scared, homeless animal was all I needed to sign up.
Three years later, I'm still doing it. Each week, I contribute about 2-4 hours of my time. Occasionally, I will foster a dog which requires more of a time (and financial) investment. But the good feelings that come back from doing it make the experience more rewarding than I ever imagined. At times, it almost feels selfish. There are times when I've had a bad day, and going to the shelter to sit or walk with a dog just makes it feel better. Is it wrong to use them to help me too?
The point is....I think we all have an obligation to give back to our community in some way/shape/form. You can give time, money, or even items from your home that someone else might need more than you. Austin is not known for it's charitable contributions, and I think that's sad. We're a city of smart, caring, and for the most part, successful people. Surely we can do better about giving back to our community.
Luckily, this week there is an easy way to make the first step. Snoball.com (a local organization) is hosting Love Austin Week and highlighting a local non-profit each day. Animals, our beloved trails, education and health are all covered during this week, and it's a great chance to support some of our terrific charity organizations. Check out the list of events and see if any pique your interest. If not, at least start thinking of one small way that you can give back to your community, and see if you can turn it into a longer-term habit. I promise, it will make you feel good. And at the very least, you'll have some good karma should you need it!