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Give It Up

Put your own life in order by donating some of it to others.

By Masha Gutkin

  On New Year's Day you vowed, perhaps as you penned a check to Martha Stewart Living, that this year you'd keep house like a real-world Mrs. Cleaver. And yet now March has rolled around, and dishes from your Mardi Gras hurrah still languish in your sink. Gazing, chin in hand, at the formidable mess, a little existential angst about the state of things assails you.

Here's a thought—keep your larger house clean: take care of your community, your city, or your planet by volunteering. There's no need to point out to the altruists among us that volunteering helps others. But even the more self-serving should be alert to numerous studies showing that people who volunteer are happier, live longer, and are healthier than the rest of the human race. Whatever you want to do, from helping gay folk to digging in at a community beach cleanup, you're helping yourself, too.

Volunteering can be a flexible commitment. Around the holidays you and your coworkers might lend a hand at a soup kitchen. You could volunteer to meet once a week with a senior or a person with a disability or AIDS. Or perhaps you'll help your civic cleanup crew to beautify the streets and waterways of your neighborhood. And don't let a sectarian name (like "Jewish Family Services" or "Most Holy Redeemer") put you off from exploring an organization's volunteer opportunities. Many faith-based social service agencies do a great job serving the larger community and welcome volunteers from outside the faith.

Volunteering can be a way to connect with people if you've just moved to a new place or are going through a transition. It can give you a sense of purpose, or a way to feel like you have agency in this myopic democracy of ours.

Virtual activism for social change is also a kind of volunteering, and you can do it from your desk chair. Many of us get emails from Moveon.org, True Majority, or Act For Change, which keep us informed and offer various opportunities to express our e-voices on behalf of social and environmental causes. There are a number of ways to be an internet activist around issues that are specific to the queer and lesbian community, too (see below). Many gay organizations offer online tools that will let you know when you need to speak up or mobilize your community around an issue crucial to queer rights. Also, don't forget to check out your nearest gay center or queer activist organization for a virtual or material opportunity that's right for you.

Cyber Serving

These days you can volunteer from your desk chair.www.volunteermatch.org
This sophisticated site allows you to calculate what, where, when, and with whom you'd like to volunteer.

Find opportunities to volunteer locally and internationally for social and environmental concerns.

The National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Centers offers links to queer centers nationwide.

The Human Rights Campaign's website features grassroots and internet activism opportunities.

COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere) improves the lives of children of queers. The website shows opportunities to participate in local chapters; or, start a chapter near you.

Participate in the "Monitor and Mobilize" program organized by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and help stop defamation of gays in the media.

Are you an attorney? Join Lambda Legal's cooperating attorney network or find internet activism opportunities on the website.

Since 1973 The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has worked for equality for queers since 1973 and provided training for activists.

The American Civil Liberties Union's website contains resources for internet activism and volunteer opportunities for attorneys.


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