The Gift of Giving Back

Volunteering with Your Family Over the Holidays

By Ginna Holleman, CEO United Way Clarksville

As we make our lists and check them twice, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of holiday celebrations.  Through the hustle and bustle, we are often consumed with “gifting” and lose sight of the spirit of “giving.”   This season, invite your family to help center the focus back where it started – at the heart of the holidays – by giving back together.

While making a meaningful difference, volunteering as a family strengthens the time you spend with each other and teaches children the values of empathy and selfless service.  The time you share cultivates a heart for service that extends throughout adulthood and creates a lifetime of memories.  Volunteering is also a rewarding opportunity for children and teens to explore their talents and learn that when you take the time to make others’ days a bit happier, you’ll find you’ve given yourself the gift of happiness, too. (Shhhhh! Just don’t tell them they’re still learning during their break.) 

To get you started, I’ve wrapped up a list of 8 ideas to help you and your family give back this holiday season:

1.  Share a cup of cheer.

Open a hot chocolate or cider stand and serve others while serving up these favorite winter treats.   We all love a lemonade stand, and cold weather brings the opportunity for a fun and festive twist on this neighborhood tradition.  Offer to your neighbors or ask if you can open your stand at a holiday community event to spread the warmth even further.  Then donate collected proceeds to a local nonprofit with a mission your family wishes to support.

2.  Make cookies for a cause.

Join together with family and/or friends for a cookie baking/decorating party and then deliver the cookies as surprise goodies to senior citizens, mail carriers, first responders or anyone needing a warm smile.  

3.  Send a holiday hi.

Make holiday cards or artwork for senior citizens alone or soldiers deployed overseas.  They love to receive the personal greetings that let them know someone cares.  Holiday greetings can be shared locally through the Meals on Wheels “Nourishing Notes” program or the American Red Cross “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program.

4. Help deck the halls.

Take on those Pinterest ideas or contact a tree farm about donating Christmas trees for nursing homes, hospitals, or families who can’t afford to buy their own. Maybe you have a neighbor who lives alone and can’t decorate their house during the holidays.  Brighten the holidays by seeking out a local kids or senior citizen program that needs help decorating for their holiday party. 

5.  Adopt a family … or charity.

Many nonprofits and churches provide the opportunity to adopt a family or child during the holidays. Shop for the gifts together, and if possible, deliver them together.  Local charities also have very limited resources and try to keep operational expenses as low as possible.  Ask if they have a wish list of items needed that helps fulfill their valuable mission.

6.  Serve a meal.

Deliver meals and the holiday greetings you made via the Meals on Wheels program.  The delivery service is always looking for extra drivers during the holiday season when some of their regular delivery volunteers take a vacation or become ill. (Background check required)  Families can also volunteer to serve meals onsite through programs like Manna Cafe Ministries or Loaves and Fishes.

7.  Spread some warmth.

Many individuals struggle through the cold winter temperatures.  Spread some warmth by making no-sew tie blankets.  These easy-to-make crafts require only three supplies – inexpensive fleece material, scissors and a ruler.  They are super quick to put together and a fun craft for all.  Once completed, the blankets can be donated to local shelters, hospitals or social service agencies serving those in need.  Check out this simple how-to video for blanketing the community in your care:

8.  Fill stockings with care.

Host a warm sock drive and fill the socks with water bottles, toiletry items, granola bars and other nonperishable snacks. Donate these to local nonprofits, shelters and churches serving the homeless to help keep them warm.  Gloves, scarves and other cold weather gear is greatly needed and appreciated as well.

United Way of the Greater Clarksville Region hosts a website dedicated to connecting volunteers with opportunities to serve.  To view many other local projects and sign-up online, simply visit or call the United Way office at (931) 647-4291.  

While the options to serve are endless, the impact you create will be timeless.  At the holidays and throughout the year, may the blessings you give in service be immeasurably received by you and your family in return.  

Begin Your Journey.