You can be a helper, too
There’s a quote from Mr. Rogers that gets passed around after national tragedies occur. It’s the one about something his mother said to him when he was little. Here it is in case you haven’t seen it:
It’s a uniformly uplifting and helpful attitude. “Look for the helpers.” Focus on progress. But the work doesn’t end when you get that rush of comfort from seeing someone else do something decent—or at least it shouldn’t. Because the work isn’t just to feel relief in a time of crisis, it’s to be the help that someone else may need, too.
This election has been extremely polarizing. It’s dredged up a lot of divisive and buzzy talking points that have pitted a lot of Americans against each other, but I’d love to invite you to just… not today. Or this week. Or this month. This blows—across the board, whether everyone realizes it or not—and now more than ever we’re faced with the responsibility to show up for one another in ways that are actually, gravely meaningful. Will our social programs be in-tact in the coming years? Our education system? Healthcare? One way to counteract that worry, even if the government seems terrifying right now, is to serve your community at an individual level.
Specifically, I’m talking about volunteering. Low-level, consistent involvement and contribution might not feel like a ton in the face of actual racism, misogyny and hate rhetoric, but it’s the level of work where things actually get done on a day to day basis, and it’s also a way to serve the groups left most vulnerable by our current political situation. It’s also a way to fight how knotted up your stomach might feel right now if you’re anything like me.
This is by no means a definitive list, but here are the names of some places to get your brain going. First, some nationwide options. People always have their critiques of big organizations like this, but even if you do some researching and decide the brand name I’m suggesting isn’t the one for you, in a lot of cases there will be smaller local organizations with these same causes at heart. Pick one of those you like better instead:
- The Human Rights Campaign’s volunteer-led events and activities are focused on “engaging lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies, educating the public and raising funds necessary to support the important work of HRC locally and nationally.”
- Planned Parenthood is probably going to have a wild couple years ahead of them!
- The Red Cross addresses all kind of emergency community needs. “Whether it’s aiding one family displaced by a fire, assisting thousands affected by a hurricane or other natural disaster, or providing support to military members and their families, our vital work is made possible by our volunteers.”
- Islamic Relief USA focuses on offering “relief and development in a dignified manner regardless of gender, race, or religion,” and works to “empower individuals in their communities and give them a voice in the world.”
- YMCA/YWCA: volunteers at the more than 10,000 locations nationwide coach sports teams, mentor, and raise the funds that ultimately meet community needs like childcare and children’s programming.
- Best Buddies is a nonprofit “dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
- Your local: library, hospital, youth center, homeless shelter, women’s shelter, animal shelter, lgbtq center, food pantry, community garden, arts center, church, assisted living community.
Now, some local options in New York City:
- The Anti-Violence Project “empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected communities and allies to end all forms of violence” and focuses on “organizing and education, and supports survivors through counseling and advocacy.”
- The Lower Eastside Girls Club aims to “break the cycle of local poverty by training the next generation of ethical, entrepreneurial and environmental leaders” with “mentoring, wellness, arts, academic support and career training” programming, all of which is free to the kids and their families.
- Art Start offers programming to kids who are living in “city shelters, on the streets, are involved in court cases, or surviving with parents in crisis.” They offer daily creative arts workshops with local teaching artists and educators who donate their time.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are services like VolunteerMatch out there to help you find opportunities based on your zipcode, plus whatever community outreach your employer or school is up to. Or in the event that volunteering seems too intense right now, you also have the option of donating to someplace like the ACLU or Immigration Equality.
This blows. It’s bad. A lot of our communities are feeling strained and scared after today, and rightfully so. But the one thing you’re still in control of is whether or not you’re the helper someone else is trying to spot. You can still show up, if you want.