Making The World Better: The Educated Activist and Multi-Approach Mom

The time of year and political climate have me aching to hear something good.  I recently asked my Facebook friends: How do you give back?  I loved some of the responses I got and was inspired to share.

I think it’s common for people to want to do good, but to not know where to start.  It can be hard to find the time, the right fit into your lifestyle, or an opportunity that really feeds your soul.

In this first post, two marvelous women I’m lucky to know – one a coworker, one from my childhood – have found or created volunteer opportunities that make the world a better place and fit with their passions.  Katie #1 volunteers her time at a book store largely dedicated to social justice and activism. Katie #2 collects coats for school kids, and works with her children to bring joy to seniors in a nursing home.


How do you make the world a better place?  If you’re looking for the right fit, maybe these ladies will inspire you (they sure did inspire me!).

“Boneshaker and the phenomenal people involved keep my mind open, challenging me to think critically in a wold that often praises the easy road.” 
How do you make the world a better place?

I volunteer at Boneshaker Booksa community supported, collectively organized, volunteer run bookstore. The mission is to provide a welcoming space that promotes social justice and movements through books, education, and activism. Not only does Boneshaker offer progressive and radical literature, we also offer a free meeting space and bicycle book delivery for local orders! Boneshaker also houses the Women’s Prison Book Project, a group that provides books to female and transgender inmates across the country through mail requests.  

Once a week I go to the bookstore after work and run the register, organize bookshelves, answer questions, prep the space for meetings or events, and whatever else pops up!

boneshaker_katie-pennellThe Boneshaker Crew

How did you discover this opportunity?
I initially heard of Boneshaker in a newspaper article about the opening six years ago. A few weeks later I popped in and struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers. We chatted for nearly an hour like old friends. I filled out a volunteer form and have been volunteering with that same friend ever since. 

How does this feed your soul?
I love volunteering with such radical people and supporting our local community by providing a welcoming, accepting space to people of all color, sexual orientation, religion, gender, and walk of life.

Boneshaker and the phenomenal people involved keep my mind open, challenging me to think critically in a wold that often praises the easy road. Boneshaker has become an oasis for me when life gets busy. The smell of books and the soft lighting from the paper lanterns soothe me. Plus we have a KILLER kids section!

Because of its open door policy, Boneshaker has become a haven for many people in the community. Our free meeting space makes it possible for groups to have a space to gather. Our anarchist-leaning literature sparks conversations, asks questions, and inspires. Our zine collection supports and spotlights local artists. In the six years it’s been open, Boneshaker has become a crucial part of the community.


How can others get involved?
Boneshaker Books is always looking for new volunteers, so if you want to be part of a radical, super cool book community and maybe make some new friends, fill out an application! Volunteering too much of a commitment? No worries, we always accept donations! Or you can always stop by for a good book, excellent music, and sparking conversation. Our door is always open!

“If you’re paying attention to the world around you, you’ll see someone that could use a little pick me up.  I think most of us see it every day, but what if each of us would actually act on that every day?”

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-58-23-pmWrapping gifts for an adopted family with coworkers  

How do you make the world a better place?

Warmth for the Young:
I know someone that works in the school system.  They had kids walking to school in tee shirts in December.  I had plenty of friends that had coats hanging in closets that could be put to good use.  The first year, we maybe got 20 coats.  Last year, I repeated it and was able to give 50+ coats AND gloves, hats, and winter boots- into the school system for kids who could really use them.  We’re in the process of collecting again for year three.

(A different kind of) Warmth for the Old:
My sister Molly and I were talking about teaching our kids to give back.  We took Valentines into a local nursing home. Our kids LOVED it as much as the residents, so we went back around St. Patrick’s Day with a bag of suckers to hand out.  We requested a total number of residents- the kids are going to make some Christmas cards and deliver those with candy canes.  So simple.  So fast.  So rewarding.


Who doesn’t love a surprise sweet treat?

How did you discover this opportunity?
I started looking for something new I could do.  I did a brief stint at the animal shelter, but wanted to take every animal home with me so knew that wasn’t a great fit (although I loved Lucky, my “I can’t leave this cat at the shelter” purchase).  I had three little sisters through the Big Sisters program.  By far one of the hardest and most gratifying things I have been part of – I still keep in touch with all three young ladies! 

I took a little time away from volunteering; I got married, built a house, and had a baby.  Too much crazy going on – but that’s what’s great about volunteering,  it is there when you’re ready.  Once my son was born the light switch turned back on – I knew that we were in a position to help people and I wanted to do just that.  So I started looking for ideas that would fit with my life.

How does this feed your soul?
There is nothing better than walking out to see someone smiling and knowing you’re the reason or at the very least played a part.  What I would really like to do is have a plan for something every month- doesn’t have to be huge, but SOMETHING.

How can others get involved?
It doesn’t have to be a ton of work.  Here are a few other ideas I’ve tried:
Do a coat drive – schools, shelters, etc always can use them
Adopt a Family – your churches, schools, cities, and shelters can put you in touch with someone
Food drives
Give blood
Stop by a nursing home, fire station, or police station with or without treats
Pay for someone behind you in line
Stop by and say hi to a neighbor you haven’t met

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