Not every gift needs to be bought

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:03 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You have spent days shopping and hours wrapping, all in the name of giving.

The gift of service, though, is one of the best and most-needed gifts. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities around the Columbia area throughout the year, but those few extra days of vacation make the holidays an ideal time to get together with friends and family and help make a difference in others’ lives.

Dennis Grev, who has done a lot of volunteer work with various civic groups and social service agencies in the area, said volunteering is not only an excellent way to help others, but it also provides many benefits to the volunteers themselves.

“Volunteering allows you to meet other people, other volunteers and other people in the community,” Grev said.

Individual, family or group volunteers are welcome over the Christmas season at some area senior homes and hospitals. At Hillcrest Residential Care, for example, holiday-season visitors and carolers are encouraged as long as arrangements are made ahead of time, owner Ron Worthley said.

Although interacting directly with patients at Boone Hospital Center requires a formal screening process that can take one to two weeks, Tina Norris, Boone’s volunteer services manager, said there are holiday volunteer opportunities for people willing to be a bit creative.

Some possible areas of service include decorating patients’ doors and knitting baby booties, but Norris said she welcomes volunteers to come with service ideas and she will help make them happen.

For those who are not feeling quite so creative, the Boone County Council on Aging provides a manual labor service option: snow shoveling.

Each year the program matches low-income citizens older than 55 with an individual or group who agrees to mow in the summer, rake in fall, or shovel during the winter.

Although volunteers are prefera-bly matched up with a senior for a season, case manager Mary Parsons said because there is typically a list of seniors waiting for assistance, it is also possible to volunteer on a short-term basis.

Grev, who shovels about 15 homes each snowfall, said the service is good for the shovelers’ health and helps seniors who would otherwise be unable to leave their homes.

Yet another needed holiday service is to volunteer for First Night, which provides an alcohol and smoke-free alternative to the usual New Year’s Eve party scene.

“It’s a very nice activity for families and people just looking for a good, wholesome activity to do on New Year’s Eve,” volunteer coordinator Leigh Nutter said

A team of more than 100 volunteers, which does anything from ushering and selling tickets to operating light and sound systems, essentially runs the event, which more than 5,000 usually attend.

Nutter said volunteers can sign up until Dec. 30, and families who volunteer can usually work in the same station together.

In addition to these volunteer opportunities, Nutter said there are other ways to make a difference in the Columbia area for those willing to seek them out.

“There are lots of opportunities,” she said. “People are just going to have to pick up the phone and make some calls.”

Although volunteering is a great way to spend Christmas vacation time, Norris said it is important to remember that it is not only a holiday thing.

“It’d be really great to think of this throughout the year instead of one time a year,” she said.

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