Ideas for giving back this Thanksgiving

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

There will come a moment in your life where you will transform from someone who mostly goes with the flow to someone who actually makes things happen.

For me, that started to happen when I was in college, and then started to become a habit as I started working in colleges.

And by saying “making things happen,” I mean actually your having a positive effect on people other than yourself and your immediate friends and family. How about helping people you do not know?

Maybe for you, that transformation has already happened. If not, maybe you could start now.
Before college, perhaps, you were herded along. High schools largely don’t seem all that inspirational. When I enter them, I feel sorry for the teachers in that they spend as much time corralling everyone and dealing with various types of politics vs. actually sharing their love of the subject matter.

Perhaps the types of jobs you have had also treat you like child. Maybe even your friends and relatives can be downers. It is easy to start to feel that you are fated to your lot in life as opposed to having control of your destiny.

But there comes a point when you — perhaps backed by some of the envelope-pushing ideas you may get in college — try something different. You start to do things in a way different than what your former teachers and bosses had told you. You do it your way.

And you realize that you can change things.

This is the month we give thanks. You will have a few days off from classes at the end of this month.

You could go with the flow. Eat turkey, watch the Lions and the Cowboys, go wrestling for the latest automated Elmo at a Black Friday sale … Or, you could decide to do something different.
When I was a sophomore in college, my journalism instructor gave us an assignment to do just that. He was pretty vague with what to do — just do it!

So I went to a local Off Track Betting (OTB) on that Thanksgiving night. Surprisingly, there were people there. Lots of people who would otherwise be lonely, at least enjoying each other’s companionship while horses from far away ran on television sets. It made for an “A” story.
That spirit propels me to try to find different things to do in my area; hopefully sometimes I help people.

When I used to teach Freshman Composition, I’d give the students an assignment to “go someplace locally you have never gone before, bring a pad and a pen, and write about it using your senses.”

Every class, I’d hear a student say, “But I’ve been everywhere around here.”

Or so you think. I’d reply: “Have you been to that Indian restaurant out by the highway? Have you been to the cemetery by the church? How about the other church? Have you been to the car dealership? The creek? The geology building on this very campus?”

After a few questions, the student would realize he really hadn’t been anywhere — even locally. We all think we are connected to our areas, but we’re not at all.

So, this Thanksgiving break, pick a few hours to do something different.

Call the local nursing home. See if one of the residents would like to be visited. Maybe you could even take him out for a couple of hours. Learn his story. Most diners should be open. Grab your turkey there with your new friend and foot the bill.

Or get a few of your friends together to make a really big Toys for Tots donation. See if you can stand outside a department store and ring a bell.

Call your local food pantry. A lot of these places are really being crunched, especially during the holidays. See what they need. Go in to your local grocery store and see if the manager will let you stand outside the store for a few hours. Decorate a box with a sign that reads, “Items collected will go to the [local pantry].” Bring your little sister. People can’t say no to kids. If people ask, let them know the specific items that they can buy in the store that the pantry needs. You’ll get a ton of food in a short time. Put it in your trunk and bring it to the pantry. Mission accomplished.

When I worked for Southampton College, the students had a really good idea one year. You know those vouchers that the grocery stores give out — spend $75 or $100 and get a free turkey? They worked a deal with the store manager to be able to collect those vouchers from people leaving the store who didn’t need them. They ended up scoring dozens of free turkeys to give to the local pantry.

You don’t have to go that far, but, really, with a phone call or two and a few hours of your time, you sure can do something big during this holiday break.

It’s easy. Don’t be shy. Get out there! Let me know what you did and how you did it, and I’ll give you an “A!” The email address is on the cover of this paper.

And thank you very much!

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