When the Idaho air gets cold and crisp and festive decorations suddenly pop up on street lights downtown, I’m prompted to begin my long and thoughtful search for the perfect gifts for my loved ones. I figure my husband would love some camping gear and my son will adore anything that has dinosaurs on it.
Yet that doesn’t seem like enough. This time of year is known as “The Season of Giving,” and somehow, I think whoever coined the phrase meant more than just material presents. Last year, I wrote a guest opinion about how parents should give the gift of themselves and their time to their children. This year, I’d like us to consider giving ourselves to something even a bit larger: our community.
One of my favorite things about the holidays is how sense of community seems to be part of the air we breathe. Everything — from events like the Botanical Garden’s Winter Garden Aglow to toy drives to the giant lighted tree that now adorns the steps of the state Capitol — comes together to make me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. There is a feeling of shared enthusiasm all around as we get the sense that we are not the only ones listening to Christmas stations on Pandora or reveling in the new seasonal flavors at our favorite coffee shop.
Why not use this feeling to motivate yourself to give back in a positive way? Giving to your community can certainly mean financially, but it doesn’t have to. Especially for those of us short on cash, giving to our community can look less like a check to our favorite charity and more like small, meaningful interactions. When was the last time you checked in with your neighbors? Maybe noticing their amazing lighted snowman is a great excuse to start a conversation.
Knowing your neighbors is actually a small way everyone can help prevent child abuse and neglect. How? Having healthy social connections is a protective factor that strengthens families and increases their resilience. Social isolation can lead to anxiety, depression and stress — all of which have a detrimental effect on parents and their children. Also, neighbors who know and watch out for each other create safe spaces for children and minimize opportunities for harm. Creating neighborly bonds along with volunteering for local organizations and even attending events are all activities that strengthen communities and ultimately contribute to the well-being of your children and those around you.
The holidays can bring a lot of joy to many people, but they are also a source of stress for anyone who is already feeling short on funds or companionship. Please join me in doing our part to support the people in our lives and neighborhoods by showing interest and making ourselves available as a resource in times of need. By giving the gift of yourself, you will gain a community, and that is a gift that can last a lifetime.
Taryn Yates is the grant manager/planner for the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, the state affiliate for Prevent Child Abuse America.