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This holiday season, give the gift of yourself

Posted: January 6, 2013 - 1:09am

This past year I’ve served as chair of the United Way of Southeast Alaska. Working with this umbrella organization, as well as its 35 partner agencies, has given me a unique perspective on Southeast Alaska’s volunteer spirit. Take our Day of Caring, this past fall, in which loads of volunteers—mostly sponsored by local businesses — engaged in all manner of community service projects, from rebuilding a fire pit to sanitizing playrooms to stuffing envelopes. We’ve also seen an outpouring of support for victims of the recent apartment building fire in Juneau, not to mention families affected by Hurricane Sandy and the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Though thousands of miles separate us, it’s as though our community has made itself part of their community for as long it takes to heal.

More locally, every day across Southeast Alaska, nonprofit organizations change lives and strengthen communities. From providing legal services to domestic violence outreach, assisting the elderly to youth initiatives, adult education to food and clothing banks — these programs not only survive, but thrive on your support. The holiday season is a natural opportunity to say thank you, Southeast Alaska, for giving the gift that inspires hope. Working with us to improve the education, health and income of those in need, you’ve helped create a better life for everyone.

I realize that the holidays spell bombardment with donation requests. After all, it is the season of giving, not to mention an opportunity to squeeze in some last-minute tax deductions. One way to maximize your giving is through a charitable donation to United Way of Southeast Alaska because it supports 35 other organizations operating in Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and Haines.

In Alaska, holiday season takes on additional significance—time to start filing for PFDs. And that means Pick. Click. Give. which lets you share part of your good fortune with your own chosen cause. In case you missed it above, a click for the United Way helps 35 other causes.

Of course, giving doesn’t have to be monetary. You can also give time. Now, I realize money and time are two things we all wished we had more of but, of the two, it’s often easier to find time, not to mention part with it. Time also doesn’t have to be given in a race to get a tax deduction — it’s a gift that can be given whenever you have it.

Most importantly, time can multiple in value; just one hour of volunteering per week might mean the difference between offering a program or not. Volunteers who donate special skills and talents — even behind-the-scenes skills like accounting, writing articles for the newsletter or even shoveling snow — can help keep our nonprofit organizations running smoothly, especially those operating with limited staff and budget. Donated time is the lifeblood of a nonprofit agency.

The holidays are also a natural time to consider giving physical items. If your house is anything like mine, it always seems a little more cluttered come early January, especially in the storage areas. Make a tradition of winter cleaning by donating gently used clothing, household items, cooking supplies, tools, toys or anything else that for you might just be taking space, but for someone else might make a real difference.

A special thank you to the Student Council of Juneau-Douglas High School who have selected United Way to be the recipient of their 2013 Homecoming Spirit Contest. To have young people recognize the importance of helping others sets an example for all of us.

Happy Holidays, Southeast Alaska. This year, give a gift that strengthens our community. Whether it is through money, items, or your time, what you are offering is the gift of yourself.

• Mary Becker is a long-time Juneau resident and Chair of United Way of Southeast Alaska. Learn more about the United Way and its partners at www.unitedwayseak.org; to start volunteering today at getconnected.unitedwayseak.org, which connects the public with nonprofit agencies by listing specific needs.

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