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The Las Vegan’s Guide to Unexpected Giving

This holiday season, make sure your altruism’s built to last

untitled-1.jpgThe renowned philosopher George Michael wrote, “Charity is a coat you wear twice a year.” I think he meant Thanksgiving and Christmas, although he’s British, so maybe it was Christmas and Boxing Day. Or Plough Monday and Candlemas …?

Anyway, I think his point was that good deeds should be part of our everyday behavior, not just dues we pay during the holidays. The reputedly jolly season, with its Dickensian inspiration, is a great time to get your good-neighbor juices flowing. The key is to keep it going after that—because practicing philanthropy on an average Wednesday in January, when there are kids to drop off and bills to pay and Modern Family to watch? That’s hard.

Not impossible, though—and probably easier than you think. The range of opportunities for giving back to the community is broad enough to encompass pretty much every lifestyle, every day of the year. Consider these creative suggestions that I crowd-sourced online:

“I eat only at locally owned restaurants.” – Lora Dreja

“If I need to shop for anything, it’ll be at Goodwill.” – Sara Peterson

“My husband is always looking for objects in the streets that could potentially flatten a tire. He pulled over and picked up 100 nails two days ago.” – Amey Esparza

“I was a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for kids in foster care when I lived in Las Vegas. Now I’m a hospice volunteer assigned to a patient.” – Kelley Barbarick Kimm

“I go out of my way to pick up lost dogs and find their home, no matter when or where I have to be.” – Lisa Coruzzi

“I help people find housing to rent downtown. Hardly any money in it for me, but I feel every good person that resides here will also improve the neighborhood.” – Realtor Steve Franklin

Like Franklin, many people donate their professional skills to help others. Makeup artist Lana Reiss does free makeovers for women who are living with HIV/AIDS as a way of creating awareness of the disease and combating discrimination. LVArtreach connects local artists with inner-city kids to help foster the kids’ creativity and self-esteem.

You can also turn your workout into an act of charity by doing what landscape architect Kari Bergh does. “I ran in the Ragnar Relay,” she says. “All proceeds we raise go to the Assistance League of Nevada.” The fitness-philanthropy nexus has become a powerful source of both fundraising and consciousness-raising, and would-be athletes from dog-walkers to ultra-marathoners can find events at Active.com.

You don’t have to be an athlete to combine fresh air and goodwill, either. Public parks and recreation areas regularly host cleanup days, planting events and restoration projects for volunteers. GetOutdoorsNevada.org has a comprehensive list.

If you’re lucky, you work for a company that makes it easy to give back. If you don’t, encourage the higher-ups to be more like Caesars Entertainment, a role model in this regard. This month, for example, Caesars corralled 200 employees to volunteer for a Rebuilding Together cleanup and home-improvement project on a street where two military veterans and one vet’s widow live, in observance of Veterans Day.

Lots of employers participate in the Regional Transportation Commission’s Club Ride program, reducing traffic congestion and smog for the entire Valley. The RTC helps employees carpool, bike or take public transit to work, and gives prizes to the biggest commuters. To sign up, go to RTCSNV.com.

If you do drive, you can also do it for the American Cancer Society (Cancer.org), which enlists volunteers to transport cancer patients to appointments.

Several organizations have come up with creative ways to redistribute goods. Everybody’s gotten the head-scratcher gift card (A vegetarian, I once got one for In-N-Out Burger). Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, NPHY.org, collects food-related gift cards and gets them to hungry kids.

And don’t forget the civic aspect of giving back. Attending neighborhood gatherings and school board meetings is just as meaningful to your community as supporting charities. Groups such as Downtown Cares (Facebook.com/DowntownCaresLasVegas) do all the organizing necessary for cleanups and safe streets-type stuff—all you have to do is show up.

Even if that’s too much to fit in your schedule, you can still make a difference on your way through your day. Let your neighbor know he left his car lights on; offer to help the elderly with their groceries; simply look up from your smartphone and pay attention to your fellow man. He may be lonely; you could change that.

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