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Giving back and getting involved

Every so often I feel compelled to throw out a few ideas on how you might want to get involved, and this is especially true during the holiday season. So, this month I’m going to highlight a few things you might not know about, which can make a big difference. These include the Santa Fund, annual giving, volunteering and some great opportunities to do good and have a great adventure at the same time!

Let’s start with the Santa Fund. For decades, The Telegraph has run the Santa Fund. This program raises thousands of dollars every year to help support low-income families in our community with the purchase of holiday gifts. Sometimes people ask me why this is so important, and my answer is generally the same. It’s important because there’s a lot of stigma and negative psychological impact of being a child who is poor, and even more so when you don’t receive anything for the holidays. And parents being parents, will do whatever they can to make sure their kids are happy. Sometimes that includes even doing things like foregoing credit card payments or rent or utility payments. Of course, if you do that, then even worse things will happen, and it can become a downward spiral. A small investment in the Santa Fund can go a long way to help the three agencies supported by this fund in their annual holiday programs. Funds generated support the Salvation Army of Greater Nashua, the Front Door Agency and Milford SHARE Outreach. Each of these programs, along with United Way, also accept gifts of toys and other items. Also, important to remember, are the teenagers who often go forgotten. While it might be more fun to shop for Barbies and Thomas The Tank, the need is often greater to donate something like a Target gift card so a teenager can choose something great for themselves. Of course, the best donation is cash, because it gives our partners the ability to tailor their programs to the needs, and this can be done very easily by either sending a check to United Way (put Santa Fund on the memo line) or securely online at www.tinyurl.com/santafund2019.

Annual giving is a critical element of fundraising for every nonprofit in our community. Most fundraising dollars come in during the holidays. Whether you donate to United Way, or any other nonprofit, it’s important to listen not just to the emotional appeal, but also check out the nonprofit itself. The easiest way to do that is to go to Charity Navigator or GuideStar, which are the two nonprofit rating agencies. You can look up any nonprofit and see how fiscally responsible, accountable and transparent they are. Unfortunately, in recent years, some nonprofits have done some bad things, and this has cast a shadow on the rest of us. Also, keep in mind that many nonprofits might have a national organization, but are in fact locally focused and independently run. This is the case for Girls Incorporated, the Boys & Girls Club, the Salvation Army, United Way, and others. So, even if you might have had a bad experience with the local affiliate in another place, or with the national organization itself, that might not apply to the local affiliate. Of course, if you have any further questions about the organization, how it’s run, and its mission, you should be able to just pick up the phone and ask to speak with the executive director. I can guarantee you that all the local nonprofit heads would be glad to tell you about what they do, how they are making a difference and how you can trust that your donations will be well stewarded.

OK, so let’s talk about volunteering! Volunteers are the lifeblood of most nonprofits. For those with limited budgets (which is virtually all of them), volunteers are a big part of how work gets done. The question is how do you find out what the volunteer opportunities are? The good news is that we have been partnering with The Telegraph for several years on a project which is a website called www.volunteergreaternashua.org. On this site, all local nonprofits have the opportunity to present a profile of themselves and then post their volunteer needs. And you can even sign up right there! Reading to kids? Yes, it’s there. Packing food bags? Yes, it’s there. Helping with office work? Yes, it’s there. Being a volunteer driver? Yes, it’s there. As I said, just go to the site and check it out. There are currently more than 40 agencies registered with dozens of opportunities. Let me also just take a moment to thank The Telegraph for supporting this initiative, which is really making a difference in our community!

OK, let’s talk about adventure. After the holidays are over, perhaps you will be looking for a way to burn off some calories? Why not join us at our 2nd annual Blizzard Blast Obstacle Course Race? This year’s event will be in Mine Falls Park on Jan. 25. That’s the weekend after the Patriots win the AFC Division and before they win the Super Bowl. The race is about 5 kilometers, with 25-plus obstacles, professional timing and an awesome after party at Train 180. If you’ve ever wanted to do an event like a Tough Mudder, join us for this great event in the snow! You can sign up today at www.tinyurl.com/blizzard2020. Last year, we had more than 450 racers with over 20 sponsors! We’d love to have you, too.

Last, but not least, let’s discuss sky diving! We have made it a goal this year to create a dedicated fund to support youth in our community who are experiencing homelessness. In the Nashua School District alone, there are some 400 homeless youth. These kids have some very specific needs that are generally pretty inexpensive to address. Things like getting a drivers license or a work uniform or school supplies. These are items which might only cost a few hundred dollars, but for a homeless young person are both unaffordable and can be real game changers. These investments can literally change the trajectory of a young person’s life. So, our goal is to raise $100,000 to support these needs. To do that, I’m taking a group of 25 courageous people skydiving on May 16. Each person will need to raise a few thousand dollars for the fund. If you are a person who A) cares about homeless youth, and B) has skydiving on your bucket list, then reach out to me and let’s go jump out of a plane. We already have about half of the team recruited, so don’t wait too long to give me a call.

Hopefully, this is enough food for thought for you for this holiday season. As we give thanks for the gifts of the year and look forward to 2020, I would like to thank you for LIVING UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.