Volunteering -- whether it's in a local soup kitchen, or tutoring kids in an after-school program, or cleaning cages at the local animal shelter -- sure sounds like something that's good for the soul. And that's why it's a bit disheartening to discover that most of us don't do it. According to a 2012 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 26.8 percent of Americans had volunteered through or for a local organization at least once in the previous year [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].
While lack of community involvement is probably part of the cause, in fairness, one reason more people don't pitch in probably is that they don't have much free time. Americans typically put in an additional seven hours per week -- nearly a full day of work -- answering e-mail and calls from their employers and doing other uncompensated work in what is supposed to be their free time [source: Perez].
But even if a highly trained professional can squeeze in some time to help, he or she may feel performing menial labor isn't really making a difference. Fast Company, a business publication, and other organizations have come up with an ingenious solution that actually may help more. They've created an online clearinghouse, Catchafire.org, which matches people with charities who can use their skills, whether it's accounting, marketing or Web design [source: Chong].
And if you aren't comfortable with that much structure or time commitment, Huffington Post blogger Kari Henley suggests another answer: ad hoc, spur-of-the-moment activism. Deliver a dinner to a friend or neighbor in need. Offer to baby-sit a new mom's kids for an afternoon. Send an unexpected card of encouragement to someone [source: Henley]. Helping one person at a time is a good entry-level way to become a humanitarian, and you still get that warm and fuzzy payoff.
Author's Note: 10 New Year's Resolutions You Might Actually Keep
It was interesting to research and write this assignment, because I'm one of those people who makes a long list of detailed resolutions each year and then promptly misplaces it. This year, though, I think that I'm going to pare down my list, and break each item into less arduous steps, and then come up with deadlines that I can mark in my Google calendar and ToDoist, a Web site that I use to organize my work assignments. I've tried that approach with my exercise goals, and it seems to work pretty well.
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The annual Lantern Festival signifies the end of Chinese New Year and the beginning of spring. HowStuffWorks takes a look.