Recent Encounters : Annie Wignall
I love your new web site! As one of your youngest friends and biggest fans, I am honored that you asked me to share my story of volunteerism with your readers. I hope that it will light up a life by inspiring someone else to have the courage to give.
Volunteering has always been an important part of my life. My parents taught me at an early age to help others and as long as I can remember my mom, dad, sister, brother and I have always volunteered; doing good deeds for neighbors; caroling at Christmas; raising money for special events; and volunteering at church, school, and in our community. Winston Churchill summed it up quite nicely when he said, ”We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” No matter how many material things you have, your life will never be complete unless you give something back. I learned through example that it’s important to think about other people who are sad or lonely or having a hard time and that life is not only about ME. When you care about other people it will make your own life richer and happier too. That’s why the idea of starting “Care Bags” to help children seemed like a totally normal thing for me to do.
My own story of giving began in Jan. 2000, when I was eleven, after I learned from my mom (a Child Abuse Prevention Educator) that many kids in crisis situations have to leave their homes without any of their own belongings. Can you imagine not even having your own toothbrush, toothpaste, comb or shampoo? I LOVE kids and think they all deserve to have the things they need, so I decided to do something myself to make their lives better and easier. I put myself in their shoes and came up with the idea to fill fabric “Care Bags” (for kids ages baby-18 years) with new, essential, safe, fun and age-appropriate items to help them during difficult times in their lives. I asked my mom to be my chauffeur, contacted 2 local children’s agencies to see if they’d distribute my bags, recruited volunteers to sew beautiful cloth bags and personally met with local businesses seeking donations to fill them.
I knew when I started Care Bags that I couldn’t help everyone, but I could make a difference, one Care Bag, one child at a time. With a passion for kids, an optimistic attitude and sincere desire to help others less fortunate, what began 5 years ago, as a small, home-based local service project has grown bigger and better than I ever dreamed it could be! My project is now an on-going, award-winning nonprofit organization called Care Bags Foundation, complete with its own “Care Bags 4 Kids” headquarters where donations are stored and 100+ Care Bags are filled every month. With help from thousands of generous volunteers and donors, and with hand-delivery by over 60 U.S and International distributing agencies and individuals, I’ve been fortunate through Care Bags to bring smiles to the faces of over 7000 deserving kids worldwide! Using my web site (www.carebags4kids.org) and Care Bags Starter Kit available by email, 50+ American and International groups of all ages and nations have been inspired to “adopt” my idea by beginning similar projects of their own. This is great because it has allowed many others to also know the joy of giving and is helping to bring hope and tangible gifts of love to countless more kids throughout the world.
Although I prefer the spotlight be on the kids I help, I’ve agreed to tell my story for many national and international books, magazines, newspapers, TV and radio stations in hopes that others would learn of the plight of needy kids, and be encouraged to help too. One of my favorite profiles was included in Jackie’s book, America, September 11: The Courage To Give, which highlighted my Care Bags efforts to help American children affected by the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
My volunteer work has taught me so much! It’s helped me to be more thankful for the family and good life I have. I’ve learned if a community works together for a good cause; good things are bound to happen. And I’ve discovered there are a lot of nice grownups and kids out there who want to help—all I had to do was ask! I’ve made a ton of new friends and have gotten to meet important people, including President Bush (and JACKIE WALDMAN!), but best of all, doing this has shown me just how good it feels to help others. I like to make people happy, because that makes me happy too. Knowing I’ve made a difference in someone’s life and seeing the smiles on the faces of the beautiful kids I help is the best reward I will ever get.
Whether you know it or not, everyone has done something to help someone else. It could be something as simple as opening a door for another, smiling and saying a kind word, letting someone go before you in the lunch line, or mentoring a child. These simple acts of kindness can make someone else’s day and your own day, brighter. I think some people convince themselves that there is so much that needs to be done that doing something small wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever. But one little thing you do could really make a BIG difference to someone somewhere.
I really love kids, so that’s what I like to spend my time on. I do something Care Bags related every day. But you may love art, or reading, or sports, or helping the elderly. Whatever your passion is, find something you care about and like to do and take action and then volunteering will be fun. I encourage you all to use your time, talents and your voice to make the world a better place. You’ll be so glad you did!
Jackie, you are a real inspiration, not only to me, but to everyone who is blessed to cross your path. Thanks for everything you do to help me help me help others, and for having your own courage to give!
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