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Great Ways to Give Back on Memorial Day

Like many Americans over Memorial Day, you might plan on spending this weekend grilling out with family, relaxing by the lake or going on a quick trip to the mountains. Memorial Day is well-known as time off from work, the perfect opportunity to relax and refresh. However, there’s much more to the holiday than simply taking a break.

Memorial Day is a time commemorating the U.S. military men and women who have died in active service to our country. We honor these servicemen and women for the contribution they gave, even when it cost them their lives. Memorial Day means much more than time off from work and hosting a barbecue, so if you want to get involved this weekend, check out these great ways to give back.

Serve at a homeless shelter.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, approximately 11% of the current adult homeless population are veterans themselves, many of whom suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. Unfortunately, homelessness can be a pervasive issue many U.S. veterans face. By using time this Memorial Day to serve at a homeless shelter, you can potentially help veterans right in your community. Contact local shelters near you and see what assistance they need this week and how you can get involved. 

Work with a nursing home.
More than 16 million Americans served in World War II; over 5.7 million served in the Korean War; and 2.7 million U.S. soldiers served in Vietnam. The youngest of these brave men and women are still in their 60s. Chances are, almost every nursing home in the country houses at least one veteran. Without visiting friends or family, nursing homes can feel like incredibly lonely, isolating places. Fortunately, you can brighten someone’s day by volunteering your time and talents to care for veterans within these home facilities.

Donate to organizations.
There are plenty of nonprofit organizations—both local and national—who work tirelessly to support veterans near you. These charities help veterans with housing, job placements and healthcare, or strive to improve the wellbeing for those on active duty. For example, organizations such as Combat Wounded, Veterans of Community Response and Veterans Matter are all valuable causes to contribute to. Research charities near you or nationally to find one you can support this Memorial Day.

Send a care package.
If you want to do something more personal and related to active duty service members, consider sending a care package this weekend. Put together a military care package to send overseas and raise a soldier’s spirits. Include goodies from the United States, comfort foods and of course a note thanking them for their service. These men and women are often separated from their family and friends for long periods of time in stressful situations, so receiving mail—even from a stranger—can brighten their day. 

Decorate a site.
Before Memorial Day, it was “Decoration Day”—a holiday dedicated to decorating fallen soldiers’ graves. Nowadays, you can keep this tradition alive and well. If there is a memorial site or veteran cemetery near your area, go visit and set out flowers or other decorations on the graves. Better still, get together a group of friends or family and divide up the cemetery into different areas, to clean and decorate as many grave sites as possible. This is even a great way to get kids involved and share the true value of Memorial Day with them.

Memorial Day is an incredibly special time in our nation’s history. This weekend, do more than barbecue. Take time to truly commemorate the meaning of the holiday and celebrate the servicemen and women who have given everything to this country.

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5 Health Benefits of Playing Music

The Greek philosopher Plato once said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Thousands of years later, and these words still ring true. This week, National Buy a Musical Instrument Day falls on May 22nd, which means it’s the perfect time to celebrate with music. 

No matter how old you are, what your musical taste is or whether or not you can read a note, there’s never a wrong time to learn how to play an instrument. In fact, there are significant advantages to learning music. Check out these five health benefits from playing music.

1. Music makes you smarter.
Over the years, studies have consistently shown a correlation between musical training and academic success in both children and adults. Even when an adult learns to play a musical instrument for the first time, it stimulates the brain and improves functions such as memory and abstract reasoning skills. This is because playing music releases brain-building compounds like BDNF, CREB and synapsin I, neural growth factors that strengthen your mental capabilities. Therefore, if you want to be smarter, start by picking up an instrument.

2. Music gives community.
Not only does music improve your mental health, but it can also benefit your social health, as well. There are a variety of music communities out there for you to get plugged into. Even for solo musicians, you can still find groups, friends and online environments to share tips, ask questions and expand your skill. If you decide to pick up a musical instrument, don’t go at it alone. Join a musical group in your area to develop relationships with different kinds of people, build leadership skills and grow together as a team. This communal environment can dramatically improve your social wellbeing.

3. Music provides creativity.
As you grow in music, you also stretch your mental and emotional health through creativity. Music challenges individuals to try new things, work on distinct tactics and expand their creativity. This can be remarkably beneficial for your emotional health. In fact, music can help you process through emotions by playing music you enjoy, experimenting with melodies or writing your own songs. As you learn a musical instrument, lean into the challenge by embracing your creative side. Your overall health will thank you for it.

4. Music relieves stress.
Because music gives you an opportunity to process creatively through thoughts and emotions, it also allows you to relieve stress. Multiple studies have shown how playing music can genuinely make people happy. One study cited by Inc. even found that listening to and playing music reduced anxiety and lowered levels of depression in participants. Instead of wallowing in your concerns, music gives you an outlet to focus your energy on a positive activity, relieving your stress, lowering blood pressure and getting your heart rate down, so you feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. 

5. Music builds confidence.
Ultimately, music can even help build your confidence, improving your full-range of health. There’s no feeling like setting a goal, putting in time and energy towards it and eventually reaching your accomplishment and mastering a song. The more effort you engage towards music, the more it will improve your confidence and strengthen your health. If you want to feel better throughout your daily life, consider picking up an instrument and giving it a try.

There’s no doubt that learning and playing music provide a multitude of benefits. If you want to celebrate National Buy a Musical Instrument Day this week, consider trying music for yourself for a happier, healthier lifestyle.

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How to Use Social Media to Make a Difference

Social media has a multitude of uses and benefits. Make friends, promote a product, update family on your life, stay in touch with college roommates…the list can go on and on. There are practically endless possibilities to what you can do with social media. In fact, did you know you can even use social media to make a difference in the world? 

It’s true. As technology has developed, social media has gradually begun to earn its place in the nonprofit sector. Volunteers, donors and community members alike have all used social media to share about a cause close to their hearts, and make an impact for an organization they love. So, do you want to embrace social networking to have a positive influence on the world? Here are some ideas for how to use social media to make a difference.

1. Raise awareness.
Social media has an incredible ability to raise awareness about causes you care about. Oftentimes, people simply don’t know about various problems or issues around the U.S. or the world. Social networking platforms are a great outlet to share information and knowledge you have about these matters. Post statistics, videos, infographics and other material to inform people about the cause you care about, so they can learn more and get involved.

2. Use your birthday.
Some social media sites will let you create a fundraising campaign for your birthday through their platform. For example, Facebook lets users create a donation campaign and send out messages to friends for their birthday, asking them to give. Facebook will even cover the credit card processing fees when you create the campaign through their platform. So if you have a birthday coming up, consider how you can leverage it for good.

3. Ask for donations.
Even if your birthday isn’t coming up, social media is still a great source to ask for donations from friends or family. Chances are, you’ve done some fundraising throughout your life. Whether it was in elementary school or just last year, you have a bit of experience asking for donations. Take advantage of your social media account by sharing donation pages, nonprofit information and asking others to give to the causes you care about.

4. Share about volunteering.
Of course, some people in your life might not be able to donate at the moment. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still get involved! If you’re connected with a specific nonprofit, share about upcoming volunteering opportunities or positions available. Even if it’s a short-term volunteering stint, people in your life can still join in and learn about important causes within their community.

5. Tell stories.
People respond well to stories. Fortunately, social media is all about storytelling. As you ask for donations, volunteers or share information, be sure to tell a story. Explain the mission behind the nonprofit, tell about a client they helped (respecting confidentiality of course) or talk about what the cause means to you. Why do you care about the cause? The more you share your own experiences, the more other friends can envision themselves in your shoes.

6. Promote the organization.
Social networking sites are also excellent platforms to use for promoting. Similar to raising awareness for a cause, you can advocate for a nonprofit organization in your community. Like a charity’s Facebook page, follow them on social networking sites, share their posts, advertise upcoming events and encourage others to learn more. As you promote the organization, more people will want to get involved and join your efforts.

Social media has a multitude of benefits and uses, including the ability to make a difference. If you want to have a positive impact on the world around you, consider how you can use social media. Keep these ideas in mind the next time you’re scrolling through your newsfeed and want to get involved for good.

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Support National Foster Care Month

The month of May is known for many things: the end of the school year, the season of spring and of course, the smell of fresh flowers. But did you know May is also home to National Foster Care Month? National Foster Care Month first began in 1988, when President Reagan issued a proclamation announcing May as the month of recognition. Since then, it has continued to be recognized and celebrated by agencies, families and individuals throughout the country. 

According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, National Foster Care Month was created as “…a time to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections.” With more than 440,000 youth in foster care, there are plenty of ways to make a difference during this month. Here are ideas for how to support National Foster Care Month.

Share the news.
One easy way to assist with National Foster Care Month is through social media. Share the news by posting updates, information and facts across social networking pages. Many people are uninformed about the foster care system and the youth within it, so this is a great opportunity to educate. Take to your social media pages and see how you can get people involved to make a difference.

Become a mentor.
No matter who they are, children simply need one adult in their lives who is a constant, comforting presence—who they know believes in them and will be there for them. You could be that adult for a youth in the foster care system. Check to see what programs are available to mentor a foster youth in your area. Then, get together with a child and play games, teach life skills and show how much you care.

Support during aging out.
Depending on the state, children age out of the foster care system between ages 18 and 21. According to the National Foster Youth Institute, only 50% of foster kids who age out of the system will have a form of gainful employment by the age of 24. There is less than a 3% chance for former foster youth to earn a college degree at any point in their life. You can help beat these odds by working with children who age out of the system through local programs that teach college and career counseling, or train on valuable life skills.

Encourage foster parents.
Fostering a youth in your home can be incredibly challenging. Not only is it difficult on the child, but it’s also hard on the parents and potentially other children in the house. If you know someone who has opened their home to foster children, be a voice of encouragement and comfort for them. Let them know that they make a difference in these children’s lives. Who knows? You might even consider becoming a foster parent yourself someday.

Donate to an organization.
Finally, search for organizations in your community or nationally who support children in foster care. While volunteering always helps, if you have the opportunity, consider donating financially, as well. Your contributions can provide valuable programs for these children that encourage their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing—helping throughout their childhood and enabling them to become healthy adults. Search to see how you can donate to make an impact.

May is National Foster Care Month, which means it’s the perfect time to get involved with foster care youth in your area. Keep these ideas in mind as ways to benefit the children, parents, families and workers within the foster care system, and live a more altruistic lifestyle.