PHOTO BY Hillary Ehlen
Feature photo of volunteer at Homeward Animal Shelter by Paul Flessland
With Thanksgiving approaching, we’ve entered into the season of being grateful and showing kindness to other people. Did you know you can also show your thankfulness to your community? Here are seven ways to show gratitude to the Fargo-Moorhead area, not just in November, but all year round.
A common way to give back in any community is to spend time volunteering. This could take on many forms and look like anything from working at a soup kitchen to helping the elderly with outdoor chores. Kelly Binfet from Ronald McDonald House Charities and Robert Colace with Unseen share their views on why volunteering is important and how, by doing so, you can show gratitude to this community.
In your words, what is Unseen?
Unseen fights against human trafficking around the world at its root causes. They partner with organizations around the world that need help to run more smoothly. They help these organizations with their marketing, creating a greater media presence and making a more efficient donor basis for them.
Why does Unseen need volunteers?
Unseen needs volunteers because they’re able to serve their partners more effectively with the help of volunteers. The staff is able to accomplish more when we have volunteers writing thank you cards for our donors, making phone calls and doing something as simple as keeping the office clean so the staff can serve our partners directly rather than doing these tasks themselves.
Why do you think it is important for individuals to step out of their box and into a volunteer role in the Fargo-Moorhead community?
I believe serving as a volunteer is the best way to become an active member of the community and to leave a lasting impact on the group or organization you are serving. The individual will also be a great example for others to look up to and maybe step out and volunteer themselves.
Why do you volunteer?
I volunteer because I know my time spent doesn’t go wasted and I help change lives, even though I might not get to see it happen first hand. I volunteer specifically at Unseen because I feel disgusted every time I hear about how big the human trafficking industry is or when I hear about how human trafficking ruined an individual’s life. I came to Unseen because I felt it was a great opportunity to help fight against this problem.
How do you believe gratitude ties in with volunteering within this community?
I believe volunteering is the best way to express gratitude within the community. There’s no better way to say thank you to the amazing organizations in town than by donating some of your time and expecting nothing in return.
What is the Ronald McDonald House?
The Ronald McDonald House of the Red River Valley supports and houses families whose children are receiving medical care in the Fargo-Moorhead area by providing home-like comfort, support and care for families.
For the House, what is the importance of having volunteers?
Volunteers are a vital part of our organization. With a small staff, we rely heavily on volunteers to make our House a “home away from home.” Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to best help families like we do. Ronald McDonald House volunteers provide meals, help with office work, light housekeeping, yard work and assist with special events. We are also governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Our biggest volunteer opportunity is our Share A Meal program. We strive to have three to four meals a week prepared by volunteers for our families. The wonderful home-cooked meals make such a big difference for our families at the end of a long day.
Why do you think it is important for individuals to step out of their box and into a volunteer role in the Fargo-Moorhead community?
Volunteering connects you to what is happening with the people in our community. People are kind and want to help, and volunteering is the perfect way to give back. Like the Ronald McDonald House, many organizations wouldn’t be able to best live out their mission without the help of volunteers. Not only does volunteering strengthen the Fargo-Moorhead community, but it can be a great method of team bonding and has many benefits for the individual themselves. Plus, volunteering is fun.
What steps should a reader take in order to become a volunteer/how to decide where to volunteer?
It’s easy to volunteer. My best advice would be to start where you have a passion. Impact Foundation has a great resource where you can learn more about different organizations within categories that appeal to you. Check out the volunteer section at ImpactGiveback.org
How do you believe gratitude ties in with volunteering and in this community?
I think we live in such a good place. Over and over, we have seen how much they want to help each other. I think we have a record number of people and companies who volunteer compared to other places. I think we just work hard and know that kindness comes back around. People are grateful for what they have and they give back with their donations, their time and their talents.
We are grateful to all our donors and our volunteers and the people who care for the Ronald McDonald House of the Red River Valley. We are so excited to be building a new RMHC house so that we can help even more families in the future. The House will be located near the new Sanford hospital.
Ronald McDonald House Charities
In 2016, an estimated $390 billion was donated to charities in the U.S. If you don’t think you have the time to spare to volunteer, you could choose a charity near and dear to your heart and give money instead. It could be a one-time donation or maybe you decide to give monthly. Don’t be worried about how much—even a small amount can do wonders—but give with a grateful heart and be a part of something bigger within your community.
An opportunity to give is coming up. RDO’s Caters Taters event is on Tuesday, Nov. 21, and CCRI is the benefiting charity this year. For $8, you get a potato with your choice of toppings, a dessert and a drink, but this could be the perfect opportunity to support a local charity and, instead of the required $8, drop $20 in the basket instead.
3. MENTOR STUDENTS
Think back to when you were younger. Did you have a someone in your life—an older sibling or a close family friends—you looked up to? Some children don’t have positive role models in their lives, and maybe mentoring Fargo-Moorhead’s younger generation is your way to give back. A great first step is to get involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and here are just the people you should talk to.
Why did you decide to be a Big Brother?
I was looking for a way to give back to the community. I’ve always enjoyed mentoring youth and kept hearing about the shortage of male volunteers in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
What is the most rewarding aspect? What is the most challenging?
The boys in this program are growing up without a father figure due to no fault of their own (death, incarceration, abandonment, etc). It amazes me how teaching them the little things in life like how to throw a fastball, bait a hook or relationship advice can add so much value. The need is very real, and it’s easy to take for granted what I learned from my father growing up.
As my Little Brother gets more and more involved in high schools sports, it can be challenging for us to find time to connect. A simple text or phone call can go a long way in between visits.
What could a typical day as a Big Brother or Big Sister look like?
A typical day for me and my Little would be going out to eat and chatting about school, sports and his relationships. After that, we’ll go play catch or check out Scheels. We’ve also done a few Bison and Redhawks games. The program does a great job matching volunteers with a child that has similar interests.
How has being a mentor helped you better appreciate the Fargo-Moorhead community?
Being a part of BBBS has exposed me to a need in our community that I couldn’t have imagined. There are consistently around 50 boys without a male figure in their life who are sitting on a 2-year waiting list to be matched.
If someone was considering being a Big Brother or Big Sister, what advice and/or encouragement would you give them?
Friends will often tell me they need to wait until they ‘have it all together’ or more free time before they will volunteer. I tell them, none of us have it all together, and the free time isn’t going to get better. Here’s a chance to just be yourself a couple nights a month, while getting to know a young member of our community. As a result, you just might learn something and positively impact that young child’s life.
What is the BBBS program?
Big Brothers Big Sisters of The Village Family Service Center provides youth facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported, one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Big Brothers Big Sisters has been providing and supporting mentoring relationships to youth in our community for 51 years.
In the perspective of the article’s readers, how would they know if they would make a good mentor? What qualities should they have?
People we speak with often think that they need to have an advanced degree, experience raising kids or a lot of extra time to spend with youth in our program. The reality is that any adult who is supportive, has an authentic interest in youth and is willing to share a little bit of their time and experiences with a child can be a wonderful mentor. The key is simply to show up and show up consistently. Activities can be simple, every-day activities, and you spend as little as a couple hours every-other-week.
In your opinion, why is it important for our community to have strong mentors in this program?
I have worked with this program for more than 25 years, and it never ceases to amaze me that something as simple as an adult – spending consistent time with a child – can have such a positive impact on that child’s life. Youth are at important periods of development. They are trying to navigate through social norms and trying to figure out who they are. When you add other risk factors to this (socio-economic, academic and relationship struggles, etc.), mentoring can be a positive countering event. Mentors can share their experiences, knowledge, support and advice, as well as provide a positive influence. By introducing youth to new experiences and sharing positive values, mentors can help young people avoid negative behaviors and achieve success. This, in turn, has a ripple effect on the whole community.
How do you believe gratitude ties in with this program and in this community?
We hear story after story from youth and their parents about how grateful they are for their Big Brothers/Sisters and what life-changing impact they have had on their life. Being thankful for this community, and wanting to create positive impacts within our community are also an incentive for the individuals who want to give back through mentoring youth. We are fortunate to live in such an amazing, supportive community, and many see this as an opportunity to give back, and having fun while doing so!
Big Brothers Big Sisters
4. SUPPORT LOCAL
According to the American Independent Business Alliance, for every $100 spent at local business, $68 stays in the community. This is compared to $43 out of $100 at a chain retailer. Supporting local art, businesses and nonprofits is a great way to love your community and fortunately for us, Fargo-Moorhead has many local options. Let’s hear from two people in our community who represent both the arts and business scene, Carrie Wintersteen with Theatre B and Salon 3|5 by Ryan Benz.
Tell us about your business:
Salon 3|5 by Ryan Benz is the first green salon in North Dakota. We help you feel beautiful while keeping Mother Nature healthy. We use eco-luxury hair products made from essential oil and botanicals that restore and maintain hair. Everything used in a client service is recycled, leaving little to no carbon footprint.
Why would you encourage people to shop locally or use local businesses/resources and how does it show gratitude?
Shopping locally provides revenue that stays in the Fargo-Moorhead economy. Utilizing local shops shows support of a successful downtown with expectations of spreading through the community.
How does the presence of Salon 3|5 return gratitude back to Fargo-Moorhead residents?
I’m grateful to live in this community because of the characteristics it has, and I believe every business in Fargo has ways to give back. I think Salon 3|5 can be a part of it through the giving back of quality products and services while creating a fun and healthy atmosphere, for both people and the planet.
In your words, what is Theatre B?
For me, Theatre B is a labor of love and a fulfillment of purpose. Fargo-Moorhead has a strong interest in the arts, especially in education. I wanted to create a space for adult artists to continue to hone their craft, challenge themselves and impact the community through art. Theatre B’s purpose is to invigorate civic conversation through intimate and transformative storytelling. Our long-term vision is to employ a resident ensemble and guest artists who are enmeshed in the fabric of an equitable, inviting and creative community. And gratitude is written into our values.
Why is it important to support local art, businesses and nonprofits?
Supporting one another is what makes us a community. Whether it’s cheering on a team, shopping at a local store or volunteering at the food pantry, citizen participation is key to the health and vitality of any community.
There are many examples, but I like the story of George Baily in It’s a Wonderful Life. He was more interested in the overall health and prosperity of his community than his own bottom line. And that commitment to his neighbors came back to him in ways he never expected. We are all in this together. I prefer to live in a healthy, thriving community where neighbors feel connected and share all the benefits of those relationships.
How does supporting those local establishments reflect gratitude within the community?
This region is renowned for education, entrepreneurialism and a robust arts and culture sector. Support for local art is a really effective way to instill pride of place and celebrate all that makes our community appealing and special.
How does the presence of Theatre B return the gratitude back to Fargo-Moorhead residents?
Our mission statement puts first the notion of community engagement and conversation. The art we make is simply the means to develop connections and empathy. Without audiences attending, donors supporting, foundations granting and businesses partnering, we would not be able to fulfill our mission. I think Fargo-Moorhead would be a less interesting place to live, work and play without a rich arts and culture sector.
How can those who live in the FM area effectively support you and Theatre B?
Participate. Get involved. Come to shows. Bring friends. Tell your boss and your co-workers. Volunteer. Donate money. Support businesses who fund the arts and tell them you appreciate their commitment.
Live theatre is a labor-intensive endeavor. The artists who direct, design and perform here are incredibly dedicated – both to their creative work and to the community. There is a strong draw to leave the FM area for larger markets where artists have a chance of making a career in the theatre. But some choose to stay here. They choose to keep making art and get paid well below market scale. They are your neighbors, your friends, your co-workers and they are adding a lot to the quality of life in this community. It’s important not to take them for granted.
5. SOCIAL MEDIA
With platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter being used as a common and effective way to communicate, it makes sense that gratitude can be shown via social media as well. Don’t forget to tag your favorite restaurant or use a local event’s hashtag!
What do you do?
I do social media training, coaching and consulting. The biggest thing I like to do is help train social media teams and organizations. I’ve worked with a number of companies and teams in town to help empower individual voices to be sharing over social media the stories of their organizations from their perspective.
How does gratitude affect social media?
I really believe that when our social media is grounded in gratitude, it creates a contagious energy. I try to teach people different ways they can do that, whether it’s lifting up coworkers by praising moments of everyday greatness or taking the time to tag nonprofits on social media, saying how much you appreciate what they do. You’re able to show gratitude and inspire others to keep up the good work.
What are specific ways Fargo-Moorhead residents can show gratitude to the community?
I think capturing and sharing the things you love about the community is the first step. The “I love Fargo” hashtag is a great way to do that. For example, I have a friend this summer who did little reviews of the parks around town because she has three little kids, so she shared pictures of their favorite parks all summer. It was an excellent way to get an idea of different places in town that would be fun to check out.
I often tell people to post on social media every time you have an emotional reaction. So when you say, “aww” or you get goosebumps or tears in your eyes, think about how that’s a story you could share.
I’m a firm believer that social media is a better place when we focus our time on showing the things we are for, love and care about versus focusing on the things that make us different. Really finding those moments of gratitude can make a big difference in the way we treat each other.
Next Action Digital
Give #Thanks with Hashtags:
For where you live: #ILoveFargo, #MoorheadProud, #NorthofNormal
For meaningful work: #ILoveMyJob
For family: #ILoveMyFamily, #FamilyTime
Make it a practice: #ThankfulThursday, #30DaysofThanks
Say it your way: #Thanks, #Thankful, #Blessed, #Gratitude, #GiveThanks
6. ATTEND EVENTS
Fargo-Moorhead is a close-knit community and one that likes to create opportunities to get everyone involved. Next time there is an event or festival in the area, get your family together or get a group of friends and go. It’s generally an inexpensive way to have fun while enjoying your community and making connections to other people and resources. It also shows support to those who run the events, allowing them to continue to pour into this community, creating a cycle of gratitude.
Check out Fargo Monthly’s events calendar online or in the back of this issue. Another great resource is the event page on Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau’s website, FargoMoorhead.org/Events.
7. TREAT YO’SELF
While being the overall best version of yourself should be everyone’s goal, loving who you are will also help you to love your community better. Fargo-Moorhead isn’t complete without you, so take some time to treat yourself. This could include going to a movie, a spa, the gym, taking a day or evening off from your regular routine and doing something fun or maybe it’s staying in for a night with no plans except to relax. Whatever it means to you. Through showing gratitude to yourself, you’re better able to show gratitude to others.