This year, the holiday season will look a bit different than usual. While the pandemic might keep some from celebrating with their loved ones and gathering in person, people are still looking for ways to give back to their community and practice gratitude.
On Giving Tuesday, The Conversationalist Founder and CEO Sophie Beren spoke with Katie Sands and a group of Gen Z panelists about giving back ahead of the holiday season. Her conversation with panelists showed that when it comes to giving, small actions make a big impact.
Our host, Katie, is an influencer, fashion & lifestyle blogger, On-Air Host on Amazon Live, and CEO & Founder of Honestly Kate! She is also on the junior board of Make A Wish, the partner organization for this evening’s panel. “To all my panelists, you are all incredible entrepreneurs. I feel honored to even be in your presence,” she said at the top of the panel. “I did not start as young as you guys, and I wish I did. You have so much to tell us today, and tonight is all about you.”
Michael Platt, a 15-year-old baker, social entrepreneur, and business owner of Michael’s Desserts, said that Giving Tuesday is for everyone, no matter how much you’re able to give. “It’s doing something small, but doing that small thing allows you to be part of a community of giving,” he said.
“Giving back to me is important to me because I saw firsthand how much that little push can get someone through,” said Ayan Paul, a high school student and the Vice President and Co-Founder of CareCovid. “If I could be that little push, I 100% want to do that.”
Looking at his experience volunteering in Chicago, Devonta Boston, the Co-Founder of TGi Movement, said he appreciated the energy he received from his elders. “Black elders can be so embracing,” he said. “They call you baby and sugar, and being around that energy and seeing how thankful they were for other people and me to come to clean up around their block, it just shows that people need us.”
Building on his perspective, Katie pointed out that seemingly small actions can mean a lot to the people they benefit.
18-year-old Caine Monroy, the Creator of Caine’s Arcade, said that he is focused on giving back by spreading knowledge as an entrepreneur. He added that he believes in giving back selflessly and with no strings attached.
Katie echoed Caine’s point and said that this is something she has seen among Gen Z. “The millennial generation and older have used a lot of ‘give back’ topics to add to their resume, but it’s not really about that and people can see right through that,” she said.
“A lot of people have this misconception that if you give back, you have to start big, or you have to start some big organization,” said Phoebe Omonira, a 17-year-old Nigerian-American from Dallas, Texas. She is a Civics Unplugged 2021 Fellow and the Community Outreach Coordinator at Gen Z Girlgang. “But something that you can do at home, especially as a student, is to start with yourself. Build up your mental health, build up those boundaries, have a work-life balance, and impact your community. There are people all around that need help.”
“There's so much attention on ourselves right now, and we're so self-absorbed with social media and everything else going on,” Sands said. “When you give your energy out to the world, your mental health is already going to increase with positivity because you're going to feel like you're doing something good, that’s not just impacting yourself.”
Tom Lamorgese, a student at Pace University, recalled some advice from a former teacher of his- you are more fortunate than you think. “Sometimes we might forget that some people don't have these basic needs you need to live and all these luxuries that we have,” he said.
Shreyaa Venkat, the Co-founder & CEO of NEST4US and a freshman at Georgetown University, said that there is something “really special” about hands-on volunteering. “It's easy to say that you raised x amount of dollars for a cause, but taking that extra step to be there for someone to show that you care adds so much value,” she said. “I see that when I go and serve the homeless. We don't just give them food, we sit down with them, and we listen to what they have to say. They have some incredible stories. You often don't know what a human is going through until you take the time to listen to them.”
Katie spoke about her experience as a volunteer with Make-A-Wish and how that experience allows her to expend emotional energy rather than only money.
As an intersectional feminist, Aria Sline, a senior at Homewood Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Illinois, brought up the importance of aiding societal problems, even when they don’t apply to you. Her advocacy work and her podcast, FemBolden, center around empathy and recognizing privilege. “As Phoebe mentioned earlier, I think that it's such a common misconception that you have to be giving back in such grandiose ways or such expensive ways,” she said. “Even just the little things that we do such as this live show or any other efforts of giving back are really important, especially as intersectional feminists.”
Michael said that donating to a food pantry is always a great option since many families want to make the holiday special for their children but are concerned about being able to do so financially. He also brought up the importance of connecting with your community, especially during a challenging holiday season. Giving your time and giving natural energy and your actual presence to those people is very important,” he said.
“I think inspiring people to give back is by maybe showing them an example of how giving back can impact somebody,” Caine said.“I found that with my platform, completely like the only way I can get people to show up with me to volunteer is to be like, ‘this is what I did volunteering, this could be you.’”
Shreyaa said that Make-a-Wish does a great job instilling hope and a sense of care for struggling people. “Hope is such a powerful word, especially in 2020 when people are feeling all these negative effects from the pandemic,” she said. “Having that positivity and being a light for people, I think, is just so important.”
Given that COVID is making donating and volunteering difficult for many people, Tom said a good start is to just be a good person, especially given all the political polarization in the world.
Devonta said that people looking for a cause shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. He tried out several different career paths, including working in politics, before getting involved in community work. “Find what you are passionate about that brings you joy,” he said.
Phoebe found a cause that was important to her when she had the opportunity to intern with Volunteers of America and worked with a mentor who encouraged her to explore her passions. “I think something that is so lacking is people having access to those mentors who can help them and guide them and who've gone before them in certain spaces,” she said. She also added that it’s essential to take advantage of social media and reach out to organizations that seem like a good fit.
Paul emphasized the importance of reaching out to others in your community. “You'll find someone with similar interests,” he said. “Whatever you do, you all can take over the world.”
Michael encouraged people looking for a cause to consider their passions.
“I would say, go with your gut feeling, go with your passion because your passion is never going to lead you down the wrong path,” Shreyaa said to Michael’s point.
When it comes to finding a cause that matters, Phoebe shared some relevant advice from her mother- come with an attitude to learn. “No one will ever turn someone who wants to learn, someone who wants to grow, who wants to get better,” she said.
After the panelists went on their way, Katie joined Sophie to discuss her philanthropy journey, how her social media platform empowers her to give back, and her takeaways from the panel. “It just solidified the fact for me that it's so important to use your community virtually,
digitally, in person, whatever your community is, especially at this time to promote philanthropy and to get other people involved and share the ways that you can get involved,” Katie said.
“That is the number one question that I'm asked is how to get involved or where to start. As you've just heard from the panelists, there are so many different ways that I can't even count them on my hands. There are so many, you know, unique ways to get involved on your own time.”
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