Since the holidays are coming soon, I wanted to make a list—and check it twice—about simple things that you can do to make a difference.
Since my brother and I started One More Generation (OMG) back in 2009, we have created three divisions: Animal Conservation, Environmental Conservation, and Youth Empowerment. Each of these divisions is designed to allow youth around the world to make a difference. We encourage you to look through theses ideas and find what piques your interest and possibly get involved. Here are some ways to make a difference.
*Adopt an animal. Adoption is the best way to get involved with animal conservation. There are many organizations around the world that have perfected the art of saving a particular species. I would recommend deciding on your favorite animal and start doing some research. My brother and I adopt animals all the time with our birthday money or with funds we raise ourselves through bake sales, etc. At last count, we have two fruit bats, one baby rhino, an orangutan named Chocolate, two cheetahs, and a whale shark. (We had a baby elephant named Mosses but he unfortunately died because he was so sad about his mother being shot by poachers). The next animal that we want to adopt is a pangolin.
*Do your research and make a presentation. Going to your school and getting your friends and teachers to help you make a presentation is a great way to to get more people involved in animal conservation, and you will be amazed how much you learn along the way.
*Fundraising. If you don’t want to do something big, fundraising is a good way to help animals. For instance, my brother and I have held art auctions at local art studios. We just asked the artists if they would have a day where kids and their families could come in and learn how to paint animals. The artists gave free lessons that day, and all the art produced was later auctioned off for the highest price, with all the money going to the cheetah rescue center we work with.
*Volunteer. A great way to make a difference for animals is to volunteer. I reach out to local zoos and animal rehab centers and offer my free time to help them with their daily chores. It is so cool, because the people who work at these organizations are typically so passionate about the animals. You can really learn a lot from them, and you get to interact with the animals in so many ways.
*Make things you can donate to your local animal shelters. Little dog toys can make a huge difference for animals in shelters, and blankets mean the dogs don’t have to sleep on cold concrete floors. This is a great way to help animals in your own backyard and it is always fun to deliver the items to the shelters.
*Donate. After you fundraise, you can donate money to a local organization that is truly trying to make a difference. We donate to organizations locally and all over the world. Every little bit helps, so don’t feel bad about sending an organization a small donation; they all need it and it really helps them.
*Recycle. I know you hear this all the time, but I can not express the importance of recycling enough. The first thing we need to do is “reduce” our use of single-use plastic, which can easily be done by avoiding plastic bags, pledging to stop using plastic straws, avoiding plastic water bottles, etc. After reducing our plastic usage, we need to “precycle” which means we only buy items packaged in plastics that are actually being recycled. Most people do not know that plastics #3 (PVC), #6 (PS-Styrofoam), and #7 (Other) are deemed too expensive to actually recycle so they are merely thrown in our landfills. Precycling every time you shop will significantly reduce the amount of plastics that end up in our environment. And finally, we all need to “recycle” everything else.
*Repurpose. You can make a lot of things from plastics or glass that aren’t being recycled. Work with your school science or art teachers and they will gladly help you come up with cool and fun projects to repurpose unwanted items. Also, if you have items that your typical recycle center will not take, Google “What To Do With Hard To Recycle Items” and you will be surprised as to how many companies will actually find a home for all your unwanted paints, toilets, bath tubes, old bikes, etc. In our community, for instance, there is an organization called CHARM (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials), and they take even the strangest of things and make sure they don’t end up in our environment.
*Composting. By taking your food waste you can turn it into nutrient-rich soil. Here is a great article I read about city composting which will help you get started: Municipal Compost: is it a good thing?
*Do some gardening. Using compost, you can plant some fresh vegetables or fruits to enjoy at home, and you can even donate some of the produce to your local senior services or homeless shelter. That is what we do and we love it.
*Learn about carbon gases and natural gas. This is another subject all by itself, but after learning more about it you can start to reduce your carbon footprint, which is very important.
*Learn about fracking. Fracking is a scary process that gas and oil companies use to force fossil fuels out of the ground. I highly recommend taking the time to learn more about it and then start making presentation or writing letters to officials in your community. Fracking effects all of us in some way so don’t think it only happens in remote areas with little impact.
*Use paper tape instead of plastic tape. Scotch tape is plastic, and it is bad for the environment. So use paper tape, such as masking tape or painters tape, instead. I even wrap gifts in paper tape and newspapers to reduce the amount of unwanted stuff that will end up in our environment.
*Volunteer. In almost every community, you can find people who are organizing some sort of clean-up event. Do some research and get involved by volunteering your time.
*Get your friends to get involved. Not everyone can come up with a good idea on their own, so help your friends get involved with something. You will be surprised as to what comes out of it.
*Go to a lot of kids events and share. Going to kids events helps show that you are supporting them and they will be eager to get involved. Teaching youth about “precycling” or the need to save endangered species is a great way to get them started as well.
*Start a club. If you don’t know what to do to make a difference get some friends together and start a club. It is always easier to start something with friends rather than on your own, and it is also more fun. So gather everyone you know and start brainstorming about what it is that you want to accomplish and get started.
*Tell others about your passion. This is very important. Tell everyone you know about your passion and if they don’t listen, then tell them again and again and again. Eventually, someone will hear you and offer help—and that is how you get started.
*Help others. If you do not want to start your own club or organization, then help other people with their project. They will appreciate the help and you will find your own way along the way.
*Volunteer. Look around in your community and you will find plenty of organizations who are trying to help youth in various ways. Reach out to them and offer your time or even ideas on ways they can be more of an asset to the youth in the community. My brother and I volunteer all the time and it is so rewarding.
Well, that is all for now. I hope you find at least one thing in each category above to get involved with and that this helps you start getting more involved in what’s happening all around you. We wish you a fantastic holiday and remember Anybody can make a difference, if we can… you can too.
Olivia Ries is our National Geographic Society Youth Empowerment writer. Together with her brother, Carter, she hopes to inspire others to realize that “Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.”