Friday, May 31, 2013

Who Are the Undocumented Immigrants, and Why Should We Let Them Stay?

Image credit: Getty Images

Today is Friday, May 31, 2013.

Myths and misinformation about undocumented immigrants abound.

First of all, I'd like to make sure we are all on the same page about the term "illegal" with respect to immigrants.  This is a demeaning term, because it generates the presumption that these people are criminals.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  They are definitely "undocumented," which means they lack permission to be here, but that doesn't mean they got here by sneaking across the border.  Some people also call them "aliens," but the fact is that the term "alien" is nowhere to be found in U.S. Immigration law.  Therefore the most appropriate term for them is "undocumented immigrants."

There were some 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of November 2011, probably more like 12 million now.  The top five "portal states" for immigrants, by the way, are California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Illinois, in that order.  That's why it's a good thing that most of the Senators and U.S. Representatives working on the Immigration Reform Bills are from those states.

It appears that approximately 45% of undocumented immigrants originally came here legally as tourists, students, visiting professors, or with authorization to work, and decided to stay.  Basically, they have overstayed their visa.  Approximately 63% of them have been in this country for ten years or more.

One of the most persistent stereotypes of the average undocumented immigrant is a single young man who is working as a day laborer.  Sure, there are probably a few of those, but surprisingly,  the majority of undocumented immigrants are couples with children, and up to 40% of them are women.

Undocumented immigrants work in restaurants, construction and food processing. They work as janitors and cleaners, gardeners, maids and nannies.  They harvest crops on farms all over the United States.  But they're not all low-wage workers.  As many as 10% are working in high-tech professional jobs, such as that of computer engineer. 

55-60% of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico, with few job skills and little education.  That's not to say we don't get immigrants from Mexico who are highly skilled.  We do.  But the highly-educated ones are the people who come here legally and know how to apply for an extension on their visa.

Why don't we just deport all the illegal immigrants?  Well, as I said in yesterday's blog, it costs about $23,480 to deport each individual.  This works out to over $10 billion for every 500,000 illegal immigrants deported.  We simply don't have the resources to do this.  Plus, there are compelling reasons to keep some of them here.  More on that angle below.

The Obama Administration has actually deported more illegal immigrants than his predecessor, George W. Bush.  391,953  were deported in 2011, a record number, of which 188,000 had committed crimes in the U.S.  This was an all-time high number of criminal deportations.  93% of those deported in 2011 came from  Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  A new record was set in 2012, with 400,000 deportations, 55% of them convicted criminals.  Despite the high numbers, the Obama Administration is committed to focusing on rounding up criminals, rather than deporting all illegal immigrants, in part because they know that many of those who have overstayed their visa are in the process of trying to extend their stay legally.

Many people believe that it is still as easy to enter this country illegally as it was years ago, but the fact is that illegal immigration has dropped markedly in recent years.  There are many more rules about who is allowed to enter the country than there were many years ago, and with better technology, it is getting easier to keep people from sneaking across the border or entering under false pretenses. 

Another myth is that people can just "get in line" to get a so-called Green Card (permanent resident status).  That works for those who are highly skilled, fleeing from persecution in their home country, or joining close family members already here in the U.S. (such as spouses or children of U.S. citizens or permanent residents).  For unskilled workers who are not related to anyone in this country, there is no "line" to get in.  However, there are manufacturing and agricultural businesses that want to hire these workers because they are willing to work for wages so low that most U.S. citizens would consider them unacceptable.   This is why the House version of the Immigration Reform Bill includes provisions for extending the stay of unskilled laborers.  The fact is that immigrants, whether legal or not, are not generally taking away jobs from Americans.  They are either doing low-paying jobs that American citizens would not touch, or they are in positions that require a high degree of skill.  Many high tech firms have complained that they cannot find enough American citizens qualified to work for them.

Because so many low-wage workers are here illegally, unscrupulous employers an exploit them by paying them far less than the minimum wage, refusing to give them any benefits, and ignoring worker safety laws.  If these workers are able to legalize their status, they stand to gain some of the same protections provided to American workers. There are those who complain about the expense of giving immigrants entitlements, but back in 2007, former President George W. Bush's own cost/benefit estimate for immigration reform stated that an additional cost of $23 billion in public services to immigrants with legal status would be offset by an increase of $48 billion in tax revenue. 

What about crime?  Nationally, the crime rate has gone down by 34% since the year 1994.  Crime rates during the period from 1999 to 2006 were lowest in states with the highest numbers of immigrants, so it seems clear that immigrants do not automatically bring crime into the country.  In fact, the crime rate fell by 14% during this period in the 19 states with the highest immigrant populations.  In the other 31 states, crime only dropped by 7%.  It's statistics like these that show how unfair it is for police to use racial profiling to pull drivers over or to make arrests.

What about taxes?  Some undocumented immigrants may not pay income taxes, but they do pay sales taxes and they contribute to property taxes when they rent a house or apartment.   Remember that property taxes are used to fund pubic schools in most states.  The Social Security Administration estimates that half to three-quarters of undocumented immigrants do pay federal, state and local taxes, including Social Security taxes – even though they cannot get Social Security benefits.  They can enroll their children in the public schools and receive emergency medical care, but they cannot get food stamps or collect welfare.  One of the reasons for allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in this country legally is that the government could then collect taxes from them, and more people would be contributing to Social Security at a time when the Baby Boomers are putting a strain on Social Security resources.

Do we really have more immigrants than ever before?  No, not really.  The historic high percentage was back in the year 1900, when "foreign-born" constituted 20% of the total population.   Today, only about 12% of the American population is foreign-born. 

Is it true that immigrants refuse to learn English?  No, in fact the demand for adult ESL classes exceeds the capacity to serve their needs.  And the kids quickly learn English as well as any native speaker. Like many before them, third-generation immigrants from all language groups generally speak their "native" language so poorly that they cannot communicate with their grandparents.   By the way, approximately 322 languages are spoken in the United States, some 175 of them are indigenous, with over 50 indigenous languages now extinct.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no official language in the United States, although for all intents and purposes, English is the de facto national language.  We have within our borders the fourth largest Spanish speaking population in the world, larger than that of some Spanish-speaking countries.  There are four states that are de facto bilingual: Maine and Louisiana residents speak both English and French, and residents of New Mexico and Texas speak English and Spanish. 

Immigrants tend to be hard workers.  In fact, they tend to start new businesses 30% more often than American citizens do.  More than 25% of the technology and engineering firms started in the period from 1995 to 2000 were owned by a foreign-born individual.  One example is Jerry Yang, from Taiwan, who owns Yahoo!  These business owners are job creators.  In 2007, for example, businesses owned by immigrants created 4.7 million jobs.   It is estimated that allowing undocumented immigrants to legalize their status would boost the Gross Domestic Product by more than $1 trillion over the next ten years. Legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants could curb the deficit by $2.5 billion over the next ten years. :-)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Immigration Reform in the U.S.A. - The Legislation

Today is Thursday, May 30, 2013.

Today I'd like to talk about the immigration reform bills that are being drafted in Congress, and how passage of an immigration reform bill might benefit the United States. I will be talking more about the immigrants, themselves, in future posts.

The process for passage of a bill in the United States Congress typically goes like this:  A bill is introduced either in the Senate or the House of Representatives.  It is debated and modified.  After this process, a vote is taken, and if the bill passes, then it is sent to the other house for a similar process of debate.  If the bill is altered in the other house, then it has to be sent back to the house of origin.  Otherwise, if it is passed, it goes to the President of the United States, who either signs the bill or vetoes it.  Nowadays, the Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate and the Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives.  When different parties have majorities in different houses, there is a whole lot of wrangling going on.  As we saw in the health care debate, each house came up with its own version of the health care bill, which dragged out the process quite a little bit.  This is happening with the proposed immigration reform legislation, as well.  In addition, although both parties have used the filibuster to block legislation, the Republicans have outdone themselves in the use of the filibuster in recent years.

Everyone seems to agree that the system of immigration in this country needs to be fixed.  The question is how, and there are several very delicate issues involved.  In addition, a lot of misinformation is making the rounds in the media and on the Internet.  Hard facts about undocumented immigrants are hard to come by because...., well, they're undocumented.

The cost of apprehending, detaining, processing and deporting one individual is $23,480, according to a report in 2010.  A total of 409,849 people were deported in 2012.  If you do the math, that's over $9.6 billion dollars.  The immigration reform bills in Congress recognize that if we stop deporting undocumented immigrants who have no crime record, we could save a bundle of money.  The U.S. will continue to deport any undocumented immigrant who has a criminal record, no matter what reform bill passes.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have bipartisan committees working on immigration reform legislation.  Each of these committees is nicknamed the "Gang of Eight".  In the Senate, the Gang of Eight is led by Sen. Chuck Shumer, D-NY, and includes Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, Richard Durbin, D-IL, Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL.

The Senate version of the bill provides for the following:
* a path to citizenship for those immigrants already in the United States; it will take at least 13 years to gain citizenship.
* improvements in border patrol and tracking of immigrants.
* permanent residency (green card) for undocumented immigrants granted only after legal immigrants waiting for resident status have been served.
* a special path to citizenship for agricultural workers.
* reducing visa backlogs and streamlining the process of getting permanent residency for immigrants who have graduated with advanced degrees from U.S. universities in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
* an expanded and improved employment verification system to confirm work authorization.  This will be known as E-Verify, and it must be in place within five years, or the legalization program will end.  This seems a lot like the "sequester" provision in the budget bill.
* improved work visa options for low-skill workers (mainly agricultural workers).

The Senate bill is expected to be voted on sometime in June, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he is pretty sure he can get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster that would stall the bill. He is counting on all the Democrats and at least 8 of the Republicans in Congress to vote in favor of the bill. 

The "Gang of Eight" in the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-CA, also includes Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-IL, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, Rep. John Yarmuth, D-KY, Rep. John Carter, R-TX, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-ID, Rep. Sam Johnson, R-TX, and Rep. Maria Diaz-Balart, R-FL.

The House Gang of Eight has recently agreed on the sticking points of their bill, which will be notably more conservative than the Senate version.  Here are some differences:
* No special path to citizenship is provided, but anyone whose status is legalized has the same chance as any other legal immigrant to apply for citizenship.
* It will take 15 years to attain citizenship, 2 more years than in the Senate version.
* anyone who gains legal status will be required to purchase health care.
* In one respect, the House bill is more liberal than the Senate version: It insists on an expansion of temporary work visas, by which tens of thousands more low-skill workers would be granted permission to work in U.S. factories and farms.

Now that they have agreed on the major points in their bill, the House hopes to have their version fully written by the time the Senate version is voted on.  The House version will hopefully be ready to vote on by August.

There is some speculation that even though two versions of an immigration reform bill will be passed this summer, the process of merging them into one bill that can be approved by Congress will very likely end only after the midterm elections in the fall of 2014.  Meanwhile, the United States will continue to spend billions of dollars unnecessarily deporting undocumented immigrants, and the status of a lot of people remains in limbo.  :-/

Random Acts of Kindness

Today is Wednesday, May 29, 2013. 

A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by someone who wishes to be of service to others without expectation of recognition or reward.  Back in the early 1980s, writer Anne Herbert wrote "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a place mat at a restaurant in Sausalito, California.  The phrase was picked up and widely circulated.   Nowadays, various print media, and TV and radio station run stories, and features on acts of kindness.  BBC Radio launched the "One Million Acts of Kindness" campaign in 2008, and in 2006 the "Free Hugs Campaign" was launched on YouTube.  There have been a number of books written on the subject, notably Pay It Forward, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which was made into a popular movie. The concept of "paying it forward" has stuck in the public consciousness. 

Thanks to the folks at and a blog called Lifehack, I have come up with a list of random acts of kindness.  Since nobody has organized them into groups, I decided to do that.  If a situation doesn't apply to you, just scroll down to find a situation that does.  

I have been on the receiving end of a number of random acts of kindness, some done way, way before it became fashionable.  As a poor undergraduate student living off-campus, I recall one day when I went to the grocery store with a limited amount of money, and I had to choose my items very carefully.  I had forgotten to figure the tax, so when the cashier announced the total, I was 25 cents short.  I picked up two items and tried to decide quickly which one to jettison.  As you can imagine, I was terribly embarrassed, which didn't do anything to help clarify my thinking.  Finally a long-haired hippie fellow behind me flipped a quarter on the counter so I could buy everything in my cart.  "Here, Merry Christmas," he said, although it was not Christmas or even winter.  I was so grateful, and I remember savoring that food.

Another act of kindness that I recall was when I was feeling especially sad and lonely as I ate in by myself in a local restaurant.  I don't remember why this person had flowers, but as I stood up to leave, she gave me a rose, "just because."  

A third act of kindness that has stuck with me happened at an Eckankar seminar years ago.  I was eating dinner alone, when an older woman, who was also dining alone nearby, struck up a conversation with me and invited me to dine with her.  I did, and we had a wonderful dinner conversation.  At the end of the meal, she told me she wanted to pay for my meal because she was grateful for the company.  She thought I'd been doing her a favor, but it was the other way around.

Without further ado, here is my list, with a couple of comments here and there.  :-)

Things you can do at work:

If your store/company can't help a customer, recommend another store/company that can.

Say "good morning" to people in the elevator and along your route to your desk.

Bring your assistant some coffee.

Pay compliments to co-workers, and be sure to let their boss know, as well.

Bring a healthy treat to the office: pre-washed grapes cut into small bunches, small apples, servings of nuts in small individual snack bags, a veggie snack tray.

Offer to transfer a caller to another department, rather than making them dial a separate call.

Donate unused event tickets to someone who will use them.

Organize a "Charity Day" at work: have co-workers vote on a charity and work toward a goal.  When the goal is met, donate to another charity.

Compliment your boss.

Offer to help a co-worker with a particularly large or pressing project.

Thank your employees periodically or bring in treats for the staff.

Offer to work late to finish a project.

Offer to work weekends or holidays.

Donate some sick days to a co-worker with a debilitating illness who is running out of paid sick leave, and encourage others to do the same.

Things you can do in a big city:

Put change in an expired parking meter

Help a mother carry a stroller up the subway stairs or hold a door open for her.

Things you an do in a small town:

Offer to babysit (for free) for a single parent or a young couple

Share fresh produce from your garden with neighbors or people who go to your church.

Things kids can do at school:

Study for a test with classmates - invite them to your house and serve snacks.

Pick up trash in your schoolyard, in the hallways, in the bathroom, and in your classroom.

Introduce yourself to a new classmate and invite him or her to play with you at recess.

Lend a classmate one of your extra pencils.

Let someone go in front of you in the lunch line.

Cheer on your school team.

Share your snack with someone who doesn't have one.

Sit next to someone new at lunch.

Write a positive note to a classmate.

Encourage someone who is sad or upset.

Start a kindness club in your class.

Ask before you borrow things, and don't forget to thank the person when you return it.

Tell your teacher, your coach, the custodian or the lunch servers how much you appreciate them.

Things kids can do for others:  

(Parents, please suggest these to your kids!)

Collect canned food for a food bank.

Collect money for UNICEF at Halloween time.

Donate $1 - 10 to the charity of your choice once a month, or add to your parents' donation.

Donate your gently-used books and toys to other kids.

Organize a lemonade stand, used book stand, yard sale, or bake sale to raise funds for a charity.

Organize a teddy-bear drive for orphans.

Start a piggy bank just for charitable donations.

Take lost items to the "lost and found."

Offer to pet-sit or walk dogs for free.

Things kids can do at home:  

(Parents, teach your kids to do these things at home or at Grandma's house.)

Pick up your toys and put them where they belong.

Clean up after yourself in the kitchen, bathroom, and family room.

Make your own bed and keep your room clean.

Cook a meal for your family.  Develop a specialty, such as meatloaf, spaghetti, or pizza, and learn how to make dessert.

Make a card to thank your parents or caregivers for taking care of you.

Share your books, games and toys with others.

Call a grandparent, aunt or uncle.

Invite some friends or cousins to come and play at your house, or to stay overnight.

Offer to help wash or dry dishes, set and clear the table, do the laundry, vacuum the carpet, wash the car, clean the garage, take out the trash, or do yard work or gardening.

Things adults can do for kids:  

 (Note - you can do things for kids even if you don't have kids of your own.)

Write letters to grandchildren, nieces and nephews or even neighbor kids (with their parents' permission).

Offer to read to kids during school vacations or on Saturdays.  You can work with a local library or just offer to read to kids in the neighborhood.

Offer to coach a sports team or lead a dance team.

Be a role model.

Take kids to a sporting event.

Play sports or go swimming with kids.

Things you can do for the environment:

Pick up trash in parks, at rest stops, or along the roadside, even if it isn't yours.

Use less plastic.

Recycle glass, plastic, tin cans, and paper items.

Ride your bike to work or school.

Plant trees, bushes, and flowers.

Take shorter showers.

Organize and participate in a car pool, and offer to do the driving once in a while.

Measure your carbon footprint and find out how you can reduce it.

Eliminate food waste at home.

Turn off lights in an unused room.

Conserve energy whenever and wherever possible.

Help create, maintain or restore a hiking trail.

Participate in the Adopt a Highway program.

Use cloth bags instead of paper or plastic.

Carry a re-usable water bottle.

Things you can do for animals:

Adopt a pet from a local animal shelter.

Volunteer to assist at an animal shelter, or make a donation toward food or medical treatment.

Leave food for animals after a snowfall.

Make a bird feeder.

Leave water out for animals on very hot days.

Things you can do for the elderly:

Help out with yard work.  (mow/rake/shovel/weed)

Help take out the trash.

Fix a meal when you know they are not feeling well.

Offer to pick up mail/newspapers while they are in the hospital.

Offer to take care of pets while they are gone.

Offer to pick up groceries or do errands, especially in/before severe weather.

Offer to give them a lift to the store/post office, etc.

Offer to read a book to people whose eyesight is no longer good enough to read without strain.

If you teach piano, voice or instrumental music, (or if your child is taking lessons) consider having a recital or concert at a local home for the elderly.

Offer to do a musical program, read poetry, do skits, tell jokes, or give a talk at a local assisted living facility.

Organize a pickle party.  (Elders often have such bland food.)

Find out which residents of a nursing home don't get many visitors and give them a visit.

Bring in trash cans or secure lawn furniture before a storm for elderly neighbors.

Help someone cross the street safely.

Things you can do for cancer patients:  

Note - don't make general offers, forcing them to ask you for something that may be inconvenient for you.  Instead, offer to do something specific, and keep your word when your offer is accepted.

Offer to give a back rub.

Give a gift certificate for a massage, facial, manicure, or other salon service. Some salons have special discounts for cancer patients.

Sew caps for patients who have lost hair and donate them to the local hospital or cancer care center.  Call them first to see what they need or will accept. There are patterns for these online.  A note here: This is WAY more useful than donating your locks because 1) very few cancer patients have enough money to buy a human hair wig, especially after their diagnosis, because even if their insurance is great, as mine was, they have likely had to spend a lot of money on co-pays for tests to determine their diagnosis, and 2) most people who go through chemotherapy are too blame sick to properly take care of a human hair wig.

Offer to run errands for them. This is also a biggie.  There were times when I ran out of food and was too sick to go to the supermarket.  A friend I called for help told me she would go to the market for me the following week.  I didn't eat much that weekend.

Offer to do some housework.  When I was recovering from chemo, it took me DAYS to vacuum my living room carpet, as I could only work for a few minutes at any one time.  Fatigue is HUGE for these people.  Please offer to do what you can.

Offer to cook meals.

Things you can do while shopping or doing errands:

Let someone else in line ahead of you at the supermarket, post office, or bank.

Buy a lottery ticket for a stranger.

Put your shopping cart back in place.

Fill out a customer satisfaction card or compliment card for a clerk, cashier, or other employee who goes out of their way to help you.

Notice the clerk, teller, or cashier's name tag and use their name when you thank them.

Offer change when the person in front of you comes up short. 

Help someone load/unload their groceries.

Chat with sales clerks and cashiers.

Put things back in order on shelves and racks, and pick items up off the floor.

Things you can do while driving:

Stop and help someone change a flat tire, give them a jump-start, or help them get their vehicle out of the snowbank or the mud.

Let someone else use the parking spot you were hoping to get.

Pay the toll for the driver behind you. 

Let another driver merge into your lane.

Let another driver come out of a driveway or side street  in front of you when it is safe to do so..

In heavy traffic, keep space open so drivers from oncoming lanes can turn into a side street.

Offer to use your cell phone to call for help for a stranded motorist.

Carry a dog leash in your car and stop to rescue a runaway pet if you can.

If you a bus turning into a narrow street in the oncoming lane, stop well back from the intersection and give them space to make a wide turn.

 If you are driving a friend to a bus stop and you can see they've missed their bus, drive a little father to get ahead of the bus, and let them off at the next corner.

Things you can do while traveling:

Hold the train door open for someone rushing to get in.

Give up your seat to someone who looks like they need it.

Leave a copy of an interesting book on the train or in the waiting area of an airport.

Buy some inexpensive souvenirs for friends, neighbors, or grandchildren.

Thank the bus or taxi driver.

Offer your seatmate a stick of gum.

Offer to give up your seat on an overbooked flight if you have no specific time to be at your destination.  Flights are often overbooked in the summertime, and in hot weather, planes can take on less cargo, so they are apt to bump passengers.

If you're driving long-distance, carry a couple of extra rolls of toilet paper and add one to an empty roll at a rest-stop or park if necessary. 

Things you can do at holiday time:

Offer a free photo session to families, if you are a professional or amateur photographer.

Organize a cookie/cake/pie exchange with a group of people. 

Invite singles over for the holidays.

Things you can do while eating out:

Give a compliment about your waiter / waitress AND to his / her manager.

Leave a larger than usual tip.

Give your "doggie bag" to a homeless person.  (Note - this works best in the big city.)

Pay for drinks/coffee at the next table.

Invite a person who is alone to dine with you.

Pay the tab for the person in the car behind you in a fast-food or fast-coffee line, or if someone has paid your tab, keep the chain of kindness going.

Things you can do for neighbors:

Offer to mow the lawn, rake the grass, shovel snow, cut hedges, weed the garden, or take care of their pet, especially if your neighbor is elderly or if they are ill or going on vacation. 

Offer to clean a neighbor's house or do a heavy job such as putting on storm windows.

Offer to keep an eye on their property while they are out of town.

Things you can do for friends in need:

Help a friend pack for a move.  You can wrap dishes in newspaper in the kitchen, wrap photos and framed art in bubble wrap, or pack books.   

Offer to help them take stuff to the dump, the recycling station, or to Goodwill.

Offer to help with the move, itself, if you can.

When a friend moves, give her your favorite recipe or quote, and a picture of the two of you as a going-away gift.

Visit someone who is sick at home or in the hospital, and offer to do whatever they need help with.

Offer to buy them a tank of gas.

Give them a phone card.

Offer to provide transportation to and from an event or shopping area.

Offer to sew a prom dress or other item for someone for free.

Offer to accompany a friend to an event even if you are not particularly interested in it, especially if they cannot go, otherwise.

Make a wish come true

Help someone with a job search or offer to write them a recommendation or introduce them to someone.

Things you can do for friends, for no special reason:

Forgive a small debt and don't bring it up again.

Pass along a good book you've finished reading.

Volunteer to be the Designated Driver.

Bake someone a cake or some cookies.

Pick a bouquet of flowers from your garden for a friend or neighbor.

Take a friend to the movies or treat them to a meal, a cup of coffee, or a sweet treat.

Share your garden produce.

Things you can do to get back in touch:

Call or write a favorite teacher or coach to thank him/her for their positive influence on your life.  

Write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life.  Even if the person is gone or no longer living, write the letter anyway, and publish it online.

Find an old friend online and renew the friendship.

Things you can do online:

Return emails promptly.

Share inspirational quotes or photos in your status messages.

Share recipes and travel tips.

Share useful information.

Be respectful to others, even if you disagree with them.

Send e-cards.

Share a music playlist with friends.

Respond positively to status messages, posts on an email list, or blog posts.

Forward email coupons, if they can be transferred.

Things you can donate:

Each time you get a new item of clothing, retire a gently-used item and donate it to Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or a local women's shelter (women's and children's clothing are appreciated)

Donate gently used clothing when you switch out your winter and summer wardrobes. 

Be aware of families that need clothing and household items after a house fire.

Donate blood if you are healthy.

Donate coats, caps, scarves and mittens to schools that have a high percentage of students from poor families - you can usually do this through the school social worker.  Call the main office for information.

Donate your used vehicle - check with charities to see how this works.

Donate gently-used sports equipment.

Donate your time at a local charity.

Donate food items or money for victims of disasters - stick to established charities such as the Red Cross.

Things you can do for strangers:

Take the time to give directions to someone who is lost, even if you're in a hurry.

If you meet travelers who need to find the highway exit, offer to lead them there.

Say hello to someone you often see at the bus stop, at the train station, on the elevator or at the supermarket. Introduce yourself and start up a conversation.

Adopt a soldier serving overseas and send him/her letters and care packages.

Adopt a family.

Host an international exchange student in your home, whether or not you have kids of your own.

Wipe down and sanitize gym equipment after you have used it.

Leave some quarters at the laundromat.

Volunteer to help at an Indian reservation. Check to see what they need and what protocols they would like you to follow.

Things you can do to help the homeless:

Have a normal conversation with a homeless person.

Make blankets for the homeless or for people in orphanages and shelters.  (HELP)

Offer to buy them a meal rather than just giving money.

Give them a gift card for coffee or a meal at a restaurant. (Note: do this rather than buying "suspended" coffee/meals, which can cause problems for restaurants or be misused).

Things you can do for members of your community:

Write a thank-you note to your local fire department or police department.

Thank your mail carrier and newspaper delivery person.

Volunteer at a community garden.

Volunteer for community charitable projects.

Help to build a house with Habitat for Humanity.

Volunteer for Special Olympics.

Clean graffiti off sidewalks, walls, and fences.

Prepare a meal for firefighters on duty.

Things parents can do for local schools:

Take a shift as the car-pool parent.

Offer to assist in a classroom, serve as hall monitor, or act as a crossing guard before and after school.

Offer to assist as a chaperon for a high school dance or a class field trip.

Things anyone can do for local schools

Offer to mentor an at-risk child or teenager.

Offer to teach a skill for an after-school program or to a class of children.

Offer to tutor kids who are struggling.

Offer to assist a classroom teacher.

Offer your help with school functions such as bake sales, community carnivals, etc.

Save Box Tops for Education from various household products and donate them to the school of your choice.

Offer to assist in a classroom, serve as hall monitor, or act as a crossing guard before and after school.

Donate office supplies such as paper, three-ring binders, pens, pencils, rolls of cash register tape, cellophane tape,  staples, etc.


Say "please" and "thank you"—and really mean it.

Don't interrupt people.

Smile at people.

Listen with the intent to understand, and not the intent to reply

Apologize when you are wrong, and if necessary, make things right.

If you ask someone how they are, really listen to the answer, and ask follow-up questions, if appropriate.

Be as kind as possible to people you don't like: you never know what they may be going through.

Try to say something pleasant to someone each day.

Be generous with heartfelt compliments and praise for a job well done.

Try to eliminate complaints.

Make people laugh.

Send handmade cards and handwritten thank you notes.

Practice an attitude of gratitude.  Thank people regularly.

Always try to return lost items to their rightful owner.

Be on time.

Return phone calls promptly.

Sign up to be an organ donor.

Whenever you can, do good deeds anonymously.