Happy Holidays 2011!

Christmas totally snuck up on me this year, but that doesn’t take away the overwhelming little-kid excitement I feel about the holiday.  I always use this time of year as an excuse to play my favorite Christmas song in the entire world on repeat, and if I’m lucky, to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (the claymation version).  Which I maintain as the best holiday movie ever, even over its very close second, Charlie Brown Christmas.  The Island of Misfits?  C’mon.  If that’s not a timeless and comforting metaphor for the way we all feel sometimes — different — then I don’t know what is!
I’ve also been thinking about a topic that’s been kicking around in my head for a while now as a post idea: Volunteer opportunities in Austin.  So why not use this holiday post to talk about them, huh?
To be honest with you, I’ve wanted to blog about volunteering several times before here on my blog, but I never have because I feared it would be off-putting.  Like … “you know who’s cool?  Me. Because I volunteer.  Boo-yah.”  This is always the way I was afraid it would come out sounding.  Self-congratulatory or something.
But Reader, I have to say that one of the greatest times I’ve ever had in Austin was the time I spent volunteering for Faith in Action Caregivers.  I’m not a member of any church, nor would I even call myself a Christian necessarily, but I do think of myself as a spiritual person and like to feel connected to a greater whole, in whatever faith tradition that can help accomplish that.  Thus: Me, in 2007, just having moved back to Austin, sitting on my couch bored one day and thinking of ways I could occupy my time.  So I Googled “the elderly, volunteer, Austin,” and discovered Faith in Action Caregivers.  
Through them, I met a woman who would come to be a very close friend.  Her name was Ann Brown, and I loved her.  We went grocery shopping together every Saturday for a little over a year, until she had to be put into an assisted living facility.  Ann had severe Parkinson’s and couldn’t drive herself to H-E-B, so I picked her up and off we went to fulfill her grocery list: Coffee, eggs, pie crusts.  Ann adored baking, and sometimes let herself indulge in pre-made fillings.  “The best part about Parkinson’s is, I burn off all the calories!” she’d say happily, dropping a can of cherries into our cart.
I miss Ann so much, and ever since she’s been gone, I haven’t been doing a whole lot with Caregivers.  I’ve decided to pick volunteering back up again for the holidays and 2012 because … well.  You don’t know this Reader, but I am a very, very selfish person.  Or maybe you do.  Either way, volunteering helps temper that.  Also?  I don’t know what it is, but I just get a kick out of old people.  My mom worked with the elderly a lot when I was growing up, and we used to have little parties at our house for senior citizens.  That’s a blog post for another day, but anyway, as a kid I felt like I had about 20 grandparents.  Which was pretty awesome.
You might have the same special feeling about animals, or kids, or the homeless.  So I’ve listed 15 charities + causes in Austin below that I think are neat, two of which I’ve personally been involved in myself (Caregivers and Ride On Center for Kids).  If you know of anymore or are involved in any yourself, please feel free to list them in the comments section.
* Happy holidays to you and yours! *