Show Your Corps Member Love this Holiday Season

Rejecting the traditional gift list, I wanted to highlight some things you can give or do over the holidays for the corps member in your life — whether they serve in your office, are in your family, or a good friend. Check out the Give List for more ideas.

1. Ask them/listen to what they say. This year it’s okay not to surprise the corps member in your life. They may actually need help with a chore or an expense and would appreciate that more than any surprise you can dream up.

2. Cash. Economists say it’s the best gift anyway, at least in terms of efficiency. Your corps member can spend it as they see fit. If it feels un-gift-like, offer it in a decorative envelope with a heart-warming letter inside telling them how much they or their service means to you. If your corps member is an international volunteer, deposit the check in their State-side bank account rather than send through the mail.

3. Food/gift cards for food. While a $25 gift card to the local boutique grocer may sound appealing to you, the gift goes further at a store like Trader Joe’s which has low prices. If your corps member is an international volunteer, find out what essential, shippable items they can’t get in their host country and send a well-sealed care package. You’d be surprised how valuable a box of corn flakes or mac & cheese is to them.

4. Subscriptions. The gifts that keep on giving. You can find subscription services for a wide range of things — like magazines, obviously; wine from a local vineyard; and even fair-trade coffee.

5. Socially responsible gifts, donations, or loans in their name. This year your corps member may be especially sensitive to the local impact and cost of goods and services, and to extravagance and waste.

If you want to offer them a material gift, consider buying something that positively impacts the community or region. For example, Echoing Green funds social enterprises and offers this gift guide.

You can also donate to a nonprofit project that means something to them, either their own project (check out this site, for donating to Peace Corps Volunteer projects); nonprofits set up for gift-giving like Heifer International; their local public radio station; or any organization with a mission your corps member believes in. Other nonprofits like HealthCorps offer branded gifts through CafePress.

Another option is lending for a good cause, in their name. For example, allows people to lend money online, in amounts as small as $25, to micro-enterprises around the world — you browse and choose the business you’d like to help start up. When you lend, you aren’t even giving — you’ll be repaid, and can pocket the money or lend again.

6. A party or potluck in their honor. If your corps member is home for the holidays, consider hosting a welcome-back gathering for them and their friends.

7. A visit from you. If your corps member is far from home, consider visiting them. If you can’t visit them over the holidays, announce your plan to visit another time as part of their gift.

8. Tickets to a special experience. The ballet, an athletic event, a concert. Not only will the experience be something they may not afford on their own, it’s also not something material they have to worry about transporting when they move on after their term ends.

9. Meaningful tech tools. A digital and/or video camera to record their year, a video camera add-on for their computer so you can stay in touch through Skype, a MacBook that has it all.

10. Something homemade. Anything from a scarf to a personalized cookbook to a scrapbook of their accomplishments. If you go this route, make the decision based on your own talents as well as their tastes. As with socially responsible gifts, homemade gifts aren’t necessarily cheaper, and they are more time-intensive. But they are keepsakes forever, and will always remind your corps member of this holiday season, when they served in a corps.
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Tips for Service Corps Parents

Parents tend to vary in their feelings when their child takes part in a term of service—from excited and supportive to suspicious and concerned. Wherever you fit on the spectrum, here are some words of wisdom to keep in mind during and after your child’s term.

You may feel that by volunteering full-time for a year, your child is floundering. The truth is, if you have raised a thoughtful child who is passionate about making the world a better place, they are going to need some time to figure out how and where to do that. Unlike so many career paths, the path to social change is relatively undefined.

For starters, a term of service experience offers many benefits to the community and to your child—for more on this, read Why Service? If your kid is thinking of signing up for a second term, read Why Service? a second time.

What your child needs from you:

Protect them from the Peer Pressure You May Feel

  • When your peers brag about the material achievements of their kids, don’t panic. Surely you can find other things to brag about—namely, what your child has single-handedly achieved to end poverty, educate youth, build community bridges, etc. Hopefully your child is keeping track, so you can ask them for the details. If you really want to show your kid you support them, brag about them in their presence. Let them blush and protest, but let them hear you.
  • Learn to explain their program in a sentence or two. It may help to say, “It’s similar to Peace Corps but…” because most people have heard of it, have some general understanding that Peace Corps is a legitimate volunteer organization, and that the people who participate are not to be mocked.

After the term ends, be patient and helpful about their career transition

  • First, recognize that when your kid’s term ends, they may be processing what they experienced and what they saw—they may need time to decompress emotionally. You can play an important role by listening to them and reflecting back what they say, non-judgmentally—no use getting in an argument about public policy at this point. They just want to be heard.
  • The first thing you may want to know is when they will get a “real” job. When speaking of their career transition, it’s so important to stay positive and helpful, and keep your own anxiety out of that discussion.
  • That all said, set clear boundaries if you have limits around what kind of financial support you are willing to offer them moving forward. If you are firm, you will be more patient with the choices they make because you know (and they know) that they will not be living off your income longer than you’d like.
  • If your child’s moving back in with you, establish clear rent payment expectations and also the time-frame for when they need to be out on their own again.

The best thing you can do, for yourself, is get educated about your kid’s program and about service in general. Talk to parents of other former corps members and find out how the term affected their lives and careers. Find out what financial and educational benefits your child’s program offers. If your kid has a work plan or position description, it may help to look at it, to realize the responsibilities they have been tackling.

Just like when they learned to tie a shoe or ride a bike, your child must now practice new life and career-transition skills. And just like then, they need you to be there to support them, cheer them on, and get so excited for them when they succeed.

Since my mom is reading this, I will add, thanks, Mom, for always being my cheerleader. I think I mostly turned out all right.