Hands Free Dating: Thinking Outside the App

I’ve had the absolute joy of meeting some of the most fabulous people in my life through my volunteer experience.

A few days ago I was having lunch with a girlfriend and we were talking about the technologically driven world we live in today, and as a result, how difficult it can be to find love. I initiated the conversation by telling my friend about an ad I saw while leaving the gym introducing a new dating app that allows you to connect with someone after seeing that person in real life. At first glance, I thought it was an ad for a new movie as the concept in relation to the dating world made little, if any, sense to me. So, you’re saying I have to pull out my phone, download an app, create an account, log in and search other members’ profiles all to be able to say hi to someone who I just crossed paths with in real time? This sparked a much longer discussion as we finished our lunch and then moved on to coffee, while we brainstormed all of the other possibilities we have for meeting people “hands free”.

I’m thrilled to report that we came up with a list of ideas (admittedly, we did make the list on our smartphones) which outnumbered the present selection of dating apps available to us. Of the multitude of ideas we discussed, paramount to me is the notion of meeting someone while volunteering. I love to volunteer. I do it as often and as readily as I possibly can. If I could do it and get paid…oh wait. Seriously though, I’ve had the absolute joy of meeting some of the most fabulous people in my life through my volunteer experience. Years ago, I joined an organization in New York that is so large they are able to break down their projects into several different categories so each person can be matched with the volunteer opportunity that she/he is right for. So, if you’re artistically inclined, love animals, or have a niche for health and wellness, you can choose to donate your time appropriately, and you will meet many other like-minded individuals.

What Stanley Taught Me Regardless of Our Differences

In a society enamored by the brash and the brazen…

When I moved to New York 4 years ago, I had just gotten a new job as a receptionist. I was excited about the change, about being in a city, and having a job that would enable me to fulfill my stand-up comedy endeavors. However, I was quickly dismayed by the long hours spent behind the computer and lack of meaningful communication. I longed for human interaction and connection. Without the ability to forgo my income security, however, I decided volunteering would be the perfect means to do this.

Aside from occasionally working at soup kitchens over the holidays and giving to Goodwill, volunteering wasn’t something I had actively committed to since high school. I missed it and decided, with ample free time, now was the perfect time as any to start again. I was unsure of exactly what to do, but through online searching, I found an organization called, DOROT, a non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating the social isolation that,  unfortunately affects many members of the elderly community. DOROT seeks to do this through multiple services including, friendly visiting, meal delivery services, and help with daily tasks and errands.

I remembered how lonely my grandfather felt after my grandmother had passed away the Summer before. The loss was hard on everyone, but especially him. Though my grandmother was frail, she was the one to take care of him. It was because of her guidance that they would wake up early for their morning walk, run their daily errands, cook dinner and watch Jeopardy. She provided him with a daily routine that made him feel connected to the outside world and without her, my grandfather felt lost. Though my grandfather was in a nursing home, and surrounded by so many other senior citizens, his despondence at his seclusion was palpable. My family would have him over for dinner just about every night and would visit frequently. Those visits were so important to him. He said they brightened his day and, though my grandfather was prone to exaggerations, I don’t for one second believe this was hyperbole. I thought of this frequently when I started volunteering at DOROT.

For my volunteering I met with a senior citizen named Stanley. Stanley was like me, small, quiet and reserved. The major difference was that Stanley was 84 years and had no idea how to use a computer. So would meet with him once a week for an hour and attempted to teach him basic computer skill. I’m proud to say I helped him get a Netflix and Hulu account, but alas, could not help him master the art of the email. Perhaps, more important than offering computer help, I lent companionship and a listening ear. Stanley was frail, requiring the use of a walker and was rarely able to leave his home.

Stanley loved to tell me stories about his childhood and his beloved dog, True Heart. Whether he was looking back at a memory with fondness, or expressing regret, I loved hearing Stanley reflect on his past, because he was able to do so with more wisdom than anyone I’ve ever known. In return, Stanley loved to hear about my life, my family and was so impressed and intrigued by my ability to do stand-up comedy. He said, if he could go back in time, he would do it and he gave me such credit. Through my stories and visits, I helped Stanley feel connected to the outside world. He called me brave and would remind me to be grateful for everything I had, to take pride in my accomplishments, no matter how small. Selfishly, when I started volunteering, I thought about how much Stanley would learn from me, but in the end, I know I learned more from him.

Sadly, Stanley died last year, but my visits with him continue to inspire my path in life. Stanley helped me realize the importance of telling one’s narrative. Despite our differences, we all have something to gain simply by listening. Whenever i would leave, Stanley would say how much he appreciated me coming over and how my visits never failed to brighten his day. In a society enamored by the brash and the brazen, it’s easy to forget how powerful a tool compassion can be, but I think it’s the most important.

How To Show Love By Making a Difference This Valentine’s Day

Trying to give back this year? Here are some great ways to show your community some love on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is all about love, relationships, and romance. It can be so much fun, but it can get a little cliché too. Okay, okay, it can get a lot cliché.

If you’re in a long term relationship, you might not feel like doing the traditional chocolate-and-flowers-thing every single year, and if you’re living the single life, Valentine’s might feel like one giant eye roll.

This year, why not consider celebrating Valentine’s in a different way?

While so many of us get into the giving spirit during December, most people forget to give back during the rest of the year. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to help your the community and show love to those who need it the most.

Whether you’re celebrating being single, or you’re looking for an original date idea for you and your beau, these ways to give back on Valentine’s will surely warm your heart, and make someone’s else’s holiday much brighter too.

1. Your date isn’t the only one who likes flowers. Help brighten a room at a nursing home.


Happy Grandmother receiving Gift from Her Granddaughter

In college, I helped plan a Valentine’s Day event with lots of balloons, flowers, and so much pizza. Of course, at the end of the night we were left with a giant mess, but we were told to save the centerpieces.

Someone on the party planning committee had the idea to pack up all the flowers and send them to the local retirement community. It sounded like a good idea until I found out that it was my job to put the vases filled in boxes and wake up early the next day to drive them over.

When I got there, I expected to unload the boxes and be on my way, but one of the women at the front desk stopped me. She said they didn’t have anywhere to put them in the lobby, and I’d have to drop off the flowers to the individual rooms.

Honestly, I didn’t want to pass them out, I didn’t know anyone in the hospital and I wasn’t in the mood to socialize, but the moment I shuffled into the first bedroom, I knew how important it was to do just that.

I met a lot of seniors who weren’t doing well, who were sick and lonely, and I loved dropping off some flowers to brighten their day. Plus, most residents really appreciated getting to talk to someone new, and knowing that I had made their morning a little better really made my Valentine’s Day.

This year, consider bringing a stranger flowers. You don’t have to throw a party to find some florals, but you also don’t have to break the bank getting bouquets. You can get involved with a charity like Random Acts of Flowers, and pass out flowers as a team. Or, if you want to fly solo, any stores have Valentine’s Day arrangements on sale on the 15th, and picking some up and bringing them to your local retirement home or hospital will make any resident feel special.

2. Everyone Deserves a Valentine’s Day Card

While passing out florals might sound nice, maybe flowers just aren’t your thing. Instead, you might consider making a few cards.

I adore Valentine’s cards: they were so much fun to collect in elementary school and now I love getting sweet cards from my fiancé every year. But these Valentine’s cards don’t have to stop with people you know. The My Golden Valentine project has been making a difference by writing cards for people who may not have many people around for the holiday.

This year, they’re hoping to deliver 10,000 cards to assisted living and nursing homes in North Dakota and Nebraska. That’s a lot of love!

But even even if you’re not in the North Dakota/Nebraska area, don’t think you can’t get involved. You can write your own cards and deliver them to your local nursing home. Plus, you can make an event out of it by inviting friends to write cards and watch Valentine’s-themed movies. Or, if you have kids or young nieces and nephews, this could make for a great kid-friendly Valentine’s activity.

3. Bring Valentine’s Day to your local children’s hospital

child holding red heart in her hands

On Valentine’s Day, kids should be in school making hearts out of construction paper for their parents, but many kids are missing out.

This Valentine’s, you can make a difference by volunteering at your local children’s hospital or joining a toy drive. I used to volunteer in a children’s hospital, talking to long-term patients and keeping them company. It was so rewarding, but there are so many other ways to get involved too.

One barber shop has worked hard for more than a decade to collect stuffed monkeys to give to children in hospitals and children who have been neglected.

Something as simple as a stuffed monkey can brighten a child’s day and make them feel special on Valentine’s.

So, whether you’re donating toys or if you plan to get more involved with a hospital, like with the CHOC Children’s Hospital volunteer program, your effort could mean a lot to a child in need of some Valentine’s spirit.

4. Show your love to some furry friends.

One of my favorite places to volunteer is at animal shelters. Come on, what better way to spend your time than with cute, lovable animals?

And the animals, and the shelters, really appreciate your effort.

There are so many animals that don’t have homes and they need a lot of love, so shelters often depend on volunteers to help show love to those pups and kitty-cats.

Celebrate V-Day by taking a shelter dog for a walk or playing with some animals at your local rescue. These furry friends will appreciate your attention, and who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love and bring one home as a Valentine’s Day gift to yourself.

5. Donate Blood

donating blood

This gives a whole other meaning to “heart day.” While romance might get your blood pumping, donating blood can help you show love to the people who need it.

Of course, at first I was squeamish about giving blood, but I’ve found that it is totally worth it to know that you are making a difference. Plus, it’s the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

It doesn’t take long to donate, it costs nothing to do, and you get a cookie out of the deal. And hey, you deserve some extra sweets on Valentine’s Day! Check out blood drives near you, The Red Cross is always out and about, and could be hosting a blood drive near you!

6. Give a gift that really means something

Young asian woman with giftbox surprising her african-american boyfriend

For me, the hardest part of Valentine’s Day isn’t finding something to do, it’s finding the right gift. I always get something for my fiancé, but I also like to get something for my mom, and who could forget my BFF (gotta celebrate Galentine’s Day!)

I would usually end up buying a few trinkets and maybe a picture frame or two, but I know that a lot of these presents were ending up just being clutter.

This year, make a pact with your sweetie or your best pals to get each other a donation to each other’s favorite charities. It will mean a lot to the charity, and you’ll feel good doing it.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to get involved in your community and show your love to those who will need it the most. With these six ideas, your Valentine’s Day will be as memorable, and meaningful as ever.

Read more great stories about Valentine’s Day like: My Valentine’s Day Despair and TriumphMy Complex Life and Lessons Around Valentine’s Day and A Widow on Valentine’s Day (A Video Experiment).