35 Ways To Make A Difference, Student Edition
Students are always look for ways to make a difference as they progress through their educational journeys. That’s what they should be doing.
Many, however, wait too long to start thinking about how to turn ideals into reality, and that can place them behind their classmates as a result.
We’ve all been there. That’s how we know it’s a problem. To help, we’ve put together a list of the 35 ways to make a difference that you may not have considered.
These are actionable steps, so very little theory here. As you read through each one, consider how you might be able to apply it directly, but also don’t be afraid to tweak it for your own purposes.
After all, each human experience is different, and personalization will yield far better results in the long run. With that said, let’s begin!
1. Volunteer with a nonprofit organization.
Chances are there is a nonprofit organization out there for virtually every cause you can think of. Nonprofits exist for the betterment of others. They realize that needs go beyond dollars and cents, but given their nonprofit nature, they rely on the generosity of others to do the most good.
You can be that generous person, who stands up and says, “Yes, I will pitch in. I will do my part.”
Nonprofits are a great way to help others, but they are also great for helping yourself. For starters, volunteering with one will give you a better sense of contributing. Secondly, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door for an industry or to make connections with people, who might help you break into other careers down the road.
Whether your purposes are a little selfish or entirely altruistic, however, so long as you are contributing, you will make a difference and be appreciated.
If you are uncertain of where to begin with this particular suggestion, we recommend you check out this listing of the top 100 nonprofit organizations and go from there.
2. Teach children at church, elementary school, or secular programs (i.e. Boys & Girls Club).
Churches, elementary schools, and secular programs like the Boys & Girls Club — each of these are extensions of nonprofit organizations. However, they are also great places for doing the most good.
That’s because your life experience is likely to resonate more with those younger than you than with individuals, who are older. In other words, kids will look up to you more and be more receptive to what you have to give.
3. Organize a canned food drive.
Imagine trying to live your life when you are worried about where your next meal is coming from. Starvation makes it difficult to find a job, stay in shape, raise a family, or perform well in school.
Organizing or participating in an organized canned food drive allows you to make a difference to the most diverse group of people because filling an empty stomach is just as appreciated whether the person you are helping is eight years old or 80.
If you are the introverted type and want to help others but do not wish to have one-on-one contact, it’s also a terrific way to contribute while playing to your own personal strengths.
Create the Good has a great primer for those of you wanting to take point on this but unsure of where to begin. You can check it out here.
4. Give away your childhood toys.
This one likely will not mean as much to the adults out there, but children blossom when they have something that feeds their imaginations and allows them escape from the difficulties of their surroundings.
Think of the happiness you felt when you got a favorite toy for Christmas or a birthday or some other gift-giving holiday. Needy children crave that experience, too, but all too often, there is no one in their lives capable (or willing) to give it to them.
If you do not want other children to do without, why not give away some of those old toys you no longer play with or admire? While there may be some sentimentality attached to one or two, chances are, you could stand to part with most, and making sure they find their way into the hands of another appreciative child will continue to give the toy value beyond mere nostalgia.
Toys for Tots is one of the biggest organizations in the world to get you on the right path for this, but there are others, usually organized by police officers in your area.
5. Take on a reading day at the library.
Libraries are always eager to receive volunteer help from people in the community who care about literacy. Why can’t those people be you?
Children love being read to, and if you feel comfortable with your own reading abilities, then why not give back?
There is something fulfilling about being able to build another’s involvement in the storytelling process. As a child experiences the story through you, they develop a deeper connection to both the tale and the teller. That connection will give you confidence as you take charge of other leadership opportunities throughout life.
If you cannot make it to a library to sign up in person, reach out through the website. Public libraries generally keep the details there for any interested parties.
6. Donate books.
Say you love to read but aren’t comfortable reading to others? No problem. You can still make a difference if you donate the books you are no longer reading for whatever reason — like maybe you’ve read the book or you decided not to.
Books are havens for ideas. They inform us, entertain us, offer escape, and help us cope with the feelings and sensations that we experience in life. Best of all, they are like snowflakes, each one unique in a way that the reader is unique from his or her peers.
Best of all, books can help people express themselves or come to terms with something better than perhaps any other action.
7. Donate hair to cancer patients.
Yes, this is a real thing, not just an episode of Seinfeld.
Many cancer patients find their dignity intertwined with their hair. When they undergo chemotherapy, the hair starts to fall out inadvertently. Since hairstyle is often the way we identify ourselves, this loss can symbolize a lack of control and a loss of something important.
If you have a healthy head of hair, you can have it cut and donated to groups that use the hair to create wigs for cancer patients. A wig made of real human hair is a way for the patient to stay connected to his or her humanity as they struggle with a process that can make them feel dehumanized.
8. Help at the animal shelter in your community.
There are few creatures on the earth more appreciative than animals whenever you do something good for them. Dogs and cats from abusive or neglectful homes are often eager to show affection to anyone, who takes an interest.
By getting involved at the local animal shelter, you can give a great deal of joy to these forgotten creatures and learn something about yourself in the process.
9. Talk to the unpopular kids at your school.
There are so many individuals you share classes with who hunger for positive human interaction. They want to feel noticed, respected, and admired.
It doesn’t take much to give someone in that position the feeling they are looking for, and doing so can be a huge difference maker in their lives.
With so many bullied students considering drastic, and tragic, actions like suicide, you could literally save a life just by opening up and bringing someone “unlikely” into your inner circle, even if you’re bringing them in for only a short time.
When I taught high school, there was a young lady voted the Homecoming Queen of our school. What she did during the prom season of her senior year will tell you everything you need to know as to why the student body bestowed that title upon her.
There was a student in the same grade who, developmentally, was about 10 years behind. The school district was a small one, so it kept alternative education students like him on the same campus as the general population, so there was a lot of chance to interact.
Unfortunately, some kids can be really cruel when they see someone different from themselves. This, however, was not one of those schools, and it was entirely because of actions like those of this young lady and her boyfriend.
Instead of going to the prom together, she decided, and he readily agreed, that she should go with the developmentally challenged young man. She got fixed up for him, helped secure a tuxedo, and even booked the limo.
She had nothing to gain but the respect of her fellow students, which she easily won, and she gave this young man the greatest memory of his life. By setting that example, she also rubbed off on the other students.
Okay, so here you won’t make as big of a difference for the environment — studies have shown the effects of recycling a few bottles to be pretty negligible — but choosing to do so anyway can be a small way of contributing to lower priced materials, which in turn can lower costs on a variety of products that lower costs for more financially challenged individuals and families.
Always worthwhile no matter what you think of its overall effect on the environment.
11. Put together a hammock hangout or special day at your local parks.
If your city has a local parks system, volunteering to get involved through a hammock hangout or other special day important to your peers is a great way of keeping the department’s assets relevant.
That’s important for ensuring the future of your parks.
What’s a hammock hangout? You probably already know, especially if you are reading this as a junior high/high school student, but it is a setup that involves building hammocks at predetermined locations.
Why hammock hangout? Well, for starters, it’s currently popular. But it’s also exemplary of a common generational truth. Each generation has something they embrace — Pokemon, skateboarding, etc.
Parks Departments, in contrast, are often run by middle-aged or older people. They have a harder time staying relevant to people like you and your classmates. Leading the charge in organizing something like this that speaks to your age range will not only give your peers something fun to do, it will make the outdoors inclusive across multiple generations.
12. Visit with residents at a senior center.
Residents of senior centers often crave contact with younger generations. They have knowledge they’d like to pass on, but they also like learning from you!
By visiting with these residents, you will help them satisfy their urge for communication, and you will learn things about life that will make a positive impact for you for years to come.
Just make sure if you go this route, you go with an openness that values listening as much as speaking.
13. Write ‘thank you’ notes!
Thank you notes may not seem like a very big deal in every case, but they can make a tremendous difference in the way people view your character, and that can create social capital as you venture into college and beyond.
If you are a soon-to-be-graduate, for example, you may be writing thank yous to future employers or the family and friends of future employers. While not everyone will be paying close attention, the gesture can certainly circle back around to benefit you later in life. Besides once you get into a rhythm, each note only takes a few minutes. Break it up into smaller chunks over one or two weeks, and you’ll hardly notice the imposition.
And yes, we would go to the lengths of buying physical cards and writing each message out by hand. It’s more personal that way. You may also want to go beyond the generic card and get something a little more fancy for the big-gifters you know. Your idea of this will vary depending on the size of the gifts, number of notes you have to write, and the temperament of the person.
How can exercise make a difference when you are essentially just building yourself up? How does that affect other people?
In a few ways actually.
First of all, when you exercise, you feel better. When you feel better, you are the best version of yourself and thusly are able to give more of yourself to other people. You are also less of a burden to other people.
Lastly, by making exercise a priority in your life, you set an example for others to do the same, which can create a chain reaction of health and wellness that brings out the best in other people.
15. Whenever you have a disagreement, try to view it from the other person’s perspective.
Many differences of opinion go on and on, festering into something more troublesome down the road because the parties involved simply cannot see things from the opposing side.
People get too wrapped up and involved in their own viewpoints, and it keeps things at-odds, preventing anyone from coming together. If you adopt a worldview that tries to see the opposite sides of things, you will always be an individual, who can work with other people.
That will serve you well personally as well as professionally, and others will look to you for guidance and advice.
16. Turn borrowed beliefs into your own.
One of the biggest problems with the world today is that people rely on others too much when it comes to being told what to think or feel or believe. It results in a majority of misinformed people, who are able to exert their dimwitted will on the rest.
The less you can be like those people, the better.
And it is the job of a functioning adult — no matter which belief system he or she practices — to grow and mature as much as possible. To do that, one must investigate other viewpoints and challenge their own every chance they get to see if their beliefs ring true to their personal experiences.
If more people took that path, everything from world peace to sensible political discourse would be possible. As is, not so much; but each generation has the wherewithal and the opportunity to change things for the better. Too many choose to do so for the worse, however, because they are lazy.
17. Try viewing someone through the eyes of a person who loves them.
Having a child of your own will really put this in perspective for you, but don’t take that as an endorsement before parenthood before you are ready.
Even so, when you welcome a baby into the world, you will get in touch with a love like you never thought existed. This little person depends on you for everything. You are his/her hero, and they feel safe in your arms. Not only is that a tremendous responsibility to live up to, but it is also eye-opening when you think about other people, who may not have it so grand.
Think about the most bullied kid in your school right this instant. That kid is likely someone’s everything. If you can step out of your skin long enough to draw a parallel between that person’s loved one and someone you love more than anything in the world, you not only will avoid the temptation to bully, you’ll make sure others avoid it, too, at least in your presence.
Less bullying grants more freedom to be oneself and reach the full potential that hides in everyone. And it is not farfetched to say that being the kind of person, who is a bully deterrent, could actually save lives.
18. Be kind.
Kindness leads to friendship, and friends are assets in every sense of the word as you move through life. Being kind will give everyone you meet a positive connection, which means fewer enemies and more chances of uplifting others when they need it the most.
Now it is worth saying there are a number of ways you can be kind, so it is important to know them all in order to choose the path best suited to your personality.
An introvert might approach kindness from a very different perspective than someone, who is more outgoing. Regardless of how you get there, get there. The more comfortable you can make being kind on yourself, the more kindness you will have to give; and that sort of gift is infectious.
19. Know your community’s biggest issues.
Each community is different and will face a number of challenges, some more severe than others. In my own case, our city has a water billing issue. For the longest time, the city violated clean water drinking standards. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally caught up with them, it slapped the city with a half-billion dollar fine that now has to be borne by taxpayers.
Many of the taxpayers are low income, so any increase in their water bills would be the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back. While there is definitely a hardship there for a sizable portion of our population, some area businesses have helped alleviate the pain because they were aware of the issues and devised a plan to offer assistance for individuals, who may be suffering from unusually high water bills.
These businesses have made names for themselves in the community because they’ve realized that the smallest monetary assistance can help people hold onto their dignity.
20. Show up.
Seriously, most of being successful in work and life is showing up to the party. You will never be good at your job if you fail to check in every day. And by “check in,” that could mean physically being there, but it more so means mentally being there.
Mental readiness helps individuals compete at a high level with other countries and cultures. With that asset in your skills set, you will always (eventually) do a higher class of work with a higher class of pay.
21. Listen more than you speak.
Social media has done us few favors when it comes to slowing the pace of communication and actually hearing what someone else has to say.
The act of listening cuts back on human error, leads to greater understanding, and just makes each person’s life easier to manage. It also helps us to be involved in the moment rather than spending all the most important prep time snapping photos, shooting video, or doing any of the number of things that keep us from connecting when it is needed the most — in the moment.
22. Pass goodness along.
Whenever someone does something nice for you, make it your objective to “celebrate” by doing something nice for someone else. Treat good fortune like a hot potato that you want to get rid of as soon as possible in order to become the recipient of more good things down the road.
Like the old saying says, “Pay it forward.”
23. Focus on family.
Anyone who ever made a difference in the life of someone else, was first available to his or her family. By starting with these people who are likely the closest to you, you can learn how to make a difference and give back in a way that prepares you for the world at large.
Families are more inclined to cut us slack when we mean well but do not quite hit the mark. They are helpers in achieving our objectives because they have the patience necessary to keep us from getting ahead of ourselves.
It is also (usually) easier to love and empathize with a family member than it is a total stranger, and the ability to do so is a transferrable skill to other areas of your life as you broaden your horizons and get involved with more people on a daily basis.
24. Look at your birthday as a time to give instead of receive.
Your birthday is a great time to make a difference in the lives of others because more attention is generally focused on you during that day than any other. It is a day devoted to celebrating you, after all.
If you flip the script on that and use the spotlight to instead exalt someone else, people will more likely see you as an example of how to live and treat other people.
While it may sting forgoing birthday presents and instead directing others to give your gift to a favorite charity or well-meaning cause, it will leave a lasting impression that could be worth way more than a $20 bill from your Aunt Sylvia each year.
25. Join a city beautification program.
If you are hoping for ways to make a difference that have a potentially larger impact on your community, consider joining an organized beautification effort. And if there is not one, start one.
Think about it like you would your workspace. You do your best work when you are not sitting in a cluttered and unkempt environment. Others view your community the same way. If it is a junk hole, they will not want to be there to live, visit, or do business, and that creates a dearth of opportunity.
So while an activity may seem like it is just mowing a yard or planting a tree or edging a thatch of weeds, it actually has much further reaching implications.
26. Get organized.
Getting organized will make a tremendous difference in your own life, wellness, and productivity, and it can keep you motivated to accomplish the things you would like to accomplish over the long haul.
Of course, there are two types of preparation when it comes to getting organized — physical and mental, and it is difficult to have one without some element of the other in place. As you get organized, try to shut out the noise and distractions that surround you via technology or people or environment.
27. Ask an older relative to teach you a skill that is no longer widely used.
As you get older, there will be some things about your life that become obsolete. Now look at your older relatives, and turn that up several degrees. They have seen and forgotten about things you likely cannot imagine.
So take some time to connect with them and have them teach you about something from their past — perhaps a skill or a technology or a way of life — that is no longer en vogue.
You will renew their sense of purpose and help them to feel genuinely interesting to you — like they are not being left behind by rapidly changing times … like they still matter to someone.
On the flip side of that coin, you will broaden your perspectives and your knowledge base. This will enable you to make more connections between past and present, thus becoming more prepared for the future. It is truly a win-win.
28. Become a mentor.
When you take on a protege, you automatically hold yourself to a higher standard at which you will either live up to or fail. The good news is that being a mentor often brings out the best in people, and it will for you.
You will rise to whatever level of responsibility you set for yourself. So why not take on the challenge?
Becoming a mentor is one of those actions that has a tremendous upside to it, and regardless of the outcome, it will leave you a wiser person more capable of taking on the world than before you accepted the challenge.
You will typically find mentorship opportunities at lower grade levels. If you are uncertain of where to start, inquire with a trusted teacher or guidance counselor. Share where you think you may be an asset, and see what they have to say. Then, be prepared to actually deliver on the opportunity and take it seriously for the good of your own reputation and the person you will be helping.
See No. 28. Pretty much the same thing except there is even less legwork because most schools have tutoring programs in place before you will even think to ask about them. Join up. Get matched to someone with a skill level you can actually help. Keep your commitments.
30. Give blood.
This is one of those out-in-the-world things you can actually do provided you are of age or have the right consents in place and meet the additional criteria as set forth by your blood bank.
The need for blood goes well beyond the provision for it, so if you choose to donate, it will almost certainly make a difference at some point and that difference could be life and death.
What is especially appealing about giving blood is that it is one of those things where you can influence your peers to join in, thus exponentially maximizing the benefit to mankind.
31. Realize mistakes never need excuses.
Tell me if you have been in this situation before. You make a mistake. Your boss or teacher or friend calls you on it. Your first instinct, maybe after the apology, is to deliver a litany of excuses as to why it happened.
Cut it out.
Most people do not want to hear the excuse. They want to hear the apology. For the rest, they will watch whatever actions you put behind the restitution effort.
Always be quick to apologize for whatever mistake you make, but never make another excuse for your mistakes as long as you live.
Commit to that, and here’s what will happen. People will have a short memory on your faults. You will have a lot more success because you will be pursuing solutions instead of explanations. People will start to remember those successes in place of the failures.
32. Learn from failures.
It is not enough to stop making excuses for your failures. If you really want to make a difference in your life and the lives of those you are helping, then you will need to actually learn from your shortcomings.
Challenge your preconceptions and understanding. Seek new solutions whenever you hit the proverbial brick wall. And remember, true learning cannot take place unless there is a change in behavior or action to go with it.
Simply knowing better but then continuing on to make the same mistakes is not growth, and the only difference it will make in your life and the lives of others will be for the worst.
33. Give credit to someone else.
We so often worry about advancing our own cause that it is easy to overlook whenever someone else has done something remarkable or noteworthy. Giving praise and credit when it is due is just as important as standing up for your accomplishments.
It shows that you are a team player and willing to contribute rather than take. Adopting such a persona will ensure people seek you out for new opportunities and decisions.
34. Ditch awareness. Take action.
When it comes to making a difference, too many people think that simple awareness is where the obligation ends. Well, awareness means very little in an age where reams of information is only a Google Search away.
There are specialty websites for everything, and they are all “raising awareness” in an echo chamber with varying degrees of success.
Don’t fall into the awareness trap. Yes, it is good to bring attention to a cause, but unless you are converting that effort into real action, you are not going to be making that much of a difference to anyone.
Ask yourself what you could be doing other than creating awareness. How could you be helping real people get past the problems they are facing today — large or small. It does not have to be anything major. Just a step forward is all it takes.
35. Be credible.
Establishing credibility is a good way to make a difference because people will know they can trust what you have to say, and truth is getting harder and harder to come by in today’s headline-driven society.
Being credible does not mean knowing everything. It means being honest about what you know, and being generous enough to share that for the greater good.
Final Thoughts about Ways to Make a Difference
Knowing how to make a difference and taking action are two entirely different things, and we hope we have established that for you in the above piece. Choose one of the above, mix-and-match, do them all, or add your own. What do you believe are the best ways to make a difference? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by OneUpWeb]