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The warmth and generosity of the holiday season tends to inspire many people to seek out ways to serve and to help others. For Lisa Daugherty and her dedicated staff at the Lake Area United Way (LAUW), however, it’s simply another chance to redouble their year-round effort and touch even more lives.

As president and CEO, Daugherty oversees an agency that works to directly serve or support almost 170,000 area residents every year through ongoing programs such as the 2-1-1 call center to help put people in touch with the support and services they need, the Bank on NWI program to offer assistance to un-banked and under-banked families, and the FamilyWize no-fee discount prescription program.

The LAUW also organizes the volunteer-driven Pack-a-Palooza food donation and mobilization event to coincide with the United Way’s national “Day of Caring” every summer. Not surprisingly, Daugherty is extremely proud of the effect these efforts have had on the communities served by LAUW.

“Lake Area United Way effectively mobilizes thousands of donors and volunteers around programs and initiatives to help strengthen Lake County families,” she says. “We advocate for public policy change to help families and we represent residents’ voices in the business community.”

It’s a full-time, year-round endeavor, to be sure, but because need seems to be even more keenly felt during the holiday season, these months around Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to be among the busiest. As such, the LAUW calendar is packed with holiday-themed programs and events, most of which are open to volunteers.

Daugherty believes that anyone looking to enrich their holiday season can hardly do better than to volunteer some of their time to helping make others’ lives a little bit brighter. “There are so many reasons community service is important,” she explains. “As an individual, it gives you an opportunity to give back and make a difference in your community. You can learn a lot and it’s extremely gratifying.”

To that end, Daugherty points to the many volunteer opportunities available coordinated through LAUW (via the Regional Volunteer Center website at at this time of year, including:

Bake up a Storm

The opportunity to spread some holiday cheer to the kids of Campagna Academy by baking holiday cookies is great for those who would prefer to do something out of their own home. The goal is to end up with 100 dozen (nut and peanut butter-free) cookies for Campagna’s holiday celebration. Any quantity is welcome from individual volunteers—nobody expects all 1,200 cookies to come from one kitchen.

Sound of the Season

For those looking to give the gift of their time this season, there’s hardly a more classic opportunity than spending a couple of hours ringing a bell for donations at one of the Salvation Army’s signature red kettles.

Be a Snow Angel

Winter's tough for everyone in the Region, especially the elderly and residents with disabilities who may not be able to remove snow from their sidewalks and walkways. So grab a shovel and join the Gary Youth Snow Corps to offer a helping hand.

A Gift of Warmth, Sustenance or Joy

Time is often at a premium at this time of year, but even busy folks can help out their community with a donation of new or used coats, toys, non-perishable food items or even turkeys and hams to Greater Works Hammond.

These and many other great volunteer opportunities can be a perfect way to find the true spirit of the holiday season by pitching in to help out one’s community. But be warned—Daugherty says the feeling of satisfaction and altruism that comes from volunteering is often hard to shake, even long after the holidays have passed.

“Volunteering is extremely gratifying, provides an opportunity to meet new people and can even lead to career opportunities,” she says. “Look for an opportunity in an area or with an organization in which you may have a special interest. For example, if you’re interested in the arts, contact South Shore Arts to discover their volunteer opportunities, or if you have a friend or family member with special needs, you might like to help an organization like TradeWinds or The Arc Northwest Indiana. The key is to just find something and try it.”