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Real People

Six simple ways that you can change the world

—Angela Perkey
Every time you turn on the TV, read the newspaper, or go online, you’re confronted with all of the problems that exist in our neighborhoods, nation, and world. From unemployment to natural disasters, high school dropout rates to neighborhood murders, and from war to illness and poverty, the problems are seemingly endless and can leave you feeling depressed and powerless. It’s no wonder that over 27 million Americans (one out of every 10 people) take antidepressants. The good news is that we’re not powerless and it is possible to make a meaningful impact that truly changes the world.

Although most Americans already lead busy lives, it’s possible to make a contribution in a way that is stress-free and isn’t time consuming. In fact, most people who volunteer are surprised at all of the unexpected benefits they receive when giving to others. Nothing can compare to seeing the direct effects that your work has on solving a world problem and filling urgent needs in your neighborhood. Changing the world can change our own lives as well. Here are six simple ways that you can make a meaningful difference:

1. Volunteer Online
Even if you’re short on time or can’t get out of the house, there are plenty of ways that you can make a difference online. You can send emails to American soldiers through If you’re passionate about generating awareness for a specific issue such as a disease that has affected a family member, a great way to inform others is to start a blog about it. Even if you’re not tech-savvy, don’t fear! Sites such as have simple (and free) ways for anyone to create a blog. Another option is to volunteer through the United Nations at There are thousands of ways to make an impact without even leaving the house.

2. Use your Hidden Talent
Have a special skill that you can share with others? This is a great way to help raise money for causes that are personally meaningful to you. If you’re a gifted painter and enjoy doing this on the weekends, you can donate one of your masterpieces to a charity auction. Or if you’re musically talented, offer to give a concert at your church or favorite coffeehouse. People who attend can give donations to an organization that you believe in.

3. Get Fit
Commit yourself to training for a 10k or half-marathon that benefits a nonprofit organization that’s important to you. These types of events occur year-round and are affiliated with all sorts of causes. This is a great incentive to get in shape and provides a way to connect with people who care about the same issues that motivate you.

4. Make Your Lunch
Decide to brown-bag your lunch at least three days a week instead of going out for fast food. By doing this, you’ll save both money and calories. You can then donate the extra money you would have spent at restaurants to organizations that work to reduce hunger, such as America’s Second Harvest, Share our Strength, or Feed the Children.

5. Go For a Walk
If you have elderly neighbors that have a difficult time getting outdoors, offer to walk their dogs a couple days a week. This can be a great way to form meaningful bonds with neighbors. Plus, having a canine companion while walking is fun!

6. Be Crafty
Like to make crafts or knit? These stress-relieving activities can also enable you to give back to others. For example, instead of making another scarf that you’re not likely to wear, you can knit a baby blanket for a newborn whose parents can’t afford to buy one. Once it’s finished, simply take it to a nearby hospital. While you’re there, you can take a peek at the babies that have just been born. Talk about a mental health boost!

Volunteering enables you to connect with others and make a significant difference. Last year, over one in four Americans engaged in service, helping people in need and contributing to finding solutions to our local and global problems. By volunteering, you can help rewrite the distressing headlines that seem to never end. It’s your world, and now it’s your turn.

Heard Around the West

—Betsy Marston, High Country News

If you don’t laugh or gasp with amazement at least once while reading the boatman’s quarterly review, the off-and-on-again magazine published by the nonprofit Grand Canyon River Guides in Flagstaff, Ariz., you’re way too serious. A recent profile of teacher and guide Steve Lonie, 61, included these tidbits: Asked about the craziest question he’d ever been asked, Lonie picked, “How much does the canyon weigh?” As for the most memorable moment in his long career, Lonie recalled a conversation he’d had with a blind woman during a disabilities trip down the Colorado River. While he told the woman about the schist rock layer and what it looked like, “She ran her hands across the rock while saying, ‘I can see the colors!’ I said, ‘Cool!’ She said, ‘No, it’s not. Sit me down. That’s my aura. I’m also an epileptic.’”

Have you ever wondered how to combine “humor, art and latex?” The Blue Mountain Clinic invited people to do just that for its recent “Off the Rack” fashion show in Missoula, Mont. The women’s clinic donated condoms in a suite of colors to participants; designers had to come up with idiosyncratic outfits. Judging from photos of the event, condom-made bathing suits and dresses seem very bouncy.

The San Juan Record in Monticello, Utah, celebrated William Morley Black, a “father of thousands,” as part of its series on the “giants” of San Juan County. When Black died in 1915, he’d had six wives and 41 children, and he left 214 living grandchildren and 206 living great-grandchildren. “In the intervening 95 years, his posterity has grown to many thousands and would populate a small city,” said reporter Buckley Jensen, who went on to list all the names of descendents associated with the prolific Black: “Anderson, Black, Blake, Bradford, Brown, Burtenshaw, Carroll, Davis, Foy, Grover, Guymon, Hawkins, Helquist, Hunt, Hurst, Johnson, Jones, Kartchner, Keele, Laws, Lyman, Meyer, Mikesell, Nelson, Nielson, Palmer, Patterson, Perkins, Peterson, Pincock, Porter, Redd, Rowley, Shumway, Sipe, Slade, Smith, Stevens, Washburn, Wright and Young.” Black’s achievement for “largest posterity” seems remarkable since he spent only a little over two years in southern Utah before he moved to Mexico to avoid persecution for polygamy.

While you’re admiring Old Faithful, scoping for wolves or stopping for a bear jam at Yellowstone National Park, you might want to watch your back. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees warns that the tourists around you might be packing an assault rifle. On Feb. 22, a new law allowing park visitors to possess firearms in national parks “consistent with the laws of the state in which the area is located,” went into effect, ending the previous practice that allowed guns in parks only if they were stowed out of reach and unloaded. Now, “anyone hiking in the backcountry (of Yellowstone National Park) can openly carry guns, increasing the risk to other hikers and park wildlife,” says Doug Morris, a member of the group of more than 740 former Park Service staffers. Campgrounds pose a particular risk, the group warns, because it’s there that disagreements — “often fueled by alcohol” — break out around a campfire.

Rubber Duck Race

Mountain towns and the persistence of the weird

—Lise Waring, Writers on the Range
Around 1876, before the high-altitude western Colorado town of Telluride was established, settlers made camp a few miles west at a place they called San Miguel City. Hardy souls moved there to find their fortunes in the mines. Even though the hard work underground left little extra time or energy for hobbies, the miners did engage in the odd athletic pursuit now and then.

And by “odd,” I mean: There was a racetrack in the valley where horse races, roping, bronc-riding and “chicken-picking” events were hosted. Imagining a racetrack in a modern-day ski resort takes some doing, but it’s the chicken-picking that seems particularly striking.

Chicken-picking, I’ve been told, was a Navajo specialty that involved burying a row of live chickens up to their necks, leaving the heads sticking up aboveground. Bareback riders would then get a barreling start and lean from their horses at a gallop to grab a bird’s head. (Before PETA gets its feathers all riled up, the chicken-picking participants in Telluride supposedly substituted bags of money for live poultry.) I’ve filled my days in many an unconventional way, but the sport of chicken-picking goes down in my book as a genuinely weird pastime.

A pastime, by definition, is “something that serves to make time pass agreeably, a pleasant means of amusement, recreation, or sport.” Of course, Telluriders no longer spend 10-hour shifts mining and mucking underground, and locals have adopted other means of off-work amusement. These activities weren’t necessarily the brainchild of anyone in this town — I’ve been to other places that engage in the same types of amusements — but the pastimes are commonplace here.

“Skitching” is one of the riskiest, so I must include a disclaimer: I do not recommend participating in this dangerous and illegal activity — though it is plenty of fun if you’re well-insured and young enough to bounce. All you need is a pair of boots, preferably with poor traction, a slick, snow-covered street without traffic, and a passing car with a sturdy bumper. Need I say more? Hazards of hanging on include inhaling exhaust and encountering rocks in the road that will knock you over and then lodge themselves under your epidermis, not to mention the occasional angry driver who speeds up or swerves to disengage persistent skitchers from his bumper.

Broomball and bike polo are two of the more unusual sports favored in Telluride, both of which are legal and slightly less dangerous than skitching. The first is a bastardization of hockey. Remove the skates, the puck and the stick; replace those items with boots, a ball and a broom. Off you go. This sport is so popular that the park and recreation department manages an adult winter league at the ice rink. Similarly, bike polo requires no equestrian skills, but you better be nimble and well balanced on two wheels. Telluride doesn’t have enough bike polo players yet for a league. Our enthusiasts join forces with a team from nearby Durango that calls itself the Malletheads to get a few chukkas going. Bike polo is such an up-and-coming sport that, in addition to fearlessness, it demands a certain fashion sense: Pedal-pushers and striped socks are all the rage with this region’s bike polo crowd, regardless of gender.

Turkey bingo, wife-carrying races and the annual rubber-duck race on the San Miguel River further demonstrate some of the strange ways in which we amuse ourselves in Telluride. But the real question is: Why? Why can’t we just play basketball, lose money on poker night or go to the gym like most people in mountain towns?

Here’s my theory: When the Idarado Mill closed in 1978, the mining families left town, leaving the demographic in Telluride suddenly skewed toward the only remaining residents, who were 20-something male ski bums and hippies. Most municipalities had never seen the like as these kids got elected to the town council, were hired to police the streets, plan future development and, in their off hours, play in the mountains. Over time, the demographics shifted, and today, Telluride nearly balances males, 55 percent, to females, 45 percent, while the average family size is 2.7 and the median age is a ripe 31. But what persists is the can-do, countercultural spirit of the 1970s, and maybe even the 1870s, when miners picked chickens composed of sacks of money.

Lise Waring is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She writes and plays in Telluride, Colorado.






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