3. Be You. Even the Not-So-Chipper You

Nobody really brings this up, says Ziolkowski, but we sometimes feel as if we have to act differently when we're helping people—pulled together, positive and cheerful at every moment. But take the case of Gaddy. During her first day at the veterans' center, she tried to smile, to fake her way through it, until several of the men asked her what was the matter. "They had been through trauma themselves in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam," Ziolkowski says, "and they could sense that something was wrong." When she told the truth about why she had come, she and the men formed a connection, which helped her as much as them. That's the secret of service, says Ziolkowski, it's about both people receiving.

4. Start a Chain Reaction

Feeding and providing for shelter children is crucial, but so is teaching kids—not just to fish or to farm or to read—but to help others. This is especially true with underprivileged children, says Ziolkowski. By donating their time and efforts, they realize that even if they don't have an Xbox or a car or, in some cases, a house, they can contribute something, be it time or kindness or experience. This is why the participants in Ziolkowski's Detroit-area after-school programs are sent to Africa to build schools. If you teach a child to serve, he says, "There's a chain reaction." Gaddy, for example, after volunteering at her local homeless veterans' shelter, traveled with buildOn to Nicaragua to build schools in developing villages; now she runs her own volunteer programs at college. "All told," Ziolkowski says, "the people she's influenced are in the thousands."

Jim Ziolkowski is the found of buildOn and the author of Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?

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