Your World: Quick Picks

50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2008: Quick Picks for Your World


'Random Acts of Kindness' Turns 15

In 1993, Bakersfield College Prof. Chuck Wall gave his students an innovative assignment: Commit one random act of kindness. One of the students paid his mother's bills. Another bought blankets and distributed them to homeless people. A third student gave a convenient parking space to a driver who appeared to be late for an appointment. The class assignment evolved into a global grass-roots movement.

Today, Wall suggests that one person can make a difference and notes that he's the proof. "Acts" can be as simple as letting someone else catch the next taxi, holding the door for a delivery person, or buying a cup of coffee for a mail carrier. A really easy start: Show appreciation with a handwritten note or an E-mail. —Jill Konieczko

Volunteer For Your Fire Department

Jack Hoffman, 34, grew up with no doubt that he would become a firefighter. He has worked on a volunteer fire crew ever since he was 18 years old, is a professional fireman in Alexandria, Va., and considers his coworkers his "second family."

There are plenty of reasons to volunteer as a firefighter—camaraderie, the rush of answering a call, or the quieter satisfaction of public service. There is also need; while 72 percent of U.S. firefighters are volunteers, their numbers have declined 8 percent since 1984. Once certified, volunteers can face the same challenges as professionals—and the same dangers. Fire departments also need nonemergency staff for support roles. For leads in either capacity, the national recruitment center can be reached at 1-800-fireline. —Todd Georgelas

Build Better Ideas Together

Even though community service organizations are dedicated to changing the world, sometimes they don't play so nice with one another. Because they're often directly competing to get the funding to run their programs, many agencies don't like to share information about what works well (and not so well) in their respective programs.

A new website,, is attempting to, well, change that. Borrowing techniques from social networking sites like Facebook, Changemakers invites people to share and debate ideas on everything from how to help at-risk youth to how to solve water shortages in developing countries. —Kenneth Terrell

Chop Up That Old Christmas Tree

The rotating blades of a chipper would love to shred your Christmas evergreen. And that would make Al Gore (and Mother Earth) very happy.

Americans buy more than 30 million real holiday trees. The worst fate for the evergreens: a landfill, where they don't decompose well. The best choice: "treecycling."

Georgians can visit one of 378 spots participating in "Bring One for the Chipper," a program that has shredded over 4.8 million trees into aromatic mulch. Louisianians in Shreveport collect about 5,000 trees a year and ship them to southern wetlands, where the trees build landmass. Other municipalities have curbside pickup. Plug your zip code into Earth 911's website, and check the nearly 4,000 options it has compiled. —Marc Silver