My friend Suzanne recently told me her book club finished reading The Happiness Project, and that I appear to be “already doing all the steps.” Typically, one element of personal happiness includes giving to others – particularly going beyond your inner circle of friends and family, and offering something to folks outside your personal sphere. Those of us who follow this path know there are lots of personal rewards emanating from such efforts.

There are certainly many ways to give of oneself in the world, and I know many individuals living in Oak Park and its surrounding communities are involved in these endeavors. One specific way I know the latter is I have met many volunteers “working” for the nonprofit, fair-trade store, Ten Thousand Villages, in downtown Oak Park.

I started volunteering at Ten Thousand Villages in October. Never involved in retail work before, I thought it would be a fun way of learning new skills, meeting people I shared common values with and contributing to the fair-trade movement. I am happy to say that all of my goals have been actualized. Moreover, my understanding of the store’s mission – generating vital, fair-wage income to impoverished artisans around the world – is deeper now than before I began volunteering. This knowledge comes in part from videos I watch about the artisans creating products for Ten Thousand Villages’ stores.

Artists are shown in their villages living very different kinds of lives than we live in Oak Park; for example, living in cramped, squalid quarters and washing clothes with a rock and bowl. Yet despite this material poverty, I am aware that the contracts these artists have with Ten Thousand Villages provide a sustainable source of funds that allow for the improved well-being of themselves and their families. Fair-trade income enables some children to go to school, gives women enhanced power in their households and provides families with more food security.

My motivation for writing this essay is to encourage more people to support Ten Thousand Villages by purchasing its high-quality, beautiful products, and through volunteering. As a volunteer, you can help out in the store or offer your specialized skills to one of the many committees that keep the store productive and viable. So come on by and browse the fair-trade products made by artisans from assorted countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Pick up a volunteer application and talk with Clare or Lisa, our manager and assistant manager. You’ll be amazed to learn Ten Thousand Villages is run mainly by volunteers. The store requests only eight volunteer hours a month, and with that you receive a 20 percent discount on products you want to purchase.

And one last thing, if anyone has a working vacuum cleaner they don’t need anymore, the store can use one. I should know; I vacuum Wednesday nights since I help close. The one we have is a bit dated, if you know what I mean.

Denise Rose, a sociologist and longtime Oak Parker, is an advocate for issues of social justice.

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