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Volunteer to move community forward

For many families, the holiday season is filled with food, gifts and festivities. We enjoy spending time together and give thanks for all of our good fortune during the year. It’s also an important time to remember those less fortunate in our community and look for ways to work together to move our communities forward. One way we can work together is to volunteer with local community organizations.

With our busy schedules, some may think it’s difficult to find time to commit to volunteer activities. But imagine what we all could accomplish if we just committed one hour per week to doing something positive for our communities.

At the YMCA of Central Florida, we see how small acts of volunteerism can spark tremendous change in the community. Last year, 6,120 volunteers gave 286,000 hours to our organization — less than one hour each per week — which helped us provide resources and guidance to 230,000 people in Central Florida. For us, that means one volunteer has the potential to impact more than 37 additional community members.

You can have a similar impact by also volunteering with an organization whose mission you support or find ways to make your favorite activities benefit others — here are some ideas:

· Use your skills to mentor students at your neighborhood elementary, middle or high school by helping kids with their homework or coach youth sports.

· Enjoy a day at the park with your family and spend a few minutes picking up litter.

· Instead of eating lunch at your desk, spend your lunch hour chatting with seniors at a local nursing home.

· Create holiday cards with inspirational messages for our military troops serving abroad. You can also ask your friends and neighbors to donate supplies such as travel-sized hygiene items to fill special care packages.

· Clean out your pantry and donate non-perishable food items to your local food bank or homeless shelter.

The holidays are a great time to start volunteering. Together, we can show our appreciation for the things we have and make our communities a better place for everyone to live all year round. For more information on how you can get involved in your community, check out http://bit.ly/utKAvn to volunteer with the American Heart Association, http://bit.ly/aRCk3r to help Samaritan’s Purse International Relief organization or www.resourcepoint.org for various opportunities throughout Seminole County.

—Scott Barnhard

Vice president of financial development

YMCA of Central Florida

Captivity no place for orcas

A recent lawsuit claims that the five orcas currently living in captivity, and who were removed from the wild, violates the 13th Amendment’s prohibition of slavery. The lawsuit has provided fodder for late night television; the suit is indeed novel. However, life in an acoustically dead concrete tank does lead to significant health and longevity abnormalities as a result of the orcas’ enslaved existence.

As former orca trainers at SeaWorld, my colleague and I worked with Tilikum, Katina, and trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by Tilikum. We recently released a summary compiling evidence that captivity leads to premature orca death, stress, social tension and poor health. The article can be accessed online at The Orca Project (theorcaproject.wordpress.com).

Spending their entire lives within tight family groupings, wild-caught orcas have been traumatically extracted from the security, comfort and mentoring that these groupings provide. The anxiety and volatility in captive orcas is exacerbated by having no chance of escape. As a result, captive orcas often display aggression or alleviate boredom by biting the steel gates used to separate them, resulting in painfully broken, exposed teeth.

The time has come to evolve beyond keeping orcas in captivity purely for profit and entertainment purposes.

—Jeffrey Ventre, MD

New Orleans, La.

and John Jett, Ph.D

Biology Department

Stetson University