To help the jobless, make them givers?

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After four years as a self-described "kindness detective," Debbie Tenzer knows a thing or two about the good that comes to givers.

She's written about it. She's founded an organization based on that principle. Now, she's using it to try to help the unemployed.

Well, yes, she'll help them. But she really wants them to help others.

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"I saw that the unemployed were trying to volunteer. They wanted to help nonprofit organizations and were being turned away in droves because the organizations didn't know how to use them," she said in a telephone interview. "I thought: 'I have to find a way to connect all these people with good will who want to help ... with the people who need help now.' "

So she started highlighting simple and inexpensive ideas from her website, DoOneNiceThing.com, that the unemployed could do.

Inexpensive ideas

Like the Sparkle Patrol. "Organize a group of friends to spend a few hours washing windows for the elderly or other neighbors who need the help. Start with someone in your neighborhood or from your house of worship, and call to see if it's OK for your Sparkle Patrol to stop by."

Or bingo prizes. "Collect small hand lotions, soaps, combs, and other toiletries, and send or deliver them to a senior center. They are fun gifts for elderly bingo players to win as a prize. Also, fabric scraps, yarn, and old greeting cards are wonderful supplies for seniors’ craft projects."

Some thoughtfulness

The idea behind DoOneNiceThing is that it doesn't take much – sometimes just a little thoughtfulness and a doggy piñata will do the trick – to make the world a better place.

"Your general idea quite literally saved my life," e-mailed one woman who had lost her job because of a medical condition. She took her small live bunnies to show kids at a nearby hospital.

One popular destination for crayons, toys, and other DoOneNiceThing donations is S.A.Y. (Super All Year) Family Clinic in Detroit, which supports needy women and children. "The boxes come from everywhere! They are filled with wonderful trinkets for our kids. Thanks to all of you, none of the children leave empty-handed," the clinic's medical director, Peggy Richardson, wrote in an e-mail earlier this month.

Helping yourself

Helping others – even when you're unemployed – can boost confidence.

"I used to get a lot of freelance [work] very easily and now it's a struggle," said Wendi Knox, a former senior vice president and creative director at a Los Angeles ad agency and founder of Ohmygoddess.com, in a telephone interview. But "even when you're scared inside and you can't figure out what route is going to connect you to your dream, helping others connect to their's makes both of you really hopeful."

Ms. Knox, who helped inspire Ms. Tenzer to reach out to the unemployed, has helped mothers chart a course back to the working world. Her teenage son, Landon, collected a couple hundred shoes in the neighborhood to send to needy inner-city kids.

"That's what I think is really needed: hope," Knox said.

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