The idea of making a difference in the lives of others is a goal shared by many, but for Denver resident Marie Wikle, it is more of an obsession. "I had a desire to make a difference, but I didn't know how," she said.
"My own parents were my 'spreading joy heroes', and so I grew up knowing that it was something I wanted to do. I've always worked with kids - teaching, mentoring, encouraging - but I had a desire to do more."
As she approached her 40th birthday, Wikle decided that it was time to tackle that item on her bucket list, to start an organization with the goal of spreading joy to as many folks as possible, near and far.
Keeping in mind her motto, "There's no joy like spreading joy," she established Spreading Joy Corp. as a nonprofit charitable group.
"Starting a nonprofit was a scary thing, but I went ahead with it because it was a huge desire. When I got the approval letter (establishing the nonprofit) in August of 2008, I was shocked. I was happy, I cried, but I immediately started planning for my first project, to provide toys for underprivileged children in Denver and Charlotte."
Wikle, 43, began the project by soliciting donations of money and toys from members of her church, Beth Haven Baptist in Denver, as well as appeals online and through Twitter. "We gave away almost 800 toys to children we had identified through a local children's ministry and a battered women's shelter."
Having made a successful beginning, Wikle was already thinking about her next project, Back to School, Fall 2009. "Spreading Joy is about sustaining the Christmas spirit, thinking of others all year through by keeping the mindset we have from Thanksgiving to Christmas," she says. With that in mind, the group was able to distribute 800 book bags filled with school supplies to needy children in local schools.
Married for 22 years, with two children, a girl, 17, and a boy, 20, Wikle works full-time at Patterson Pope near Roanoke, Va., as a project management specialist. Her three-hour commute begins on Sunday afternoons, and she works four 10-hour days, returning to her Denver home on Thursday evening. "My evenings after work in Virginia are dedicated to Spreading Joy business," she says, "so when I come home, it's strictly family time."
The vision statement crafted by Wikle and posted on the group's website suggests the scope of her hopes for the organization. "SJC is dedicated to reminding others that they can make a difference by doing what they can, where they are, with what they have, thus enriching our communities by encouraging individuals to focus daily on others."
She goes on to say, "We want to rise above the discouragement of high prices, the obstacle of dead ends and the disappointment of our comfort zone. We want to be the change that is so desperately needed. If we are not making a difference in our own corner of the world, who will?"
Extending the scope of SJC's efforts is also part of the long-term goal. "My big vision is for Spreading Joy to spread across America," she says. Recognizing that she can't do it all by herself, she has recruited a six-member board of directors, and 20 committed volunteers.
Raising money is a necessary part of the work, so the organization's website has a provision for donors to make a donation, either one-time or monthly, through Pay Pal.
"Our goal is to have a network of 500 people, each of whom would donate $10 or more a month. We could then do more things for kids and women and the discouraged," she says.
"We all have a need to give. When you can spread joy to folks who don't even know who you are, that to me is the best kind of gift. We've all got means and resources to make a difference. We just don't always see it that way."
To help folks in the process of spreading joy, Wikle crafted a list she calls "50 Ways to Make a Difference Without Spending a Penny." She offers the list to anyone she meets and has posted an additional 50 Ways to Make a Difference on the Spreading Joy website.
Ideas range from donating blood or plasma, volunteering your time in a nursing home or hospital, and donating extra blankets to a homeless shelter, to babysitting for a friend or neighbor for free and volunteering to read to a class at your local elementary school.
Never at a loss for ideas to increase the range and scope of Spreading Joy, Wikle has identified several broad areas that she envisions as needing support. Providing computer training to improve others' job-seeking skills, as well as offering encouragement and motivation for women in a battered women's shelter is on the list.
A group called Teens 4 Truth enlists the help of teenagers who volunteer to work with underprivileged children, with the idea that teenagers represent the future. Yet another youth project involves working with inner-city children as a means of providing them with support and encouragement in making healthy choices and cultivating positive behaviors.
At the other end of the age spectrum, SJC envisions offering help to elderly citizens. "Many of these folks," says Wikle, "are forced to decide between eating, taking medicine or having heat in their homes. We want to make sure that they are able to stay warm in the winter and be able to afford the medicine they desperately need without having to go hungry."
The list of worthy causes goes on, from the homeless population in Lincoln County to orphans in underdeveloped countries such as Malawi, Africa, but Wikle maintains her deep conviction that wherever there is a need, help and support and encouragement can be provided by caring individuals.
"Each gift, regardless of its size or type, makes a huge impact You never know which gift will change a life," she says. "We have a desire to give big, but we will simply give what we have until that day comes."