How To Get Involved In Your Community In A Fulfilling Way
The past few years have put many of our neighbors, friends, and community members on the back foot. Even before the pandemic struck, homelessness had increased by 15% between 2019 and 2020, many of whom don’t have access to shelters or government support.
Additionally, our local communities are starting to feel the early impact of climate change. Rising temperatures have led to more intense heat waves in cities across the nation, and droughts, floods, changing sea levels, and more extreme climate events threaten to displace and derail our current way of life.
These issues can feel insurmountable — particularly when politicians are more focused on winning the next election, rather than the long-term impact of their policies. But it is still possible to make a difference at the local community level. Here’s a quick intro to community engagement to help you get started.
Your recent interest in local community engagement is fantastic. You’ll likely love volunteering, and will learn so much about yourself and your local community. However, before you jump in and start making a difference, you must get the lay of the land and listen to the community activists who already exist in your area.
Listening before you act is important, as you may do more harm than good if you do not take the time to learn about your community first. Recently, this has made headlines when local BLM protests were co-opted by well-meaning white folks who have gentrified the movement instead of galvanizing behind the leaders of color in their community.
You can avoid undermining the efforts of local community activists by attending events and intentionally learning about the history of the cause you wish to support. This may be humbling, as learning about the less publicized version of your community’s history is always uncomfortable. But, by making the effort to listen and learn, you can ensure that you make positive connections with folks operating in your area and start making a positive contribution.
Not all communities have active organizers and leaders, and not all causes require the same amount of care and nuance. Sometimes, getting involved in your community can be as simple as a street cleanup or signing up to volunteer your time. But whichever way you look at it, you need to gain some momentum before you can expect to get anything meaningful done.
If it’s your first time working in the community, then gaining momentum can feel impossible. You have to remember that “you” are more than an individual; you may not realize it, but you have a network around you at all times, and they will engage with your ideas if you are persistent and ask in the right way.
So, you can start gaining momentum in your community by leveraging your connections and using everything that makes “you” who you are. This might include getting your small business involved in a local cause, or you might post donation links to your social media channels. Alternatively, you can spread your reach by contacting newspapers and journalists who might take up your story. The point is simple: get busy, and tap into your network to gain maximum exposure.
We don’t all have the time or ability to physically connect with our communities. This can be frustrating, but if you’re a parent, work a busy schedule, or just have other responsibilities that are inflexible, then no one will blame you for not being able to show up.
If this is the case for you, you can consider donating to your local community groups or causes. Oftentimes, a financial donation is just as valuable as your physical effort and time. All organizations need money to run and expand their operations, so your money will be well received.
You can also find creative ways to donate to good causes. You can use your life insurance policy to donate, and many donor-advised funds will take stocks and bonds, cryptocurrency, and other complex assets just as readily as they take physical cash donations.
Choosing A Community Cause
Depending on where you live, you might find that there are multiple worthy causes, but that you only have the time to serve one. The way you choose to prioritize one cause over another is entirely up to you and your sense of ethics, but you may wish to consider joining a community cause where your engagement will make the maximum impact.
For example, in Kentucky, local volunteers have galvanized around the state’s last abortion clinic to become “clinic escorts.” This ensures that women can get the support they need without fear of intimidation or harassment. This cause benefits greatly from every volunteer who gives up their time and effort to defend women’s rights in a state with regressive policies and minimal resources that support women’s health.
You might want to consider a community cause that your whole family can get involved in. Across the nation, thousands of young people and families are engaging in youth environmental activism. These groups do everything from local community clean-ups to gathering climate research and advocating for political changes at the local, state, and national levels. These groups are usually very welcoming, and you’ll find that your desire to help is well received.
Getting involved with your community is deeply fulfilling and allows you to make a real difference in people’s lives. This is more important than ever, as we’re all looking to bounce back from the pandemic, and many folks require a little support to get themselves back on track. Start by doing your research and listening to local activists, then get creative when thinking about the best way you can help — and remember, even small donations of time, money, or effort make a big difference in your local community.
Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing about health, wellness and environmentalism, but occasionally goes back to her roots with socially active journalism. Frankie spends her free time gardening or off hiking in the mountains of the PNW with her loved ones.