Someone recently asked me for ideas about how they could get more involved in their local community.
I like thinking about this question and coming up with suggestions. It may seem like the most consequential decisions and conversations about our future happen at the national or global levels. But when it comes to actions that we can take as individuals to make the world a better place, our attention is also needed at the local level.
Here are a few of the ways you could try to get more involved in your local community:
1. Join or form a neighborhood association. When we know more about the people we live around, we can tackle challenges and provide support a lot more quickly and easily. In-person gatherings can be a great way to learn about projects and opportunities for helping others, and many associations now have online groups that share neighborhood-specific information too. If you live in a mostly business-oriented area, look for a small business or merchants association where you can sit in and learn about issues facing those stores. If that all seems like too much, consider just starting with an open house or back-yard potluck and inviting the folks who live right around you.
Continue reading 6 ways to get more involved in your local community
A few years ago I got a call from an organization that wanted me to volunteer as a member of their board of directors. They were rushing to get their nominations in before an upcoming meeting and the person assigned to ask me to join had fallen a bit behind on the process. The caller described the board's work - overall purpose, meetings, and responsibilities - and said that my name had come up as someone who could be good to serve.
I had little to no history with or context about the organization's leadership, and this call was the first time I was really aware of its board. So I asked a question:
"What particular projects or efforts is the board working on that you think I can specifically contribute to?"
In other words, "tell me why you think I'm a good fit for you and you're a good fit for me."
The caller was a bit thrown off by this, saying that's a good question that they had not been asked before, and one that they didn't really have an answer for. (It turns out this particular board is a fiduciary oversight kind of body, mostly expected to rubber stamp what the organization's staff proposes.) I tried to give the caller a few chances to fill in some detail, but they didn't seem interested in trying that hard.
I thanked the organization for thinking of me and said no.
Continue reading Saying yes to the right things
When I ran for office earlier this year, I noticed that a lot of people I talked to thought of themselves as existing firmly on one side of a certain line, and elected officials existing on the other side. It was the "who can be a leader and get things done in our community?" line. For some folks, the implication was that progress and transformation happen only when those elected officials take action, and that everyone else just kind of does their own thing and waits for progress to happen.
Of course officials who are elected and empowered by government to take action are often central to many kinds of community progress. But it certainly doesn't mean that getting elected is the only way to be a leader in your community.
So, I offer this list of Five Ways to be a Leader in Your Community Without Running for Office:
Continue reading 5 ways to be a leader without running for office
It's an honor and a privilege to have volunteer opportunities to use our time and talents for the betterment of our communities. One common opportunity is to serve as a board member at an organization you care about and whose mission you support.
I've written before about things you might consider when leaving a volunteer board of directors for a non-profit or other community organization. I've also had some good conversations recently about the process on the other side of that kind of community involvement, deciding whether or not to say "yes" to joining a board of directors or taking on some other leadership role. For your sake and for that of the organization, it's important to do some research and reflecting before accepting that invitation, to make sure your involvement is a good fit and that the experience will be rewarding for all involved.
From my experience, here's a list of steps to take and questions to ask when you're considering whether or not to join a board of directors:
Continue reading How to decide whether to join a volunteer board
It's a privilege to volunteer in one's community. In one sense it's literally a privilege of having the time and means to say "I'm doing okay enough in my own life that I want to share some of my energy in service to the lives of others." In another sense, it's a privilege of publicly holding up what's important to us, a way of honoring our own roles in a community and the value that it has to us. My involvement in the Wayne County area is a way of showing not only my own interest in making it a better place for me and my loved ones to live, but also a way of making a commitment to the lives and needs of those who I don't know that well, who I can't necessarily relate to, who will be here long after I'm gone.
Continue reading On volunteering
Tonight I had the opportunity to serve as a moderator for the Richmond-Wayne County Legislative debates for contested seats in Wayne County. I did so under the label of a young adult professional, but also thoroughly enjoyed participating in the process as someone interested in local politics, policy and community-building. It was rewarding to see some of the questions I had helped to craft posed to the current and future leaders in our government, and while there are so many parts of local governing and elections that need improvement or replacement, I am energized by the commitment to service demonstrated by so many of the candidates in one form or another. Thanks to them for that.
Did you watch or attend the debates (or listen to them)? What did you think?