Have You Always Wanted to Get More Involved in Your Community? Now Is the Time
Finding yourself with a little too much time on your hands these days? It happens as we get older. Maybe you have retired from your job. Maybe the kids are grown and have moved out of the house. You had always wanted to become more active in your community — but time constraints and pressures of everyday life kept you from exploring your opportunities. Well guess what? It’s time to explore.
You have likely got so much to offer your community. By this time in your life, you’ve had some experiences and you’ve learned a thing or two. Whether it’s a skill, a lifetime of professional knowledge, or just some good ol’ been-there-done-that wisdom, others are waiting to benefit from what you have to offer.
Civic engagement is good for you
When you do things for others, you do a wealth of good for yourself, as well. Civic engagement can make the volunteer feel happier and healthier, experts say. “People who volunteer generally report feeling healthier,” said Parissa Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
A study published in the journal BMC Public Health shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health. According to the study, volunteers had a significantly lower risk of early death than non-volunteers. Volunteers also reported lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction, and enhanced well-being.
Know your strengths
What are you good at? Were you a computer expert in your career? Maybe teaching computer classes would be the thing for you. Did your tomatoes win first prize at the county fair? Check with your local gardening co-op to see if they could use a few pointers. Have a passion for politics? Help get people registered to vote. Think about your strengths, how much time you want to commit, and what would bring you the greatest rewards.
Some other ideas:
Help organize fundraisers
Build and repair stuff for housing organizations or theater groups
Run for political office
Become a leader or mentor for a youth group
Offer legal or medical services pro bono
Attend city council meetings
Join your neighborhood watch
Help out at a homeless shelter
Donate food, clothing, or toys to families in need
Pick up trash at the park
Bridging the gap
One of the best aspects of civic engagement is the opportunity it presents to bridge the generational gap.
Check with your local schools to see if they need help. You could help children with their reading, assist teachers in the classroom, or chaperone school activities. Also check with your local senior center to see what you can do for them. They might need help driving seniors to doctor’s appointments or shopping, or they might simply want you to keep someone company.
Sharing experiences with those younger than you as well as those older can bring greater understanding of the rewards and challenges of life’s various stages.
Does giving money qualify as civic engagement? Of course! Many organizations might not have opportunities for volunteers, but their programs would most certainly benefit from a monetary donation. If you have some cash to spare, consider putting it to good use.
Where to look
You can join an organized group, or you can fly solo. Check city and county websites and read notices in local newspapers. Check the fliers on the bulletin board at the grocery store. Do you know any community leaders? Ask them. Check with friends and family members to see if they know of an organization that needs help. Check with people you know at church or people you meet at the gym. Social media is also a great resource. Or simple do an internet search for “How do I get more involved in my community?”
One last thing…
As you are out and about in your community, you are going to be meeting a lot of different types of people — people who may not come from the same background as you do or who may not share the same beliefs. Be mindful of those differences and be respectful of everyone you encounter. Don’t let tensions distract either of you from working toward your common goals.
You have the time now. Get busy!