How to Help Your Community

A community feels more alive when people who live there love it enough to help improve it. Helping your community makes life better for your friends, family and other people who live where you live. If you look around and see that your community has a lot of problems, there’s no better time to start fixing them than right now. The more love you pour in, the better it will get. See Step 1 for ideas on how to help your community be strong and vibrant.

Sharing Your Skills and Time
Teach people what you know. One of the best ways you can help your community is to share your knowledge with other people. It’s also an easy way to jump in when you’re not quite sure where to get started. Think about what you have to offer, and who might benefit from your expertise.[1] Here are a few ideas: Teach people to read and write. Imagine how it would feel if you couldn’t read. You could work with kids or adults in you community who struggle with literacy and give them that gift.

Teach kids how to play sports. You could coach a little league team, or just gather the neighborhood kids to play pick up football in the afternoons or go for group runs in the mornings.

Volunteer for a group that does work you admire. Every nonprofit or community organization in your area is probably in need of volunteers.[2] Donating your time is an excellent way to have a positive effect on your community, and to strengthen your relationships with your fellow community members, too. Find a group doing work that interests you and give them a call; chances are, they’ll have a list of ways you can start helping out right away. Here are a few examples of volunteer opportunities available in most communities: Helping out at park, river or beach clean-up days

Answering phones at phone-a-thons to raise money

Playing with cats and dogs at the animal shelter

Serving meals at the soup kitchen or homeless shelter

Working at a crisis hotline

Being a counselor at a camp for kids

Be a visible member of your community. It’s likely that other people and organizations in your community are also taking steps to help improve it. They probably hold festivals, cleanups and meetings in an effort to make the neighborhood a better place. How often do you show up to community events? Start going to as many as you can. Just showing up is a way to help people in your community because it lets them know that you care. When you feel comfortable enough, you can even start volunteering to help out at these events.
For example, if someone you know is trying to hold a “Bike to Work or School Day” on Monday mornings, and you’ve got a bike, why not give it a try? Bring a friend along, too. Show people in your community that biking is fun.

Participate in fundraising walks and runs. Many nonprofits hold community walks and runs to raise money. Paying the entry fee directly benefits the nonprofit, and participating in the event helps spread awareness about the cause.

Go to concerts, festivals and other events put on by local businesses or organizations. If no one shows up to these types of events, they might stop happening altogether.

Get civically active. A great way to help your community is to participate in community decision-making. Stay up to date on activities that impact your community, and form educated opinions on important matters. For example, if your city is deciding whether to cut down a few acres of forest to allow a supermarket to move in, read up on the subject and decide what you think. Would it be better to keep the forest there, or does your community really need a new supermarket? Having an informed perspective and making your voice heard can have an effect on what direction your community takes. Voting is an important way to influence your community. Read up on the candidates and issues and vote in all local elections.

Contact your representative about issues that matter to you. If you don’t want that patch of forest to be cut down, or you think it a new supermarket could really help the community, call your representative or write a letter stating what you want to happen and why.

Show up for community meetings at which decisions are being made. Take the opportunity to speak up about what matters to you. Would your community benefit from having more crosswalks on busier streets? Are there too many potholes on your block? Do you have an opinion on how the city should handle increasing levels of crime? Say so.

Perform for people. Are you gifted at playing the saxophone? Maybe you love to sing, or you’re constantly making beats in your spare time. Why not share your artistic talents with your community? Nothing brings people together like the sound of music and poetry. It draws people in and gets them dancing, singing, and laughing.
Play in the street. Just going outside and playing your instrument will probably cause a small crowd to gather. Try playing in the park to enhance the atmosphere there. The sound of live music carried over streets or grassy fields makes a place feel full of promise.

Get a group together and start a band. Play at festivals or local restaurants and bars. You could even offer to play at fundraising events for local organizations working to improve your community.

Start an open mic night. Talk with the owner of a local cafe, bookstore, or bar to see if they’re interested in hosting an open mic night for music, readings and comedy once or twice a month. Most venues will be happy to get the extra business.

Beautify your public spaces. If you look around and see trash in the street and graffiti on the windows in your neighborhood, you know where to start helping out. Making the spaces in your community feel brighter and cleaner will bring people out and result in better quality of life for everyone. The work you do will depend on the specific needs in your community. You can help to make your neighborhood more beautiful right away by picking up trash on your own. When you walk down the street, pick up trash you see and throw it away or recycle it. If there’s too much for you to tackle on your own, get some friends involved to help you.

Scrape off or paint over graffiti to freshen up buildings and fences. If you’re good at painting, you could eve create a mural on a public wall for everyone to see. You might have to get permission from the building owner or city first.

Do landscaping in areas that are overgrown with weeds. Mow them down or use a weed wacker to trim them back. Plant flowers or trees wherever you can.

Make seed bombs and throw them in empty lots.

Create a community garden, where everyone can have a plot on which to grow vegetables, herbs or flowers. Ask people to pitch in to help break ground and lend their tools for the project.

Solving Community Problems
Identify the pressing needs of your community. You live in your community, so you probably already know what needs to change. Maybe there’s a river flowing through your city that’s so polluted no one can swim there. Maybe the schools in your community near more resources to buy books and computer equipment. Maybe the homeless population in your community needs assistance. Whatever it is, figure out what needs to be addressed where you live.
Try not to get overwhelmed by the size and scope of the problems your community is facing. Pick one thing that you care about changing, one thing that ignites your passion, and go from there.

See if anyone else feels the same way you do. Is there an organization addressing this need? Do you know anyone who’s as passionate as you are about creating change?

Decide how you can help out. Once you’ve identified the problem you want to solve, figure out how you personally can start working to fix it. Whether or not you believe that one person can change the world, since you’re reading this article you know that one person can make a difference.[3] How are you going to make a difference?
Find the place where your passions and skills intersect. For example, let’s say you passionately want to correct the fact that your city has too few trees, since it’s creating a heat island effect and air pollution is at an all-time high. You’re highly skilled at using social media and you have over a thousand friends on Facebook. You can spread awareness about the problem by sharing what you know with as many people as possible and encouraging people to plant more trees.

Set some reachable goals. The problem you’ve identified isn’t likely to be solved easily; it’ll probably require a lot of work. Maybe years of work. It’s even possible that after years of work, the problem still won’t be entirely corrected. However, if you set manageable goals and start working toward them step-by-step, you’ll eventually be able to look back and see progress you’ve made.
Set short-term goals. You can define short-term in a way that makes sense and is motivating to you. What do you want to have accomplished in one week, month, or year?

Set long-term goals. In five years, what do you want your community to look like? What about ten? What seems doable in that amount of time?

Outline a plan for getting things done. To accomplish your goals, you’re going to need an action plan. And to execute an action plan, you’ll probably need some help and funding. Write up a plan that details everything you’re going to need to accomplish a given goal, including the following: People. Include the skill-sets that will be involved, the hours of work that they’ll need to put in, the exact number of volunteers or spokespeople that will be necessary to accomplish your goals.

Resources. Buses to take people downtown for a river cleanup. Garbage bags, shovels, protective gloves and masks for your volunteers. Pizza to feed them at lunchtime. Think it through down to every last detail.

Money. Create a budget and plot out how much it’s going to cost to execute your goals.

Get other people involved. Ask around to find out who else is as excited to make a difference as you are. Try to form a core group of activists committed to carrying out the plan to improve your community. Everyone will have something to contribute, and together you’ll be able to start getting things done.
To find passionate volunteers and spread the word about what you’re doing, share information via social media. Go public with your plan to make a difference, and tell people how they can get involved. Hold meetings to discuss how to put your plan into action.

Some people prefer to help by by donating their money instead of their time. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations or hold a fundraiser to make money you can put toward your cause.

Commit to following through. Now that you have goals and an action plan for meeting them, it’s time to get organized and put in the real time and effort it takes to create change. If you back out now, your community might never see the solution you’ve dreamed up. It’s not going to be easy to make things better, but every bit of effort you put into your project will make a difference.

Being a Good Citizen
Stop to help when you’re needed. It’s a simple way to make your community better, to create the kind of vibe that makes people feel safe and happy. If you see someone in need of assistance, come to their aid instead of averting your eyes. Do for others what you’d want them to do for you if you were in their situation.
If you see a mother struggling to get her stroller down a set of stairs, help her carry it.

If you notice someone looking lost, help them get where they’re trying to go.

Figure out how you can help the people who ask for money in the street, instead of passing them without looking them in the eyes.

Be the person who helps out in an emergency, instead of the one who assumes someone else will do it.

Support your local economy. Healthy communities have healthy local economies. People work together to help each other make a living and thrive. You can help improve the health of your local economy in many different ways, from changing your shopping habits to starting a business of your own. Consider these different ways to help:
Buy your food from local vendors. Try to get most of your produce from the farmer’s market, where members of your community go to sell food they’ve worked hard to grow.

Shop at local businesses whenever you can. For example, if you have the choice to buy a new pair of jeans at a chain discount store or a small business owned by a member of your community, choose the latter if you can afford it. That way your money will go toward helping your community.

Consider starting your own business. You can serve your community by offering a great product and possibly even hiring employees.

Recycle and compost. Many communities are experiencing problems with landfills that are getting too full. Producing too much trash pollutes the environment, and that’s not good for your community’s long-term health. You can do your part to help the situation get better by recycling and composting as much of your waste as possible.
If you want to go above and beyond, you could also spread awareness about how to recycle, or start a recycling program at your school or place of work.

Composting is useful in more ways than one. It allows you to dispose of your food waste without putting it in the trash, and as a result you end up with rich soil you can use in your garden. Once you learn how to do it, teach others how easy it can be.

Save energy and water. Using too much electricity and water strains community resources.[4] Saving energy and water is good for the planet as well as your local environment. Doing your best to conserve energy and water is an investment in your community’s long-term health.
Turning off your lights when you’re not using them, using energy-saving appliances, decreasing your reliance on air conditioning, turning down the temperature on your water heater, and unplugging your computer when you power it down are all ways you can help save energy.

Taking shorter showers, making sure your pipes aren’t leaking, ceasing to water your lawn as often, and using the low-water method of washing dishes are all ways you can help save water.

Be less reliant on your car. Communities that rely heavily on car transportation often experience elevated air pollution levels.[5] Air pollution is not only detrimental to plants and animals, it causes major health problems for humans, too. Using your car less often decreases your carbon footprint, which helps your community. Here are alternatives to try: Walk or bike where you need to go. It takes a little longer, but you see more along the way.

Use public transportation. Even if your area doesn’t have a great subway or elevated rail system, you probably have bus lines nearby.

Carpool to work or school, instead of driving places by yourself.

Sources and Citations
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