Take Action: 10 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Community TODAY

helping hands, community action, the new pursuit, deep living, eco-being“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  ~ Anne Frank

Over the past few weeks, the blogosphere has been abuzz with conversation about shifting from talking about action to actually DOING all those things to change our world for the better. Talking the talk will only take you so far. At some point, you have to start walkin’ it — or as many a wise fisherman has said, “You gotta fish or cut bait.”

Some of the comments and conversations coming off the post about returning to the power of community had me thinking: Are people over-complicating the transition from talking to doing?

I’m fortunate to have a bit of experience getting involved in my community and what I’ve learned is that it is extremely easy to roll up your sleeves and start contributing towards that change we all want to see. Opportunities both big and small abound. Many times, all you need to do is show up.

It’s important to remember: Creating positive change does NOT have to be at the scale of solving world hunger or poverty. I say this not to diminish the value and importance of that work, but to encourage all of us to take on some of the smaller-scale problems or opportunities that might be lurking right outside our front door. The other thing to remember: It’s not about how much money you can personally throw at an issue. Sure, money can help, but in my experience most organizations and initiatives value the time, talent and willingness to roll up your sleeves more than anything else.

And with that, here is a list of 10 things you can start doing TODAY to make a difference right in your community. Some I’ve done; some are on my list of things to do. Where possible, I have provided some resources to get you going.

  1. Organize a food drive. According to Feeding America, the number of Americans receiving food donations is up 46% since 2006 to 43 million, including 14 million children. Worldwide, the U.N. World Food Programme estimates 925 million people face hunger each day. Take Action: Reach out to your local food pantry to see what the greatest need is. From there, it’s as simple as putting the call out to your circle to create awareness and organize the logistics of pick-up and drop-off. Placing ads in or writing a letter to the editor of your local paper or leveraging Facebook can help your campaign reach more people.
  2. Get involved in town/city government. Most municipal governments (especially the smaller ones) are helped by a network of volunteer commissions and boards that tackle everything from recycling to economic development to arts & culture. These are often very important elements of community living that don’t always get the time and attention they need. Don’t think you’re qualified? Your passion for an issue can often offset any direct experience you might not have. Take Action: Visit your local municipal website and search for volunteer opportunities. If you can’t find anything, call your Town Administrator or Mayor’s office.
  3. Organize a documentary film series. These are espcially popular as we head into winter. What are you passionate about? The environment? Social justice? Food issues? Likely there are others in your community who care too. A film series is a great way to bring like-minded people together and spark coversation about taking action. If you don’t charge a fee for the viewing, many times you can get around copyright viewing issues (just check to be sure). Take Action: Identify 3-4 films that speak to your cause and secure them via Netflix or your library. Find a place to view them (coffee house, library, community center) and work out a schedule. Then promote the heck out of hit with ads in your local paper, community bulletin boards, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Be ready to facilitate a discussion after the movie is done to capitalize on the interest or find a local subject matter expert to do that for you.
  4. Coach a youth sports team. Being able to help shape a young mind is one of the best things you could ever do. Good thing your local youth leagues are always looking for volunteers. Often it’s for coaching but there are lots of other ways to get involved (communications, finances, field maintenance). Sure, some experience with the sport is handy if you’re going to coach, but many times, leagues offer coaching clinics to help get you prepared. Take Action: If you have kids, this is easy — just wait for the announcements to come from school or in your paper and talk to the league organizers. If you don’t have kids, Google “[Your Town's Name] baseball league” (or football/soccer, hockey, etc.). Most leagues operate websites, so you’re sure to find them.
  5. Give blood. This is one of the easiest things you could ever do to help someone. Blood banks are always in need of more. As the American Red Cross says, “Give the gift of life.” Take Action: In the U.S., find your local Red Cross Chapter and go from there. If you’re extra motivated, talk to your employer about becoming a corporate partner and organize a blood drive at work. Outside the U.S., contact your local hospital to inquire about the best way to donate blood.
  6. Start (or join) a DIY learning group. As time goes on, more and more people are rediscovering the value of self-reliance. Everything from growing and storing your own vegetables to building and fixing things to getting off the grid. One of my favorite examples of DIY in action is the Dever Urban Homesteading Group. Web-based community tools like MeetUp, Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups or Community Tools 2.0 make it easier than ever to connect, organize and promote your activities. Take Action: Learn more about the resources above. Search to see if a group is already in your area. If not, identify a few others in your circle to start out with, build your ‘community’ site, then promote the heck out of it through things such as ads in your local paper, email and Facebook. It might take some time to get going, but stick with it. Try to find people who have done the things you want to do early on and ask them to help lead some initial learning sessions.
  7. Volunteer at a local school, senior center, hospital or animal shelter. These are four places that are always looking for a few extra hands. Whether its to share a skill or experience, help with simple tasks or just to lend an ear and laugh a bit, connecting with your neighbors (two-legged or otherwise!) in this way is priceless. You can never under-estimate the wonder of simple interactions between two beings. Take Action: Search for a local place, drop them a line and inquire about opportunities (many post on their websites) and get started.
  8. Spearhead a Transition Town initiative. This is a bit bigger than a breadbox in scope, but well worth it (it’s one the things on my to-do list). While its roots is in the United Kingdom, the Transition Town movement has quickly spread across the globe. It’s a structured and empowering way of bringing ordinary community people together to figure out solutions for combating the effects of global warming and peak oil right in their own neighborhood. My friend Vanessa’s overview of Transition Towns is a great primer. Take Action: In the U.S., search for a Transition Town movement near you and/or learn more how to start one at the Transition U.S. website. Outside the U.S., start out at the International Transition Network website.
  9. Join or start a Common Security Club. This is a bit smaller in scale than spearheading a Transition Town initiative, but no less important. Common Security Clubs got their start by people wanting to figure out ways of better understanding and weathering the uncertainties of our economic and ecological times. They come together to talk it through and figure out ways to weather the proverbial storm. Take Action: Learn more about Common Security Clubs. Search to find one in your neck of the woods. If one doesn’t exist, check out the robust Facilitator’s section of the site to learn how to start a Club in your town.
  10. Start a freecycle group. Do you ever imagine what it would be like to never have to buy anything again? Hooking up with a freecycle group is a great step in that direction. Our family has been freecycling for years and we love it. While most of the action takes place in online forums that connect people far and wide, some communities actually have brick-and-mortor buildings where the give-and-take magic happens. Take Action: Check out freecycle.org and search for a group near you (there are close to 5,000 registered groups). Can’t find one? You can learn how to start your own. Want to take the freecycle concept to your workplace? Check out Freecycle At Work.

Are you doing something in your community that’s worth sharing? Have any experience with any of the activities from the list? Feel free to leave a comment and share. Thanks so much!

Be well,
Bill

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[image: Jeff Meidl]

Comments
5 Responses to “Take Action: 10 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Community TODAY”
  1. Lori says:

    Hi Bill,
    I like your style!
    What an important point, about not letting daunting problems stop us from taking action in smaller ways. I couldn’t agree more. I really like your list and action points, too.
    I formerly volunteered at a VA hospital. I’m a veteran, too, so I think the patients really liked swapping stories and sharing their experiences. Honestly, I think they helped me more than I helped them. ;)

    Thanks for the link to freecycle — I’d heard of the site but lost the name/link. Thanks for saving me the time as I don’t need to hunt for it now.
    At the present I’m focusing on small things and acts of kindness when the opportunity presents itself.
    Thanks for this, I”m sending lots of warmth your way!
    ~xo

  2. Sandra Lee says:

    These are great ideas, Bill! One small thing I like to do is share the bounty of my garden and fruit trees. Be well!

  3. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Sandra // Sharing our bounty with others — no matter if it’s fare from the garden or time from our day — is what pays it all forward. With each small step, we create a new path into tomorrow. It’s really quite wonderful when you stop to think about it. We all can play a part! Be well!

  4. Bill Gerlach says:

    Hi Lori // Thanks for stopping by and sharing. That’s an experience — and a fantastic reminder of the power that we all have within us to make a difference in someone’s life. Big or small — it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we took the time to give of ourselves and receive all that Love that’s flowing out there.

    Good luck with the Freecycle. It is one amazing little tool! Be well!

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