by: Muz Afzal, Community Engagement Coordinator
Community engagement is necessary to SE Uplift’s mission of creating communities that are safe, livable, socially diverse and vital. But what is the best way to be more engaged in your community?
Volunteering in your neighborhood, community or city will empower you to be in sync with the needs and successes of YOUR community and allow you to engage in ways meaningful to you. By engaging in volunteer activities you can actively invest in your community and the payout may be better than any monetary investment. Volunteering can open doors and opportunities for those looking to network and find careers. It can also develop leadership skills and make your neighborhood more livable and welcoming to people of different backgrounds. Your role as a volunteer will also give you a sense of pride and accomplishment. Volunteering can help your community in many different ways, from increasing diversity, boosting community happiness, to fostering a sense of inclusiveness and boosting equity and economic value of the neighborhood.
There are many motivations for volunteering! Some basic reasons why we volunteer include:
- Helping others
- Building connections/networking
- Passion for a cause
- Improving the community
- Having free time
- Learning new skills
- Reducing stress/depression and keep you stimulated
- The Happiness Effect (helping others kindles happiness)
However, there are also many barriers to volunteering that people face, from time constraints, lack of transportation, to family and work obligations and feeling unvested in the cause. Everyone has different skills and schedules so the solution becomes finding an opportunity that fits your individual needs.
Case Study: I grew up in a small town where everyone was invested in the community so I began volunteering at an early age.
As I child I volunteered to vacuum our local mosque when I went there after school to learn Arabic. At age 14 I couldn’t get a volunteer spot at the local hospital because I was underage so I found a private clinic where I could volunteer. In high school, I convinced the school administrators to begin a community garden on campus and often spent time planting or weeding the space. Later on in life, I found volunteer opportunities through professional associations and managed the social media for a nonprofit from my own computer. I also used volunteering as an outing with family and friends by taking them to various food gleaning events in my community.
Volunteering can be whatever you want to make it. If you work during the day then perhaps you could find something to do from a computer in your own home by helping a grassroots effort with marketing or social media. Volunteering can also become a family effort where people of different age groups can participate. You can also create your own volunteer activities based on your schedule by organizing a park/neighborhood cleanup, painting a mural, helping a neighbor weed their yard or cooking something to donate to a local food bank or shelter. Even something as simple as writing a letter to an elected official to support a cause counts as a volunteer activity. Volunteer activities don’t have to be separate from your hobbies but can work in tandem with your hobbies. Participating in volunteer activities that reflect your hobbies or interests will empower you to be more passionate about volunteerism.
“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”
– Sherry Anderson