Throughout our lives, from childhood to adulthood, community is an essential part of everyday existence. Sometimes we don’t see or fully understand it’s impact, and sometimes we may think it is irrelevant. But in rural towns and inner cities, community is vital in ways we can’t imagine. Whether providing volunteer care for the elderly, organizing activities for Boy Scouts or doing litter picks, it is the unpaid, unheralded helpers that underpin the fabric of society and make life easier for everyone around them.
No matter where you grew up, it is almost certain that, in some way, the community of friends and family around you contributed positively to your formative years. This is why it is so important to return these favors, and to give back to those around, even in small ways.
There are endless ways of contributing to your community, and as the examples below show, giving back doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, a large donation, or a big show of gratitude. In fact, it is often the small things that can make the biggest difference. Personally, twice a year I take a week out to do something that I enjoy and that has an obvious, positive impact on the people I help. It’s that easy and simple. Whether it is volunteering at the local care home, or participating in one of a host of citizen action schemes, contributing to your community is rewarding, enriching and incredibly fun.
Offer your skills
No matter who you are or what you do, there are always creative and innovative ways of becoming involved in your community and passing on valuable, practical skills to others. I’m writing this from a boat in the middle of the English Channel, where I’m currently volunteering with a charity that takes disadvantaged young adults on weeklong sailing trips. The purpose of these trips isn’t to teach people how to sail, but instead teach them vital life skill such as resourcefulness, teamwork and responsibility. From personal experience, using what you have to help others is perhaps the most gratifying way to actively contribute to your community. You don’t have to be a sailor – indeed, whether you’re a handyman or a pub landlord, there are endless ways of helping improve the lives of those around you.
For those with a spare evening or weekend, going out and volunteering with local projects and schemes can be hugely rewarding. Local councils will have lists of activities that need extra bodies; whether repainting a playground, planting a memorial garden or spending time at the local nursing home, communities thrive due to the heroic efforts of its members in contributing to activities like these. Volunteering can be so much more than just a way of gaining a sense of altruistic achievement – it’s a social activity and a way of having fun that has a sense of true meaning and purpose.
Gain meaningful experience
Remember, it is possible not just to give something back to the community, but also to gain something in return when volunteering, regardless of age or experience. Participating in voluntary schemes regularly throughout school and college can give you great experience to take into later life. From the age of 15, I used to volunteer at my local hospital radio, and now work part-time for a national radio station. Community newsletters can provide excellent opportunities to write for aspiring journalists, whilst hospitals, schools and shelters all rely on the unpaid volunteer force for essential tasks.
Donate to charity
The easiest and most simple way of contributing to your community is through your wallet. Giving just a few dollars to your favourite charity can go a long way to helping those in need. You can donate weekly, monthly or yearly, and you can help even if you don’t have money to give. Instead of giving financially, look at what you have lying around the house or the garage and give it to those less fortunate. Clothing can be donated to your local Salvation Army centre, or and libraries, schools or shelters are always grateful for more books. No matter what surplus you have, there will always a be a charity in need; excess food can go to animal shelters, school supplies to local classrooms or food to a local food bank, whilst Toys for Tots is always looking your old, discarded Lego and bric-a-brac to give to kids in need.
Use the Internet
In this golden age of technology, you don’t even need to leave your house to make a difference to your community. Creating and spreading social media campaigns for local projects or events from the comfort of your own bedroom can be as effective as any 12-hour day de-weeding an allotment. If you’re struggling to find an opportunity to volunteer that suits you, then use the internet to look up local schemes and projects – there are even websites to help you on your way. VolunteerMatch offers an assortment of online services to support non-profit organizations, volunteers, and business leaders committed to community volunteer efforts. You can search by keyword or location to find the right opportunity that really interests you, and once you’ve filled out a volunteer application, you’re on your way to giving back to your community.