Engaging in your Community
By: Jonathan Ahmadi
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
This past year has been challenging for many of us. From the beginning of 2020 to date, we have lost over half a million Americans to COVID-19. Countless people have been out of work and have struggled to pay rent and put food on the table. Rates of depression and anxiety have soared as we have sheltered in place to help contain the virus that has ravaged our communities. During this global crisis, the need for engaged citizenship has emerged.
I am not sure if we can absorb and process the amount of human suffering we have collectively endured. Maybe, it’s best not even to try. Though challenging, we must find ways to adapt and cope with the realities we face daily.
One thing that has kept me going through this time of change and uncertainty is my choice to become more involved in my community. Altruism and community engagement are core human traits that have propelled us through the ages. Our history books speak of the collective good in times of crisis.
Most of us feel strongly about giving back though it may be hard to figure how best to make an impact. Scrolling through volunteer websites can be overwhelming, especially for those new to volunteering. Below is information to help you take that first step on your volunteer journey.
A Grand Diversity of Opportunity
No matter where you are, I guarantee that there are organizations in need of volunteers. There are probably more organizations in need of help than you could support, even if you committed yourself full-time. I am currently involved with various groups, including a veterans’ support group, a homelessness task force, a young professional’s organization, a gun safety advocacy group, a local senior center, an environmental club, and a political club.
You don’t need to join as many organizations as I have. I recommend choosing two or three things you are passionate about and find ways to make a difference in those areas. Meal delivery to seniors, becoming a big brother or sister at your local Boys and Girls Club, or participation in the beautification and preservation of outdoor and wilderness spaces are just a few examples of volunteering that may pique your interest. The opportunities are endless, even in a world of social distancing.
The Benefits of Giving
For me, two of the most difficult aspects of living in an age of social distancing have been the sense of isolation and the feeling of powerlessness. The work I have done to engage with my community has helped me overcome these emotions.
Few things have been as healing and as heart-warming as volunteering with our local senior center. On weekends, seniors use the center’s large parking lot for their socially distanced outdoor events. They park and sit in their cars and enjoy bingo, live comedy shows, or a drive-in movie. My wife and I have the privilege of greeting each of the seniors, asking about their week, and handing out snacks. Social interaction is irreplaceable.
All the work and volunteerism I have done during the pandemic have helped me feel like I am making a difference. More than that, it makes me feel like I matter and that my life has meaning. I am always uplifted after a few hours at the senior center.
How to Get Involved
There are several ways to find organizations with which to become involved.
First, I recommend subscribing to your local newspaper to read stories about the work that is already being done and perhaps see notices about future events. Many smaller papers post the contact information for their journalists and writers on their websites, which can help track who to contact and ways to get involved.
Second, despite all the ills of social media, it remains a better way to organize. Some quick searches might help you find and join like-minded individuals. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the group administrators or moderators for more information and let them know you’d like to get involved.
Third, talk to people. Ask your friends about the groups in which they participate. Call your local city hall or town council and inquire if you have a specific way you want to get involved. Research and cold call or email organizers about the work they are doing. Most people will be more than happy to speak with you when they find out you’d like to be more involved.
Getting involved and giving back is the only thing that kept me sane through all the pandemic challenges. It has allowed me to have meaningful social interactions and brighten the days of people who need some cheer. It has given me a sense of power over my own life.
Take the first step. I promise you won’t regret it. Help someone else, and in doing so, help yourself!