Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Regional Specialized Agent, Urban Environmental Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension
When the New Year began, many of us resolved to do something new or different or resolved to ignore resolutions and just take it one day at a time. Whichever path you chose, civic engagement can help you maintain that commitment. Simply defined, civic engagement is the opportunity for individuals or groups to address issues of public concern in the communities where they live.
Civic engagement plays an important role in achieving the vision of sustainability and allows individuals and groups to serve the communities where they live and to become connected with the people who live in that community. Opportunities for civic engagement vary in magnitude and scale and include simple volunteer efforts in your neighborhood, working with nonprofit groups, or working at a community, regional or international scale through well established entities. Building sustainable communities relies on citizen participation and recognizes the value of social interactions to build and strengthen our communities.
So how you can get involved and what are the benefits of civic engagement? Getting involved is easy – join the neighborhood association or the PTO at your child’s school, get involved with your church, volunteer in your community or county, or donate your time to a local nonprofit group. These groups will allow you to connect with other individuals who also want to serve and contribute to community development. Maybe you have an ill neighbor that you can support or a special skill that can be used by a volunteer group. Even if you think you don’t have special skills, many groups provide training that allow you to become involved or they may assign you a job that does not require a specialized skill set. Either way, you’re still able to contribute to your community.
What are the benefits? Civic involvement allows you to identify areas of need in your community and it gives you an opportunity to voice your concerns about actions and decisions that affect your community. An informed and involved citizen can work to make a difference in their community in areas of safety (sidewalks, speed bumps, neighborhood watch), service (street clean-up projects, helping aging neighbors with yard or house maintenance projects) and going green (carpooling, recycling, repurposing). All of these opportunities can lead to greater neighborhood character and stability which will create strong, sustainable communities. Best of all, the biggest benefit you’ll receive is that you had the experience of a lifetime working with individuals of diverse backgrounds and receiving the “thanks” of individuals who couldn’t have done it without your help!
Through the University of Florida’s Extension Service, there are many opportunities for you to become involved either through training or volunteering. The Extension Service offers Master Gardener, Master Money Mentor and Sustainable Floridian training as well as 4H family and youth opportunities.
In 2011, get out there, make a difference, and reap the benefits of a stronger, more connected community!