Volunteering/community service/charity/etc. is one of those things you probably know you should do.
But if you’re like me and are trying to juggle a million things at once, you probably have very little extra time and energy to devote to it. Plus, you may not know where to start.
So instead of doing something, you do nothing. And then you feel bad about it.
My friend, it does not have to be so!
Enter: the Community Cleanup
My professional and educational background (from a just a few years back, cough cough) is primarily in nonprofit and volunteer management. In my experience, one of the easiest and most effective community service projects you can put together is some sort of “cleanup” effort. It can be as simple as picking up trash or as complicated as renovating a building. You can do it with just your family or with a large group.
And there is ALWAYS a need.
“But Gina,” you say to yourself, “is that really making a difference? Shouldn’t I be doing something more powerful like being a foster parent to hundreds of abused children? Or running a food pantry out of my kitchen?”
Well, I say, sure, you could do something like that, and I’m sure it would make a powerful difference. But not everyone has the resources or ability to be a superhero Mother Theresa figure. And guess what – cleanup efforts actually DO make a difference.
Related post: How To Cultivate A Heart Of Compassion In Your Kids
Why a Little Touchup Goes a Long Way
Still not convinced? Consider why community cleanups work:
- They help people take pride in their community. One summer in college when I was working with youth in North Philadelphia, we saw a lot of beautiful murals on the sides of buildings and structures that were created by local artists. Many of us were surprised that there wasn’t a trace of graffiti anywhere on the art. One of our group’s organizers explained that the local residents were proud of the art and what it represented. If anyone defaced it, the whole neighborhood would have reacted.
- “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” (CPTED). I did a painstakingly long and boring project about this concept in grad school. It’s really common sense—if you have an area that is clear of debris and well-lit, would-be criminals will be deterred.
- The “Broken Windows Theory.” Malcolm Gladwell talks about this concept in a really interesting book called The Tipping Point, which is exactly about what I’m discussing: little things making a big difference. The very convincing theory is that crime is contagious. Lots of broken windows lead to even more broken windows. Fixed windows deter further vandalism.
- People will be inspired and grateful. I helped coordinate a couple of community center renovations in some rural Alaskan villages. These community centers were in serious disrepair – as was much of the rest of each village. After some work was completed, the residents—especially the kids who used the centers—were so excited to have a beautiful, safe place to congregate. And because the fixed buildings were such a central part of the community, it really gave the whole villages face-lifts.
How to Start Your Own Cleanup Project
The easiest thing to do is something informal. Whenever I’m with my kids and we see trash, we try to pick it up and throw it away. Of course, you have to be careful for hazardous items like glass or (hopefully not) needles and such. If you’re doing some serious work, bring gloves and wear long pants and good shoes.
Likewise, I’ve found that rounding up a group of kids and going to a public park or green area with a few trash bags is a great project everyone can feel pretty good about but is very easy to put together. It’s also something that your littlest ones can help with! If they get tired, they can just play. Make the teens do the heavy lifting, of course.
If you want to do something more formal and organized, here’s how:
- Get a group together, of any size. If you have a big group, get a rough estimate of how many people you’ll have. Also know how many skilled specialists you’ll have like plumbers, construction workers, electricians, etc.
- Contact pretty much any government or nonprofit organization in your community and ask if it would like any help with cleanup, repairs, painting, yard work or whatever you’re able to do. I guarantee you that almost any organization will have something or at least point you in another direction. Maintenance and upkeep usually falls low on budget priority lists.
- Talk to the organization you’re working with about insurance and liability – just in case anyone gets hurt. YOU don’t want to be personally liable, and neither does the organization. This is important if you’re with a big group – you need insurance. If it’s just you and your trusted buddies, you’ll probably be okay without it.
- Set a date and a time to do the work.
- Contact local stores and ask for donations or discounts if you need any equipment. However, it helps if you actually represent an organized group like a church or a nonprofit and can provide a tax ID number. If you’re not part of an official organization, ask the one that you’re helping to assist you with collecting donations. It also helps if you ask a few months in advance.
- Do the work!
- Take pictures!
- Do it again as needed!
Imagine how different our communities would look if everyone participated in projects like this.
Leave a comment: have you ever tried something like this? What are some simple community service projects you’ve tried?
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