Monday, November 14, 2011

Advocacy, Grassroots and Community Leadership!

By Tanaya Gable

Ever wanted to strike change in your community but felt clueless on how to jump start your idea?You’re not alone. In Prince George’s County, there are many people just like you who have visions for evolution. Did you know that more than half of all community-based organizations in our county start from the ideas of regular citizens like you; parents, educators and in some instances, young people who could no longer sit idly, quiet and unfulfilled?

In Reach strives to help not only young people, but all members of the community to realize the extent of their potential to make change. Here are a few proven points that can guide you in becoming a part of the moving train that is advocacy, grassroots and community leadership.

Discuss them in your workplace, with your family and with your friends. No one has a reason to remain inactive. Change in our community starts with a change in us. Let’s spark that change now!

1. Research the causes and issues important to you. Look for a group centered on issues you feel strongly about. You might already be giving money to one of these organizations, and that might be a good place to begin your volunteer experience. If you can't find such an organization, here's a challenging and intriguing thought: why not start one yourself? Rally neighbors to clean up that vacant lot on the corner. Patrol the neighborhood. Paint an elderly neighbor's house. Take turns keeping an eye on the ailing person down the street. Form a group to advocate for a solution to that dangerous intersection in your neighborhood. There is no end to the creative avenues for volunteering, just as there is no end to the need for volunteers.

2. Consider the skills you have to offer. If you enjoy outdoor work, have a knack for teaching, or just enjoy interacting with people you may want to look for volunteer work that incorporates these aspects of your personality. Many positions require a volunteer who has previous familiarity with certain equipment such as computers, or who possess certain skills, such as ability in athletics or communications. For one of those positions, you might decide to do something comparable to what you do on the job during your workday, or something that you already enjoy as a hobby. This sort of position allows you to jump right into the work without having to train for the assignment.

3. Try something new. Perhaps you would like to learn a new skill or gain exposure to a new situation. Consider seeking a volunteer opportunity where you'll learn something new. For example, volunteering to work on the newsletter for the local shelter will improve your writing and editing abilities, skills that may help you in your career or volunteering can simply offer a change from your daily routine. For example, if your full-time job is in an office, you may decide to take on a more active volunteer assignment, such as leading tours at an art museum or building a playground. Many non-profits seek out people who are willing to learn. Realize beforehand; however, that such work might require a time commitment for training before the actual volunteer assignment begins.

4. Combine your goals. Look for volunteer opportunities that will also help you achieve your other goals. For example, if you want to lose a few extra pounds, pick an active volunteer opportunity such as cleaning a park or working with kids. If you've been meaning to take a cooking class, try volunteering at a food bank that teaches cooking skills.

5. Don't over-commit your schedule. Make sure the volunteer hours you want to give fit into your hectic life, so you don't exhaust yourself, frustrate your family, disappoint the organization you're trying to help, or neglect your job. Do you want a long-term assignment or something temporary? If you are unsure about your availability, or want to see how the work suits you before making an extensive commitment, find out whether the organization will allow you to start volunteering a limited number of hours until you get the feel of things. Better to start out slowly than to commit yourself to a schedule you can't or don't want to fulfill.

6. Non-profits may have questions too. While most non-profits are eager to find volunteer help, they have to be careful when accepting the services you offer. If you contact an organization with an offer to volunteer your time, you may be asked to come in for an interview, fill out a volunteer application, or describe your qualifications and background just as you would at an interview for a paying job. It is in the organization's best interest and more beneficial to the people it serves to make certain you have the skills needed, that you are truly committed to doing the work, and that your interests match those of the non-profit. Furthermore, in volunteer work involving children or other at-risk populations, there are legal ramifications for the organization to consider.

7. Consider volunteering as a family. Think about looking for a volunteer opportunity suitable for parents and children to do together, or for a husband and wife to take on as a team. When a family volunteers together at a non-profit organization, the experience can bring them closer, and teach young children the value of giving their time and effort. It can also introduce everyone in the family to skills and experiences never before encountered, and give the entire family a shared experience as a wonderful family memory.

8. Virtual volunteering? Yes, there is such a thing! If you have computer access and the necessary skills, some organizations now offer the opportunity to do volunteer work over the computer. This might take the form of giving free legal advice, typing a college term paper for a person with a disability, or simply keeping in contact with a shut-in who has e-mail. This sort of volunteering might be well suited to you if you have limited time, no transportation, or a physical disability that precludes you from getting about freely. Virtual volunteering can also be a way for you to give time if you simply enjoy computers and want to employ your computer skills in your volunteer work.

9. I never thought of that! Many community groups are looking for volunteers, and some may not have occurred to you. Most of us know that hospitals, libraries, and churches use volunteers for a great deal of their work, but here are some additional organizations you may volunteer with:
  • Day Care Centers, Neighborhood Watch, Public Schools and Colleges
  • Halfway Houses, Community Theaters, Drug Rehabilitation Centers
  • Fraternal Organizations and Civic Clubs
  • Retirement Centers and Homes for the Elderly, Meals on Wheels, Church or Community-Sponsored Soup Kitchens or Food Pantries
  • Museums, Art Galleries, and Monuments
  • Community Choirs, Bands, and Orchestras
  • Prisons, Neighborhood Parks, Youth Organizations, Sports Teams, and after-school programs, Shelters for Battered Women and Children
  • Historical Restorations, Battlefields, and National Parks
10. Give voice to your heart through volunteering! Bring your heart and your sense of humor to your volunteer service, along with your enthusiastic spirit, which in itself is a priceless gift. What you'll get back will be immeasurable!

Find information on local volunteer opportunities by visiting