This week we will feature guest blogger Sawyer Baker, a graduate student at The George Washington University and intern for Pathways to Housing D.C. Sawyer began her education at Iowa State University, earning degrees in Political Science and Sociology.
Whether you are drawn to being a part of a grassroots effort to make direct changes in your community, altruism from public service or getting to know the “movers and shakers” in a community for a potential run for office, I have heard it all when it comes to public service. I have served in local government, worked for multiple non-profits and the government, volunteered for the American Red Cross, helped coordinate multiple community activism events, and used my current networks to connect groups to resources. While that seems a little all over the place, I have observed constants through my public service experience. No matter what shape my community involvement morphs into, there are threads of commonality. It is these transferable skills that illustrate the importance of getting involved in your community.
Awareness: I take comfort in being informed. But, it is more than that. Being aware of the needs and goals of your community really allows you to know the values of your neighbors and surrounding community. For example, when I initially moved to DC I noticed homeless individuals sleeping under the nearby overpass. It wasn’t until I started volunteering my time at a homeless non-profit that became aware of how prevalent homelessness is and the resources and organizations dedicated to ending it. Now, I have had my eyes opened to another dimension of life in my community.
Utilization of skills you are not utilizing in current job: Whether it is a day-to-day job you currently hold or your day-to-day schedule as a student, you probably are not using all the skills or even hobbies you enjoy. Everyone brings something to the table—whether it is volunteering your graphic design skills to draft flyers or helping an organization with their social media awareness, there are always ways to use and develop your skills.
Time management skills: There is a potential for events to be here, there and everywhere! Investing you time at community events or schedule set times for volunteering, speaks volumes of your character. Are you going to spend your time binge-watching Netflix, or helping out at an under-staffed and under-budgeted event for a local community organization while getting to know your neighbors and making a difference?
Creative thinking: Every community organization vies for attention—everyone wants “good turnouts” and adequate volunteers. In order to attract attention, creative thinking is involved. Being a founding member of an organization’s new annual event or being a part of a strategic planning initiative exercises your ability to think creatively. This skill is invaluable to your future careers.
Sense of belonging: I moved to my new neighborhood in Washington, DC five months ago. Having ties to your community and community members really makes a new home and culture a lot more welcoming and provides a sense of belonging. Moreover, being involved allows you to meet people and network. People and networks are also invaluable. The saying, “it’s all about who you know” has so far proven to be true for me and I can attribute the bulk of it to my community involvement.
Communication skills: When volunteering or being involved in your community, you learn how to effectively communicate with all types of people. These are individuals who are not your peers or superiors like students are normally used to. But, it is group work, with mutual responsibilities. A lot of students tend to stray away from group work or feel that they end up ‘doing all the work’ or are ‘out of the loop.’ But I can personally attest that learning to work effectively in a group relies heavily on adequate communication.
My parting words of wisdom are to not get involved in your community and volunteer because it looks good on your resume. Do it because you want to make a difference and build skills. Every little bit does help and never be afraid to ask around and figure out where you can be most helpful in your community.