While voluntourism is still a huge trend, what about doing the opposite, focusing your time, effort, and funds in your own local community? While there’s a lot to be gained by traveling far to make a contribution, community-driven projects are a great way for residents to take on the challenges facing their own neighborhood and many communities stand to benefit from this do-it-yourself approach to solving local problems.
Getting involved is easier than ever. If you want to find local community projects in your own neighborhood, check out resources such as VolunteerMatch, Idealist, or Create the Good. Just type in your zip code and find an opportunity that resonates with you. Be forewarned: there are a lot of projects out there! And if you have a unique idea you’d like to get off the ground, look into funding for community projects through grants or an incubator / angel investor organization.
To spark your interest in involvement, here are seven creative projects to help your community. Whether you’re a crafter, a number-cruncher, or the hands-on type, there is a project suited to your strengths – as well as your community’s needs. Pick a project and start helping your neighbors today*
Project: The EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed program encourages people to care for their local watershed. You can volunteer to monitor water quality, mark storm drains, and organize a local beach or river cleanup campaign. Join an active group in your area (or start a new one) to get involved and help your community maintain access to fresh water.
Great For: Outdoorsy Types, Backyard Scientists, Conservationists
Make Blankets for Deserving Children
Project:Project Linus is a nonprofit that helps provide homemade blankets to deserving children. The organization accepts blankets that are hand-knit or made from home sewing machines, and then donate them to needy children in a local hospital or shelter. This personal touch helps comfort children who need it most. Interested? find a local chapter and become a “blanketeer.”
Great For: Crafty Types, DIYers, Knitting Enthusiasts
Build a Playground
Project:Kaboom! is an organization that emphasizes the importance of play in the lives of children everywhere. Their “Build a Playground” toolkit will walk volunteers through every step of creating a new play area for your community’s children. Bonus: they address accessibility, green building, and safety issues. Volunteers can help with anything from fundraising to construction, so everyone can pitch in with this project.
Great For: Hands-on Types, Kids-at-Heart, Builders
Invest in Local Infrastructure
Project: Invest in municipal bonds with Neighborly to help fund projects in your local community. The bonds may help support your local school systems, infrastructure, and even water facilities. If you’re already interested in investing, or just want another avenue to help your neighborhood in a real way, muni bond investments are a great way to do just that. Opening an account with Neighborly is as easy as opening a savings account.
Great For: Busy Professionals, Savvy Investors, Caring Millennials
Be a Tax Guru For Hire
Project: Are you good with tax returns? The Tax-Aide Program has been in place since 1968, and its tax volunteers have helped approximately 50 million low- to moderate- income individuals get their taxes together before April 15. Helping others navigate the tax code and potentially save money can make for doubly rewarding work. In fact, Americans spend an average of 13 hours preparing and filling out tax returns, so pitching in to ease this burden is a great way to help out your neighbors. So if you’re good with numbers, consider helping deserving individuals file their taxes correctly and achieve financial peace of mind.
Great For: Math Wizards, Problem Solvers, Friendly Folk
Host a Canned Food Drive
Project:Move for Hunger is a nonprofit that collects food items from relocation companies and delivers it to food banks all over the United States. Given this expertise, they have some great tips for hosting a canned food drive where all of the donated goods go to deserving people in your own community. Because an estimated 1 out of every 6 Americans faces hunger, you can make a real difference in people’s lives. If you have access to a large workplace, school, or social organization, it’s easy to collect a lot of cans in no time, and this could mean big help for your local food bank or shelter.
Great For: Foodies, Event Planners, Social Media Mavens
Help Your Community’s Animals
Project: If you’ve ever cared for a pet, you’ll know you need a lot of supplies. Animal shelters get through food, towels, toys, and cleaning supplies fast and they often run out. That’s where you can help: the ASPCA has great tips to help provide food and supplies for your local animal shelter. Also on the animal front, you may want to donate Kuranda beds to your shelter, which help the animals stay comfortable while they wait to be adopted.
Great For: Dog Lovers, Cat People, Animal Advocates
So, from water drains to dog food, there are tons of ways to contribute to your community. What kind of community projects have you been involved in? Leave your stories and suggestions in the comments.