What does the word “community” mean to you? For some, community means the four-block radius surrounding their homes. For others, community means their entire neighborhood, city, or town. Regardless of how you define your community, you should know that you can play an active role in building it and helping it grow.
But how? There are countless opportunities to get started, and here’s the best part: You don’t need to be rich, or powerful, or of a certain age to make a real impact. The way to really make a difference over time is a series of small steps. Here are some great ways to get started.
One of the best things you can give your community is your time. It’s more valuable than you think! We all work hard and lead busy lives, so it may be easier said than done, but if you’re willing to carve out a few hours each week to helping the community, you’ll wind up making a big impact.
Start searching, and you’ll probably find that your community offers countless volunteer opportunities. Some might require an ongoing commitment, whereas others will be one-off projects or events. Here are a few things you could consider doing:
- Join a Big Brother or Big Sister program
- Tutor underprivileged students to help them get ahead at school
- Sign up to deliver hot meals to the elderly or sick
- Give people a voice by registering them to vote, or volunteer to drive those with limited mobility to the polls come election time
- Help serve food at a homeless shelter
- Participate in school cleanup projects
If you’re the shy type and are less comfortable being in front of lots of new people, you can also volunteer behind the scenes. Hook up with a local charity and write its newsletter. Develop programming for your nearby community center. Offer up some sort of valuable service, and you won’t be turned down.
Start Your Own Project or Fundraiser
Small projects are definitely the best place to start, because they help you learn about what needs exist in your community, and which ones aren’t being met. If you feel like you know your community and you have discovered a need that isn’t being met, here’s a thought: Why not be an ambassador for your own cause? If there’s something you’re passionate about, don’t wait around for someone else to start taking action. One of the best ways to help your community is to be the person who gets projects or fundraisers off the ground. You might, for instance:
- Get a group of friends together to clean up a local park
- Reach out to local schools, find out what supplies they’re missing, and organize a drive to collect them
- Throw a bake sale, charity auction, or concert to raise money for a nearby animal shelter
Being proactive is one of the best ways you can help your community. With any luck, others will learn from you and start to follow your lead.
Support Local Enterprises
Another great way to help your community is to make sure local businesses are able to thrive. We’ve all heard stories about mom and pop stores closing down in neighborhoods all over the country. Don’t let that happen in your community. Instead:
- Buy your new books from the local bookstore, even if they’re $1 cheaper online.
- Visit new restaurants that open up locally, and help them grow their customer base by writing positive reviews.
- Purchase your medications from the neighborhood independent pharmacy—the one with the friendly people behind the counter who will actually remember your name.
Small businesses are good for your community, but they need support to keep running. If you get word that a particular shop or eatery is struggling, make a point of giving it your business. Long-term vacant storefronts aren’t good for anyone.
Invest in Municipal Bonds
One of the best things you can do for your community is to support it financially. But we get it: your funds may be limited, and you can only give so much to charity. That’s why municipal bonds are a great compromise.
When you invest in municipal bonds, you’re helping communities finance the projects they need to run smoothly and offer the best quality of life to residents. The great thing about municipal bonds is that you can pick the projects that are most important to you and purchase bonds whose proceeds will be used to fund them. Municipal bonds are commonly issued to finance things such as:
- Improvements to public high schools
- Roadway repairs and expansions
- Building new hospitals and updating existing ones
- Upgrades to water and energy systems
When you buy a municipal bond, you’re essentially lending money to your community to get an important project funded. In exchange you can typically expect to receive interest payments twice a year (the interest rate will be disclosed in advance) plus the bond face value when the bond you purchased comes due, or ‘matures’. You can learn the basics of municipal bond investing here.
Like any investment, municipal bonds carry the risk that you may not receive the returns you were promised, but munis have historically low default rates relative to other investments. In fact, over the past 200+ years since the first municipal bond was issued, only a small handful of municipalities have failed to repay bondholders as expected. Plus, you can protect yourself by buying bonds from issuers with higher credit ratings, which are statistically less likely to default.
The kicker with investing in munis – and which sets them apart from most other kinds of investments – is that in most cases the interest you earn from municipal bonds is exempt from federal taxes, and depending on where you live and the type of bond, the interest may be exempt from state and local taxes as well. If you’re going to invest some of your money, why not put it toward projects that can truly shape your community for the better?
Want to invest in municipal bonds? Sign up for Neighborly today.
Do a Whole Bunch of Little Things That Count
Still not sure where to start? Helping your community doesn’t have to entail a grand gesture. There are plenty of small steps you can take to make a difference in the lives of those around you:
- Don’t pass by that homeless person on the corner – offer them a warm cup of soup.
- Commit to keeping your local streets clean – keep that used candy wrapper in your pocket if you can’t find a trash can.
- Be that person who lets a frazzled mom holding a child ahead of you on the checkout line at the grocery store.
Remember, if you’re committed to helping the community you live in, the most important thing to do is to take action. Decide that you’re tired of sitting around wondering how to help your community and instead choose an action item, even if just one, and move on it immediately. Whether you invest money, energy, or time in the place you call home, the sooner you get involved, the better you’ll feel about your community and the brighter its prospects will look.
Have you been involved in community projects you’re proud of? Share your stories in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.