Before you head straight to the comment box, let me clarify…
Service is imperative for our culture to grow and thrive. When a kid participates in a canned food drive or outdoor cleanup day, they learn at a young age, that with their own two, small hands – they can create change in the world.
This lesson and feeling of accomplishment is what encourages them to do another project, and another, until they are a responsible, service-minded adult citizen.
But hear me out: aren’t the projects usually a bandage on whatever the real issue is?
Community service projects are great, short-term activities, but does anyone stop to ask why the canned food drive has to happen in the first place?
Is it because an overcrowded homeless shelter can’t feed all its guests? Why are there so many homeless people? What is it about that particular community that propagates homelessness?
Sure, everyone loves the feeling a good closet cleanout and donation day brings, but it’s considerably less satisfying to try and figure out how to address the rampant consumerism that causes us to have too much stuff in the first place.
This goes along with a recent discovery of discarded dental floss picks while on a walk. The person obviously had the wherewithal to understand the importance of flossing, but not to see why throwing said used floss pick out the car window is basically a step backwards.
It’s like when a baby throws a toy on the floor and you pick it up for them. It becomes a game, right? They throw it down again – ha ha – and you pick it up. Repeat indefinitely.
Eventually it’s gets annoying, so you leave the toy on the floor, because picking it up a thousand times is what? Not sustainable. The kid has to learn that you won’t pick it up every time they laugh and throw it down.
So what I’m really asking is when do we stop just holding Floss Pick Cleanup Days and start exposing the gaps in environmental awareness?
Where does service stop and action begin?
Oh, right. Taking action to create sustainable change is reserved for a pretty small group of people, LIKE
- That kid who uses their prodigy in music/art/sports/underwater basket-weaving for a good cause
- The high schooler whose life was directly affected by a natural disaster or terrible illness.
- The college students who are, like, SUPER passionate about saving the manatees.
- The twentysomething who has no kids, and therefore, a ton of time on her hands.
- The adult with tons of degrees and wisdom who is a natural leader and organizer.
Deep, transformational, sustainable, measurable change starts with YOU.
You as a human have the power to stare down the list of issues in the world and TAKE ACTION. Seriously, pick one. Don’t wait for someone else to do it first. No one is ever too young, old, busy, rich, poor, educated or non-educated to take action on something they believe in. If you have a pulse and a brain (and you do, because you’re reading this) then you can step up.
Glad you asked!
If an issue doesn’t’ immediately pop into your head, look at any news source for ideas: human rights, poverty, health and safety, animals, education, the environment, peace…the list goes on.
How are these things playing out (or not) in your community? How do they affect you? What do you think it will take to address these issues? What’s already being done, and what groups are involved? What can you add to their efforts?
Pro Tip: When deciding which issue to tackle, take some time to reflect:
- What inspires you? Is it something in your school, community, country, or the world?
- What motivates you into action? Is it people, events, activities, places?
- What skills, talents, and strengths to you have to offer?
- How do you want to make a difference? As an advocate, promoter, trainer, mentor, entrepreneur, organizer, or in another worthy role?
- What would benefit the community both immediately and long term?
One thing to realize is that, as you are researching issues, you may learn information that challenges your own and others’ beliefs and opinions. It takes courage to face these realizations!
Make a Plan and Build Your Team
Example: Your issue is that your community park and greenway is constantly covered with litter. Plastic bags blow into people’s faces while they’re running, cans and wrappers are all over the ground, there’s um, dog bags strewn everywhere – it’s just a mess! It affects all the people who use the park and greenway, because it’s a huge eyesore. The park could get used less and less, which would prevent any new parks from being created, since the community doesn’t utilize and take care of the ones they already have.
UGH. Why is this happening?! Look around. Are there enough trash cans? Are there instructions posted to clean up after dogs? Is recycling an option? There’s one trash can, but it’s at the beginning of the two-mile greenway? These are the root causes of the trashy greenway, and they all have to do with a lack of awareness and resources.
This park cleanup community service project just expanded in a big way! There are calls to be made to procure more trash bins, and signs to be posted, and recycling education to be done! THIS is action!
Let’s pause for a moment and recognize that sure, Superman technically worked alone, but most super do-gooders don’t. You WILL need a team of people to help you make phone calls and round up supplies or post flyers and hold forums. It could include friends, family, teachers, classmates, community leaders, mentors, the media, etc. Working with a group will help you make a bigger impact for the issue!
When you’re choosing your team, you should seek out and recognize the value of the skills and strengths of others. As you work together, create a culture of respect. You’ll need to respect different points of view and ways of working. Once the team is formed, it’s time to…
Get excited! This is where the change happens! It’s time to take the lead on the project you’ve been organizing and planning – YAY. Don’t forget to speak out about your awesome project, and advocate for your team’s work!
You’ll have setbacks for sure – phone calls not being returned, weather issues, budget constraints, general tiredness – but this is your moment. This is the moment to run straight into the uncertainty and LOOK for challenges.
This is when you learn new ways to solve problems, and get all that good knowledge and wisdom that only comes from sticking with something truly hard.
Bask in the feeling of creating sustainable change, because you’re doing something that a lot of people choose not to (see floss pick rant above). Realize that even if no one ever learns that you were behind the project – this is a new kind of achievement called servant leadership. You shared the power with your team and put someone else’s needs before your own.
So whether you are collecting cans for a local food bank, or working with a shelter to equip homeless men and women with job skills, hear this:
KEEP DOING IT. Don’t overthink it and wait too long. Take action now.
As American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.