All of this sounds great, but where can one get started with volunteering their time and in turn receiving the benefits that come along with community engagement? Here's the beautiful thing (and another slightly cliché saying)--"if you build it, they will come." That is, if you build a tool that helps people come together and help one another, folks will come out of the woodwork...
Take a look at "time banking." Time banking is the practice of doing helpful things for someone using your talents, expertise or just time. In return, you get to log these hours as a type of "time currency." Then, the next time you need help with a project, turn to a fellow time banker and spend your equity! While on its base level this is a great way to barter time for one's needs instead of paying for the service, Time Banks USA enunciates that it is about more than just the exchange of services they promote five core values:
Time banking, with active groups in 22 countries and six continents is a well-organized way for folks to get involved with helping one another while receiving both personal satisfaction and tangible rewards for doing so. Watch this video of the Lathrup Village Time Bank, which won the 2009 District 1 Michigan Municipal League's "Community Spirit" award:
- Assets: We are all assets. Every human being has something to contribute.
- Redefining Work: Some work is beyond price. Work has to be redefined to value whatever it takes to raise healthy children, build strong families, revitalize neighborhoods, make democracy work, advance social justice, make the planet sustainable. That kind of work needs to be honored, recorded and rewarded.
- Reciprocity: Helping works better as a two-way street. The question: “How can I help you?” needs to change so we ask: “How can we help each other build the world we both will live in?”
- Social Networks: We need each other. Networks are stronger than individuals. People helping each other reweave communities of support, strength & trust. Community is built upon sinking roots, building trust, creating networks. Special relationships are built on commitment.
- Respect: Every human being matters. Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. When respect is denied to anyone, we all are injured. We must respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be at some future point.
There are also other, longstanding ways of giving your time and energy--neighborhood or advocacy groups and community centers focused on improving communities and their inhabitants. A great model for this is the Westcott Community Center in Syracuse, New York. Their mission is:
- to provide a safe, accessible community space for activities and programs that meet community needs
- to strengthen and unite the community by bringing together its diverse elements
- to raise consciousness through public education, art, music, culture, craft, communication, civic discourse and debate
- to advance the full inclusion of all persons in the community.