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6 Reasons Community Engagement Matters

6 Reasons Community Engagement Matters

When was the last time you attended an open city council meeting or served on a committee to improve a nearby library or park? Many people take the amenities around them for granted, but they don’t arise by magic. They take the work of dedicated citizens committed to community engagement.

Perhaps you’re one of many who feel isolated and disconnected, especially since the pandemic. Loneliness is a modern epidemic that community engagement addresses, and anyone can participate regardless of their age, income level or living situation. Being a part of something larger than yourself when working collectively towards a better tomorrow heals your mind and soothes your soul.

What can you do? Here are six reasons why community engagement matters and how you can get involved.

What Is Community Engagement?

Community engagement consists of many things. In general, it refers to working collaboratively with groups of people connected by geographic proximity and interests to address issues affecting them and those around them. What are some examples? Consider the following:

  • Coming together to create a community garden.
  • Participating in a tree-planting ceremony.
  • Attending town meetings regarding new proposed construction projects.
  • Designing safe routes for kids to walk to school supervised by area shop owners, WFH parents and other responsible adults like paraprofessionals.

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Creating Conditions That Support Community Engagement

Every neighborhood is slightly different. Let’s address the elephant in the room — those who live in areas with low community engagement can easily fall into a negativity spiral. It’s natural to think, “If no one else cares, why should I,” but that false belief can be the very thing preventing greater involvement.

The reality is a single candle can ignite a blaze. Sometimes, all it takes is one concerned citizen to create a ripple effect — look at what young Greta Thunberg did with a humble protest sign outside of the Swedish parliament. Once others see what’s possible, they join in and contribute. People of all ages can make a difference — community engagement isn’t only for adults.

It isn’t as hard as you may think to muster enthusiasm. Many of the projects your community needs and feel good to create also bring financial rewards. For example, people will pay up to 10% more for a home close to parks and greenbelts, raising everyone’s property value. When neighbors realize the benefits such amenities bring, they pitch in to help through donations and volunteer efforts.

6 Reasons Why Community Engagement Matters

The primary reason community engagement matters is that as independent as people may be, they are also interdependent on those in their community and the wider world at large. Early humans survived by banding together. Good health depends in part on living in a nurturing environment, and many people working in tandem can accomplish far more than a single individual.

Increasing community engagement raises everyone’s spirits and makes them want to do more. Here are six additional reasons to get involved.

1. It Creates Space for a “Village”

Anyone who has been a single parent or marveled at one knows how tough it is for them to meet all their children’s needs. However, raising healthy kids is the only way to create a brighter future, as childhoods marked by neglect and lack result in behavioral issues that cause trouble for the individual and society at large. Hence the saying, “It takes a village” — your community plays a role in rearing the next generation, even if you don’t give birth.

Parents need places where they can connect with others to build the support systems they need to ensure their children grow up safe and healthy. Area parks, libraries and recreation centers provide such spaces while providing valuable community support for those with children. Kids can enroll in sports and clubs while their adult caregivers catch a break. Adults might also use these resources to enhance their skills, learning new computer programs while their child reads.

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2. It Contributes to Physical Fitness

Obesity affects individuals and society. Declining outcomes from carrying excess weight drive up health care costs while increasing suffering, but not everyone can afford to join a gym. Community engagement leads to the creation of parks and green spaces where people can move for free, improving their health and decreasing the need for more drastic interventions.

Additionally, working out in the fresh air provides the following benefits all community members can reap:

 

  • Improved immunity: Going outside more often boosts your immune system, increasing resistance to infectious diseases.
  • Increased calorie burn: Simply walking out the door raises your step count slightly, and the varied stimuli outdoors encourage movement.
  • Work different muscles: No fitness machine can ever offer the infinite variety of surfaces and challenges Mother Nature does.

3. It Supports Positive Mental Health

Have you ever stopped to think that the only thing humans genuinely have to fear these days is — other humans? Collectively, people have devised better ways to deal with the cold, hunger and even natural disasters, but war still occurs and violent people, albeit rare, still walk the streets. When you look at it from that perspective, the importance of nurturing mental health becomes crystal clear.

Community involvement improves mental health outcomes in several ways:

  • Connecting with others combats loneliness and isolation. Seeing things from other people’s perspectives often helps you adjust your worldview.
  • Green and community spaces encourage healthy self-care practices like exercise, studying psychology and mindfulness, and even eating better when community gardens and cooking classes show folks how to prepare healthy meals and explain how doing so affects the psyche.
  • Encouraging everyone to do what they can helps them build agency, the sense that their actions matter and make a meaningful difference.

4. Increases Visibility and Accountability for Collective Problem-Solving

A huge problem stymying progress today is the sky-high level of suspicion many people feel toward others in their communities. Conspiracy theories abound online, and while words may seem harmless, they can erode trust in the very institutions people rely on in daily life.

Here’s the truth: You won’t have the inside scoop unless and until you engage with your community and its leaders. When citizens get involved, it increases transparency — you’re less likely to suspect elected officials of shady practices if you know they have oversight from other good people like you.

That means stepping up to the plate and taking accountability for doing your part. You can’t know everything — no one can — but each extra person involved in group endeavors decreases secrecy or even the illusion of it.

5. Celebrates Diversity

Remember Anthony Bourdain? He dedicated his too-brief life to showing how humans are more alike than different and how celebrating diversity introduces us to fabulous new experiences, from yummy foods to ways of thinking. Community engagement brings together folks from various backgrounds to create a gorgeous whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

In order to appreciate another culture, you need a safe space to experience it. Community engagement makes it possible through parades, heritage celebrations and cultural events that involve the entire neighborhood in an immersive experience.

6. Contributes to Mutual Aid Networks

If a natural disaster struck and you needed to reach out for immediate help, who could you turn to? Fully 57% of Americans say they don’t know their neighbors, which creates vulnerability when tough times strike. Community engagement contributes to the establishment of mutual aid networks where neighbors help neighbors, checking in on each other’s welfare and helping each other meet needs that they can’t fulfill alone.

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4 Ways to Get More Involved

What can people of any age do to foster greater community engagement? Here are four ways to get involved.

1. Find Your Cause

Please don’t think you have to emulate Thunberg’s example and go it alone. If an issue concerns you, chances are others also recognize the problem. Search online for organizations that support the causes you do and join local chapters. You might hear about nationwide events, such as celebrating National Parks Day and find a way to have your local neighborhood participate.

2. Attend Local Meetings

Sign up for community alerts. You can often do so by going to your local city or county government’s website and searching for upcoming public meetings. Many such systems send reminders right to your phone to help you arrive on time. If there’s an issue on the table that you feel strongly about, prepare your statement before attending.

3. Vote

Many local elections turnout fewer than 15% of eligible voters. If you’re among those on the bench, you miss a vital opportunity to use your voice to improve your community. Check your registration often to maintain your eligibility by visiting your Secretary of State’s website and searching for voter registration information and sign up for early/by mail voting when available so you don’t miss your chance.

4. Use Technology

Technology is a useful tool when used correctly. You already know to sign up for community alerts by visiting your county or city website. Additionally, sites like Nextdoor keep neighbors connected and provide places to post about upcoming events you organize or get notified about forthcoming community proposals.

Why Community Engagement Matters

People rely on one another and the systems they create daily. One of the most influential systems you belong to is your local community, and engaging with it helps shape it into the environment you hope to see.

When people come together to create public resources, everyone wins. People working in tandem can build far more than anyone acting alone, but a single spark can start a ripple effect of goodness. Consider the ways you can contribute to community engagement where you live and be the change you hope to see.

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