I realized when thinking about this post that I literally have not posted anything to this blog in over a year. No matter! The life update will come at another time. Today, we are discussing how to get involved in your community: politically or otherwise. Since I last posted at the end of 2016, the world has a little bit fallen apart and I have worked very hard to stay involved. There are a lot of stressful things in the news and it’s important to take care of yourself, but also make sure your voice is heard, if you’re up for it.
Just FYI, this post is going to be a long one, but I’ll put the important things in bold.
Find Events Near You
Events in your area are a great way to dip your toe into community involvement. Loads of community groups will be there trying to recruit people, so you can scope things out and you can get out into the world and generally support local business while you’re at it. There are always lots of local events going on nearby, especially as summer approaches. The goal is to find events that you are interested in. For me this includes art festivals, LGBTQIA+ pride festivals, book festivals, etc. However, events can range from small scale coding meet-ups to huge comic book conventions.
An easy way to find events of a certain nature near you is just to search the internet using the phrase “[event type] in [my city].” This should pull up tons and tons of options. Try not to get overwhelmed.
Find Free Volunteer Groups Near You
Volunteering is a great way to visibly give back to your community. There are tons of different causes to volunteer for and groups to volunteer with. So far I have volunteered with the Atlanta Community Food Bank and I’m also working to become a registered volunteer with Trees Atlanta. I also am part of a volunteer jazz band which is part of Atlanta Freedom Bands (AFB). AFB is a different type of being involved, but it still gets me out into the community and I get to play jazz music with a bunch of other awesome queer and LGTBQIA+ folks. I also participate occasionally in Code for Atlanta’s Civic Hackathons. Just a few weeks ago, I participated in their Green Space Hackathon.
Volunteering is the most direct way to help out in your community, but, for me, it is also the one that can require the most energy. Besides going to band practice each week, it is really difficult for me to get out and actually go to volunteering events. Whenever I do manage to attend though, like the green space civic hackathon, I find them infinitely rewarding.
Ask Your Coworkers and Friends How They Get Involved
Whether you are completely new to an area or have been there for a while, you will likely always have a friend or coworker whose brain you can pick for ideas on where to get involved. Asking for ideas from real people is just like asking the internet, but often faster. One of my coworkers volunteers with kids on the weekends and my company recently has started an internal volunteering initiative to get the company as a whole more civic minded. As for asking friends, this post is directly inspired by my friend / coworker Hillary (pictured above) commenting on how involved I am in the community after I told her about the Hackathon. I want others to be able to use and share this blog post as an easy and more low-key way of “asking a friend” about how to get involved.
Fight the Shyness
I am an extrovert, but it can still be difficult and mentally taxing for me to meet new people and go out into the world trying to make a difference. It is a constant battle to overcome my want to not meet anyone new with my more rational want to meet new people and get involved. It’s hard and sometimes I don’t go to events that I probably should have. In those cases, I try really hard to be kind to myself for missing them and honest about why I bailed. Full disclosure, fighting shyness is really, really hard to do. I have found that fighting the shyness gets easier over time. The more events I go to, the more comfortable I get and the more likely I am to try a new event or meet new people. It also helps when I tell my friends about the event and they can go with me for support. Sometimes I need them to help drag me there because once I get there, it’s much easier.
The key is remembering that not going to the events because they are scary will generally just make the next one more scary while also balancing the need to take care of yourself. It’s challenging and I definitely am nowhere close to mastery of this.
TL;DR Go to events in the fields you are interested in and talk to people about how you can give back to your community
I know this was a long one, but I hope you enjoyed it. Now get out there and let me know on twitter or in the comments if you have any questions, commentary, or community involvement stories of your own to share.
P.S. If you want to get involved this weekend, there are hundreds of #MarchForOurLives marches across the country. I’m not hugely in favor of government regulation, but I am in favor of protecting kids and stopping school shootings. I will definitely be attending the Atlanta march.