How to Get Involved in Your Community
Three Parts:Knowing Your NeighborsVolunteering Your TimeBecoming Politically ActiveCommunity Q&A
Being part of a community is a powerful experience. Communities give us a home, friendship, warmth, and a sense of belonging. How can you really be a part of a local community? There are many ways. Know your neighbors, give your time, and get active in political activities to maximize your own involvement.
Knowing Your Neighbors
1Introduce yourself. If you’re new to a community, take the time to call on nearby houses to introduce yourself. Tell your new neighbors what led you to the area, where you live, and say a little about your life.
- Walk up to the door and knock or ring the bell.
- If or when someone answers, smile, greet them, and say you’re new to the community.
- Say something like, “Hi, my name is Mabel. I just moved in across the street to start a new job in the area and wanted to introduce myself.”
- If the neighbor seems friendly, try to engage in a bit of small talk. “How long have you lived on this street? What’s the community like? Is it close-knit?”
- On the other hand, go out of your way to meet and greet new members of the community. Take a welcome basket to them and introduce yourself.
2Smile and say hello. At first, this may seem strange. You might be from a big city or other place where people don’t interact on the sidewalk. However, there are lots of places where it’s polite or even expected to acknowledge, smile, and say hello to others in public. Do this enough in your neighborhood and chances are you’ll start to recognize others, and be recognized.
- Make eye contact when you pass someone on the sidewalk. A visual acknowledgement goes a long way.
- If the other person returns your eye contact, smile or nod your head. You can also add a greeting, like “Hello,” “Good afternoon,” or “How are you?” “Nice weather today” is another good one.
- Keep in mind that this is really only for one-on-one situations, like when you pass one or two people on the sidewalk or walk past a neighbor’s yard. It doesn’t work well on busy streets.
3Start a neighborhood watch. Neighborhood watches are groups that work together to prevent crime in local communities. The purpose is a serious undertaking and takes lots of cooperation and planning. It’s a great venue to get to know your neighbors better.
- First of all, try to recruit interested neighbors to form a planning committee.
- Advertise and hold an initial meeting to canvass your other neighbors’ interest. You should also contact your local police department or sheriff’s office and invite a representative to attend.
- Establish the aim of the program. For instance, determine what sort of concerns your community has on crime. Ideally, the watch will look out for each other’s families and property and contact police in case of any suspicious activity.
- If the response is positive, elect block captains who can mediate between the community and police. Work with local authorities so that members get proper training on home security, crime prevention, and crime reporting. Post signs around the area and establish a means of communication, like a phone tree or a regular newsletter.
4Organize a garage sale or block party. The key thing in getting to know your neighbors is to communicate with them. Try holding a big sale or block party, for example, or anything that will lead to interaction, socialization, and cooperation.
- Try a block-wide garage sale. Canvas the community to see who might be interested in contributing items or volunteering to work the sale. Make sure to advertise!
- Or, ask around to see whether your neighbors would like to hold a block party. Block parties are great for socializing and don’t require that much work. You can make it a potluck or BYOF affair.
- If you’re ambitious, ask the local police about temporarily closing your street for the sale or party. That way, you’ll have much more room to mingle and chat.
Volunteering Your Time
1Try a volunteer clearinghouse. Get in touch with a volunteer clearinghouse like volunteer.gov or the Army Corps of Engineers Clearinghouse to get out and volunteer in the community. These organizations match people with volunteer jobs, after first taking stock of their skills and preferences.
- Usually, a service like this will interview you. Be prepared to answer questions like, “What are your interests?” “What are your skills,” and “Why do you want to volunteer?”
- Oftentimes, you’ll have a second interview once you are matched with a specific job.
- You may also have to undergo a background and criminal record check.
2Contact your local school. Community schools are a great place to be involved. You can work with neighborhood children, interact with families from the area, and know that you’re making a difference by contributing to kids’ education. 
- Call the school first and ask about possible volunteer opportunities. You might get to work as a recess monitor, shelve books in the school library, or help organize fundraisers.
- Be aware that to work at a school you’ll have to have an extensive criminal background check. Often, this involves being fingerprinted.
- Keep in mind that in some places convicted felons – no matter the crime – are not allowed to work in schools.
- If you have children in school, you might also consider joining the PTA or the local school board. Go to meetings, voice your opinion, and volunteer for activities, committees, and functions.
3Ask at soup kitchens, food banks, and charities. Many communities have charities that serve the poor or underprivileged, especially in big cities. Soup kitchens but also food banks, shelters, and clothing banks are non-profit organizations that rely on volunteers. Usually, they’re glad for help.
- If you’re a people person, see whether you can do something that involves interaction. This might be working the soup line, making food deliveries, or working as a cashier at a charity thrift store.
- Introverts can help, too. You might contribute by stocking the food bank shelves or putting together orders, for example.
4Try churches, synagogues, or other places of worship. Many religious organizations also do charity work. If you feel comfortable, think of looking up a churches, synagogues, temples, or mosques to find opportunities to be involved in the community.
- Religious organizations might do things like house temporary shelters for homeless families, such as Interfaith Hospitality Network.
- They also might run food and clothing banks, soup kitchens, or clothing drives.
- Many religious organizations also organize mission activities to volunteer in under-served communities abroad. Enroll in one of these trips, if you have the inclination.
- Keep in mind that while many of these charities are openly religious, some do not allow evangelizing.
Becoming Politically Active
1Join your neighborhood council or school board. Does your city have councils and school boards? Some do, and joining is a great way to get politically active in your local community. Neighborhood councils usually meet regularly and may get funds for things like crime prevention, roads, streets, sidewalks, and the creation of safe play spaces. School boards manage the local school system.
- Talk to people in your area to see if you are served by a neighborhood council. If you don’t know, call the city offices and ask about such bodies, how they operate, and how you can join one.
- Consider putting your name up for a school board position. Often representatives are chosen in local elections for a number of years.
2Start a petition. Another way to get politically active in your community is to petition the government. Start a petition drive on an issue that speaks to you. Do you think that the community needs a park? Maybe you are sick of dangerous speeding on your street and want speed bumps installed? Petitions are a way to bring your concerns forward.
- Pick an issue that you care about. Then, start putting together a formal petition. Usually, a petition will start with words like, “We the undersigned…” You can find many templates online.
- For example, a petition on speed bumps could start, “We the undersigned are very concerned with unregulated speeding on X Avenue and advocate speed-bumps to protect pedestrians.”
- Take your petition around the neighborhood and knock on doors to collect signatures. Even if some neighbors don’t sign, you will have the chance to inform them on the issue.
- If your issue is of wider importance, you can also put the petition online on a site like Change.org and reach a larger, regional audience.
3Speak out in the community. There are other ways you can advocate on issues in your community besides petitions. Do you have a special interest in a topic like traffic control, community schools, or parks? Think about writing an opinion-editorial piece for a local website or newspaper, or even giving a talk at a community meeting.
- Take your issue to the local paper. Call the editorial office and say that you would be interested in writing a short op-ed piece on X issue, which is important to the community.
- Do you have expert knowledge on a community topic? You might be able to get an audience to listen. Ask to speak at a city council meeting, at the school board, the PTA, or at a community center.
4Stand for local election. Some people who get politically active in the community take the next step: they make involvement a part-time or full-time career and stand for local office. You could run for positions like school board representative, city council member, roads commissioner, or perhaps even mayor. To get these jobs, you’ll usually have to run in an election and win.
- Pick a job that you find important. If education is your passion, start with the school board. If you are sick and tired of poor roads, perhaps the roads commission is for you.
- Prepare yourself. Standing for election requires a lot of work, so read up on the requirements. You will probably have to file an affidavit of candidacy by a specific date to run, and there may be filing fees and other paper work.
- Run a campaign. Local elections are generally small affairs. You likely won’t have a “campaign team,” but still consider doing some publicity. Canvass door-to-door to get your name out, invest in yard signs, or try, again, to write an op-ed in the local paper.