Most of us love our community and want the best for it. It’s our home. It’s where we live, work, learn, play, and raise our families. And yet, it’s easy to go about our daily lives without ever stopping to think, What can I do to make my community better?
I get it. We are all busy. And it’s easy to assume that someone else will do what needs doing. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my work with communities across the U.S., it’s this: We are all owners. We don’t need an official title. We don’t have to be assigned a task. We don’t have to be wealthy. We all have gifts to share and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others.
My dream is that, in honor of Valentine’s Day, every citizen would do just one small thing to make their community better. We all know that random acts of kindness have positive ripple effects that reach far and wide, often unexpectedly so. Could you imagine the amazing results if everyone took part in a mass outpouring of love and positivity?
I’m not talking about big, complicated improvements. If you’re a homeowner, you know something as simple as a fresh coat of paint can be a “quick fix” that makes a huge difference in how a room looks (and how you feel living in it). The same is true of a community.
You might start by taking a slow drive around your city. What do you see that needs to be repaired or replaced? Is there a field that needs to be mowed? Does a city park need some shade trees? Do flowers need to be planted? Is there an empty lot that needs trash hauled away, or a dangerous road in need of a crosswalk?
Next, consider what resources you have at your disposal. Maybe you, personally, have the skills or the funding to fix something that’s broken. If not, you may know someone who does. If you need proper permission, try to get it. There are always potential reasons why something “can’t” be done, but it’s often amazing what can happen when we just ask.
Maybe your way of showing your community some love is to serve on the school board, to head up a “housing for the homeless” committee, or to spend a day at your local food pantry or animal shelter. Not only will this single action serve a great practical need (everyone is desperate for volunteers!), it may inspire you to get involved on a deeper level.
This is a great opportunity for a group to work together on a project, but you don’t have to join an organized effort. Individual acts of love and kindness are meaningful, too. You can offer to clean up a cluttered yard or place a bench under a tree at the park. Once you start looking, you’ll find lots of simple things you can do to make things better.
And we can all express our gratitude for what’s right in our community. We can write a letter to the editor that celebrates the bright spots in our community. (Every community has them!) We can send a heartfelt thank-you note to the hospital that took care of our loved one. We can thank a maintenance worker for keeping the streets clean. Positivity and gratitude are contagious. They make a difference. And it feels good to practice them.
Making the decision to love our community is a powerful first step. It’s a mind shift that truly changes the conversation around what’s possible. I’ve seen it over and over: When a community decides “we are worth it” and takes control of their future, huge transformations can follow.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Studer is author of Building A Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America.