How Service to the Community Can Be a Service to Yourself

December 18, 2012

Throughout various stages of my life, I have been an active participant in my community.  From the earliest days of scouting to student organizations and council, church social groups, a college fraternity, work as an US Army officer, management positions, community organizations, and an elected position, I seem to be driven to find a way to contribute through leading in these communities.

None of us have too much time on our hands.  And even though reality tells me differently, the days from the winter solstice to the vernal equinox still seem to get shorter rather than longer.  In a world that spins faster and faster every day, I'm driven to regain a sense of control by getting involved.

The willingness to serve the community stems from the realization that there are important current and future problems that need to be tended to and service represents the opportunity to address these issues and participate in the solution.

Prominent education scholar and university administrator Thomas Ehrlich stated that “Civic engagement means working to make a difference in…our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.”

Elected and volunteer boards for small, local governments and community agencies are vital to securing the services they currently and may potentially make available.  Serving on a board is a great way to use the strengths Ehrlich says each of us bring to the “civic engagement” table.  There is a place for everyone who wants to get engaged in their community– a library board, a teen runaway safe house board, a fire protection district board, and so on.

My recent civic engagement experience has included serving as a member of my church finance committee, a municipal human relations commission, organized volunteerism program at my workplace, and as an elected board member of a small environmentally oriented special tax district.

The personal enrichment I have gained is far beyond anything I could have imagined.  Sure, there was a technical learning curve, but the real learning came from listening very carefully to others.  I learned that the crucial leadership task is having a vision that can enhance, develop, promote change, and unite people, organizations, and communities for the better.

As an optimist, I envision that a government or nonprofit board can run efficiently, improve continuously, and be accountable to its funding source – those it serves and represents.

Here are ten things I have learned to do as an elected official:

  • Listen to neighbors -- it's more important than talking.
  • Find a way to be able to agree before disagreeing.
  • Find a way to identify what I am thinking rather than what I am saying.
  • Think outside the box every time for “new” solutions.
  • Look for the hard way out.
  • Take action only to make things better.
  • Never assume that what I do will not be noticed.
  • Think about today with tomorrow always in the front of my brain.
  • Use the missteps of today to help me take better steps in the future.
  • Let my passion lead the solutions.

Is it important that real people are actually looking at really important things?  Unqualified, the answer is yes.  That’s why I answered the call to serve, and, it is exactly why you should get engaged in your community.  Convert that passion to serve into protecting a river’s pure and clean waters, keeping our school children safe from all kinds of hazards, and ensuring that each and every person has the chance to grow and succeed in our community.

Local government and community boards are crying for leaders.  Many boards have unfilled positions and elections go unnoticed.  Make a call to your local government or favorite community agency today to see what roles you may be able to fill.  I guarantee that open arms will greet your willingness to serve.

If you take this step, maybe, just maybe, you can run as fast as the world is spinning, lengthen those ever shortening days, and serve in ways you never imagined.

Other articles you may be interested in:
Lessons Learned from My First Year as a Public Employee
Public Service is in Our DNA