How Much Do You Know about Community Services?
Merchants Reach Out
Sometimes we see some tremendous acts of community service that one of the really big businesses in town takes on. A huge international bank may donate some huge statues to the local park. A big oil company who has been in the city since it was started might fund a library or a new museum. When these things happen, those big businesses usually get their names attached to those projects. And while we are all grateful for the contribution these businesses make to our towns, nobody is kidding themselves that they just do that as part of smart business and to take the write off.
It is sad to be so cynical, but when we think of true community service, it isn’t some massive company that has no real face or personality to us that really makes a difference. It is when that local merchant who runs the local five and dime or ice cream shop or that new business getting started pitches in that we really see the “community” part of community service start to mean something.
They say that small business really is the heart of our economy. But small business is what makes any city or town in America thrive. Even if the business is a branch of a large national chain, if the business functions for very long in your neighborhood, it doesn’t take long for it to become a local business.
Local merchants have good reasons to get involved in community service projects that are even more compelling than the reasons huge companies do it. Huge companies do it because they went to a seminar in New York where some hotshot wrote a book telling them it’s a good idea to appease the locals. But with a local business, there are no hot shots telling them how to appease anyone. They ARE the locals, and they love your community just as much as anyone.
“Love” is a term not lots of people apply to the place they live very much. But our immediate neighborhood with the video store across the street, the pizza place just up the block, and the grocery store that employs kids from your daughter’s Sunday School class just a mile away all make up a local neighborhood that you do have feelings for. So it is not wrong to want to make an investment in the businesses and public use spaces that will improve the quality of life for everyone you know.
Too often, we sit around and wait for the government to kick in and make our lives better and improve things are broken down. We put too much value on the idea that “I paid my taxes, not the mayor can just get down here and fix our park.” The pivotal word in that complaint is “our.” The town you live in and particularly the part that means a lot to you is yours, and it is all of our jobs to take care of what means a lot to us.
At the local level, it is the local merchant who can really make a difference in improving the quality of life for his family and the families that shop with him. By working together with other local merchants, you can fund small community service projects and even get out of the store and roll up your sleeves and help out yourself. When you do that, you will get a feeling of pride in YOUR town and in your neighborhood. And that pride will be shared by your neighbors, who, incidentally, are also your best customers.
It Takes a Village
A few years ago, a book came out called “It Takes a Village” that created a stir. But the stir was probably because the author was Hillary Clinton more than the topic itself. But in this book, Mrs. Clinton advanced the theory that in society, much of what we do that has value, including raising children, is not just the work of individuals. It takes community action to make things of lasting value happen.’
This concept may have had some political reason for being written, but Mrs. Clinton did introduce into the public mind that phrase, which is really an outstanding summary of why community service works so well. The keyword in community service is community. When a group of people comes together for a shared purpose to do something good for the community in which they live, that is a special moment. Not only does it foster tremendous goodwill in the team and for those who are beneficiaries of the community spirit, but it inspires others who see these good things happening to get involved.
If you live in a city of any large size, we have more trouble thinking of our community as a “village.” And to some extent, the size of the city might also have an influence over your willingness to get involved in community service projects. But there is a way to view even life in the big city in such a way that you can find good reasons to make a contribution.
Even if you live in one of the large metropolitan areas of the country, the truth is, we all, to some extent, live in a village. You have a limited area that you travel for the most part. Most of us go to the same grocery stores, play at the same parks, attend the same church each week and use a limited number of streets even if you live surrounded by one of the biggest cities in the country. Philadelphia, one of the largest cities in the country, is known as the “city of neighborhoods.” And within those neighborhoods, everybody knows each other, and life is localized. In a way, those neighborhoods are right in the middle of a big city.
So, you too live in a village within the large city around you. And within that village, you can see ways that you can make a contribution to the lives you touch and that touch yours. Some great community service ideas that you can look for that will affect your “village” might be…
* You learn from your child that the family of one of his friends cannot afford to repair their porch. You can mobilize the parents of many of the children in that class and show up there on a Saturday with a surprise porch repair crew. That kind of spontaneous event will bring bonding to just that “village” of parents of kids in that schoolroom that could build friendships that will last a lifetime.
* You find out that a family-owned business is going to have to go out of business because they cannot bring their building up to code. You can circulate a petition of the many customers who love that business like you do and organize a fundraising campaign to get that building fixed. This doesn’t just have to be about money. You can get everybody into the act by having yard sales, bake sales, and doing other fund raising events to keep that wonderful family owned operation a part of your community for a long time to come.
* A local church has all of their beautiful stained glass windows blown out by a tornado. You can use your research skills and the skills of other business people to find some replacement windows in a defunct church and get them sent to your community to make that church beautiful again.
All of these things make life better in the streets and community centers of the area of town where you live. And when you pitch in and make your little area of the world a better place to live, the good feelings and friendships you build have positive effects that are beyond measure. And above all, you took the time to be of help, so I can say even with Hilary Clinton that it really does take a village.