If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that Washington is a mess right now. No matter your affiliation (or lack thereof), it looks pretty dysfunctional over there. And as a citizen, it's exhausting and overwhelming and frustrating and feels very disempowering. What can I do? I can't reverse climate change or control the makeup of Congress. I can contact my elected officials to share my opinions, but that doesn't feel like I'm accomplishing anything, and it certainly doesn't take a lot of my available energy. Fortunately, there is a way you and I can save the world.
Whatever you care about strongly, there's an organization that needs you. Whether it's kids in poverty or public television or the arts or reproductive freedoms or getting good people elected or health care or education or domestic violence or animal welfare, whatever your hot-button issue is, someone needs your help. Literally everyone needs more support; resources are in jeopardy and we need to fill the gaps. Organizations are craving strong leaders and passionate volunteers to help them achieve their mission.
There are many ways to serve, from volunteering in the trenches to serving on committees to taking leadership roles on governing boards. Find a cause you're committed to and start making connections and gaining experience. It can take time to find the right fit.
I often equate volunteering to relationships. You don't get married on a blind date; similarly, you don't contact an organization and tell them you're ready to serve on their board. Get to know each other first. Play the field a little. Find a place where you feel you can contribute and that's meaningful to you. Think big, think small; either way, you're making a difference.
Not sure how to begin? There are great organizations in our community ready to teach you.
Junior League of Fort Wayne (www.jlfw.org) is a women's organization (sorry, fellas, you have to sit this one out) whose mission includes training women to become effective community volunteers. Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana (www.ylni.org) offers a number of programs including its flagship Leadership Institute class. Designed for emerging leaders, it helps participants develop practical, real-world leadership skills as part of a diverse cohort. Leadership Fort Wayne (www.greaterfortwayneinc.com/talent/leadership-fort-wayne) cultivates leaders with a goal of igniting a desire to serve and setting graduates on a path for meaningful community engagement. The Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center's Get on Board program (pcnrc.org/get-on-board/) teaches people exactly what it means to serve on a board, what the responsibilities are, then provides networking opportunities to make connections.
Don't let me scare you into thinking you need training. Maybe you're ready to roll right now. Great. Do it! Go to a volunteer fair, volunteer in your kids' classrooms, call your favorite nonprofit to ask what its needs are. Take a friend with you; everything is more fun with a buddy, and it can help you stay dedicated.
This is hard work we're talking about; it's easier to do nothing. I hear you, my couch is really comfortable. But this is also rewarding work, and it's important. There's a lot of uncertainty right now, and it's time for all of us to step up and support our causes. You can find ways to affect just one person at a time or a whole bunch of people.
The point is, we can make change from the ground up. And right now, more than ever, we need to be active participants. Start where you are, and let's change the world!
Wendy Stein is a partner at Stein Ad Promos.