No responsibility sits more firmly on the shoulders of any citizen than the obligation to be an active member of civil society. From the smallest functions of local government to the most profoundly significant questions of national policy, it behooves all people to engage positively and productively with the society in which they live. The rewards of civic engagement are many and palpable, and active citizens and community members gain a sense that their voices and values matter; as stakeholders in society, we should all understand at first hand the value of protecting and expanding that stake for the benefit of all.
The suggestions for CIVIC AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT are aimed at helping the young citizen find those areas in which his or her own interest can be converted into satisfying activism and advocacy. Along the way, he or she may have a chance to define and articulate certain social and political values that may serve them in good stead and carry them forward toward a life of principle and purpose. While not all are suitable for every age group, most can be adapted to fit the inclinations of anyone with a serious interest in making a difference in their community.
IDEA #4. Get a volunteer gig working for a town or city agency or a political or community action organization
Many community organizations and not a few local and state governments have volunteer programs aimed at high-school-age citizens and focused on using the energy and enthusiasm of students to build community support around specific issues or programs. Many communities also have various sorts of “youth advisory boards” or the like that provide a thoughtful voice in policy making on behalf of citizens too young to vote.
The first step here would be to contact your local government. If there is an executive officer—a mayor, a governor, a county administrator—that office may be the best source of information on opportunities for young citizens to become involved. Work your way through the system until you find the program you seek.
Outside of government in many communities and locales there are politically active organizations focused on a single issue or set of issues. Such organizations can be identified by tracking the names of bodies to which speakers at local hearings belong or simply by attending carefully to the news or searching the internet. Some such groups are faith-based and might be found be inquiring through church, temple, or mosque groups or, again, by watching the news.
One never knows whether one’s volunteer time will be spent stuffing envelopes, making coffee, or sitting in on important policy discussions—only experience can tell which kinds of activities are going to hold real interest or seem “worth the time.” Even a young volunteer should not be afraid to offer to do more or to remind supervisors that they may have more expertise (if they really do, in fact) than may be apparent. The point of engaging in civic volunteership is to be able to have an influence—even the tiniest—on community matters that do indeed matter. On the other hand, envelopes need stuffing and tired activists need their caffeine, and so the young volunteer should also recognize that the least glamorous parts of service are sometimes also among the most necessary and most valuable in the long run.