If you’ve never been actively involved in your community, there is no better time than now, when our communities really need us the most. Being an active participant in the town I live in is something I only learned to do as an adult through my brother-in-law and his family (long-time residents and small-business owners in their hometown). I never picked it up from my parents, as we moved often due to my father’s military service and subsequent corporate career. However, as a Vietnam combat veteran, my father more than contributed to the benefit of our town, county, state, and country. This is not to discourage our veterans from continuing to serve in their civilian life; we need them to share their sense of duty with the rest of us.
What I’ve found (and those that already volunteer in their community most likely will agree) is that you get far more in return than the effort you put out. There is a sense of satisfaction from giving of yourself and helping others. There also is the benefit of getting to know your neighbors and other community members, especially community leaders. When we lived in Florida, I was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, a Cub Scout Den Leader, and as a result of the people I met and worked with, was invited to sit on the board of our local YMCA. Through my vigorous participation, I felt like I was really living in my town; I knew the mayor, town council members, and local business owners. I enjoyed trips to the store or a local event and running into someone I knew nearly every time I went out. While I may not have always agreed with some of our community leaders positions on issues, I at least had a better understanding of where they were coming from since I knew them on a first-name basis. This also provided me with the chance to express my views to them as part of a real discussion and not just as another voice lined up at the microphone at a town council meeting.
Since moving back to New Jersey, I’ve tried to pick up where I left off in Florida (in fact, active involvement in my community is one of the things that made moving away such a hard decision). So far, I’ve again become a Cub Scout Den Leader and a member of our church’s Building Committee. And already, I’ve run into other members of both those groups out and about in town—something that really gives you a sense of belonging.
So, I encourage you to not shut your front door behind you when getting home at night, only to shut out your community and at the same time invite the rest of the world in via television and the Internet. “But,” you say, “what about time with my family?” Slow down, cowboy; I didn’t say you have to volunteer every evening or even once a week. Many volunteer roles are fantastic opportunities to bring your children along, allowing you to spend quality time with them and to instill in them a sense of civic duty, a concept which is often forgotten in today’s suburban wasteland.
The writer of The Balanced Guy, Roman Horoszewski, is not particularly balanced but he’s trying to be. He makes an effort by not only doing “guy stuff,” but also by spending time with his three sons and wife while attempting to remain informed about the world around him. He and his family live in the Princeton, N.J. area. His blog is @ http://thebalancedguy.blogspot.com/.