An American’s Most Valuable New Year’s Resolution for 2011

Resolving to increase your civic engagement.

The holidays are here. It’s a time filled with tasty baked treats, glistening lights, family and friends, generous gifts and resolutions for the coming year. Before you settle on resolving to give up caffeine, consider a new year’s resolution that doesn’t trigger headaches and short-temperedness: improving your civic engagement.

The spirit and well being of our communities thrives from your contributions through volunteerism, voting, and overall, engagement with your neighbors and community. There is no better time than today to kick up your civic engagement a few gears. It’s easy when you take it step by step.

IMPROVING YOUR CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

STEP ONE: Get Informed.

Learn more about what civic engagement really means. It goes far beyond volunteering into all aspects of our lives. Check out the recently released Civic Life in America Report—a comprehensive illustration of the civic health of our nation, examining elements of civic engagement including: service, participating in a group, connecting to information and current events, social connectedness and political action. Oregon ranks #8 in working with neighbors and #11 with volunteer rates. In a comparison of major cities, Portland ranks #2 in volunteer rates, #2 in working with neighbors and #1 in working in a group. View the Civic Life in America Report here.

Another great learning tool comes from The American Human Development Project of the Social Science Research Council with the release of its Human Development Index. This interactive map stimulates fact-based dialogue on health, education and income in the United States. And besides all that, it’s really fun to explore! Oregon earns a 5.03 on the Human Development Index. Check out www.MeasureofAmerica.org to find out what that means. Also explore the interactive maps tool.

Volunteering In America is yet another great resource from which to become more informed on volunteerism and civic engagement in general. This website is packed full with data, rankings, related research and national breakouts of specialized profiles of volunteers such as Baby Boomers, College Students, Older Adults and more. Check it out at volunteeringinamerica.gov

STEP TWO: Assess your community needs and your skills.

From poverty to animal protection to environment, each community is unique in their changing needs. Start exploring what your unique community needs and assess how you can help reach its goals.

Start talking to neighbors, friends and family, public figures, non-profit organizations, or schools to find out where the issues lie. There are so many worthy causes of which to become involved, and one person can’t do it all. Don’t get stressed out because of this fact—just know that you have valuable skills that can be put to good use in the right organization and environment. Determine those skills and your passions. What do you care about? What really bothers you about your community and how can you change it?

STEP THREE: Get out there and do something about it.

Now that you are informed about civic engagement, you understand your community needs, and you’ve realized the valuable skills you have to offer for causes you’re passionate about… it’s time to do something about it.

If you’re looking to get started with volunteering, connect with your local volunteer center. Several larger cities have one. In Oregon, there are eight volunteer centers. Click here to find them. If you don’t have a volunteer center in your community, connect directly with the non-profit organizations in your area that need help and find out how you can contribute. Get involved with organizations and causes through joining boards and/or committees, voting, communicate with your neighbors and you’ll improve your civic engagement. It’s one of the most valuable resolutions you can make for yourself and the future of Oregon in 2011 and beyond.

Posted on December 30, 2010.