Things are tough right now. In case you’ve been sleeping for the past two years, let me catch you up: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, natural disasters, increasing attention on political extremists and acts of violence, increasing distrust of our government, social isolation, and what feels like an endless wave of fear and anxiety permeating our culture. If you know anything about difficult times in American history, you know that these are the times we tend to bond the most. These are the times of tremendous acts of kindness and heroism, reaching out to each other for hope and contribution and searching for meaning and purpose in areas such as faith, activism, art, and family.
You may be thinking, “Wait, that doesn’t sound right. We’re fighting more and more. That’s the opposite of bonding.” Well, you’re right. What distinguishes this period from the hard times that have come before is that the information we take in is more widespread, targeted, and polarizing. This leaves many of us feeling more disconnected and hopeless than ever before.
If this sounds familiar, there are many ways to combat this despair. You can also open your mind to the possibility that we can still heal. One way is through community service. Small, tangible acts of service can have positive effects both locally and globally (think of ripples in the water). Here are a few impactful things you can do for your community and yourself.
1. Join a “buy nothing” group.
The recent UN report on climate change was a terrifying wake-up call. Rather than succumb to feelings of futility, maximize your efforts in reducing your carbon footprint so you can sleep a little better at night. The manufacturing of new items is one of the biggest causes of air pollution, toxic waste, and water contamination. Help the environment by buying items used, making them yourself, or borrowing from your neighbors (think of the “Reuse” in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” — which, by the way, should be followed in that order). “Buy Nothing” groups have grown in popularity and are a great way for community members to give and receive items in an eco- and wallet-friendly way.
2. Tutor students in your school district.
As a result of the pandemic’s impact on the education system, schools have a greater need than ever for student support, especially in critical areas such as literacy. Many organizations are looking for tutors to help close this ever-widening learning gap, and you could be one of them. Depending on the organization, you can volunteer or work for pay, tutor remotely or in person, and work as few or as many hours a week as you want. Many organizations don’t even require a college degree since they provide extensive training. However, if you have a degree or teaching experience, you can get paid more for your services.
3. Plant trees.
Trees are amazing. Not only do they help our ecosystem in a myriad of ways, such as releasing oxygen and improving air quality, but they also positively impact mood and lower stress levels. Many cities are trying to provide more canopy coverage to reap all the delicious rewards. You can help by volunteering to plant trees in your neighborhood or planting a tree on your property if you have yard space.
4. Start a meetup group.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened America’s epidemic of loneliness. No matter how introverted you are, social isolation will eventually negatively impact your mood and mental state. As humans, we need to feel connected. While there are many ways to combat loneliness, joining or starting a meetup group has powerful social benefits that extend into the community. If you want to maximize your positive impact, start or join a meetup group that volunteers in your community.
5. Ditch your car.
If you live in a big city and still use your gas-fueled car as your primary mode of transportation, it’s time to stop. Not only are gas emissions terrible for the environment, but they are completely unnecessary in a city with adequate public transportation, bike trails, and destinations within walking distance. If getting around without your car seems unfeasible, try committing to at least one or two car-free days per week to reduce your overall emissions.
What are some ways you have positively impacted your community? In what areas would you like to do more? Let us know in the comments below.