How to Get Involved in Your Community (Other Than Volunteering or Donating)

“Get involved in your community.”

I feel like this is a common phrase in American culture. Whether we’ve heard it at school, from a friend, from a religious leader, or even in a public service announcement, this idea of involvement seems ever present in our culture. But what does it really mean to get involved in your community?

We often think of involvement as volunteering or donating, which can be limiting for members of our communities who don’t all have the immediate time, money, or resources to give. Of course these traditional ways of getting involved are necessary and important, but what if we thought about getting involved in the community in other ways? What if we considered public event participation as a form of community involvement?

Concerts, festivals, community classes, sporting events, museums. These are just some experiences that contribute to the vitality and health of a community. They can serve as breeding grounds for new ideas and new connections. In a healthy community, there should be plenty of choices in quality programming that give consideration to potential limiting factors such as time, money, transportation, skills, family obligations, and even varied interests.

So, here are some of my ideas on how to get more involved in Salt Lake City through event participation. I realize that not all communities will offer exactly the same programs and events, but the basic steps should be applicable to most situations. I even found myself inadvertently following these steps when I was trying to get more integrated into the community during my year abroad teaching English in France.

Step 1: Find an event. Actually show up.

When looking for events to go to, I realize that everyone has their own set of requirements. Maybe some people work on the weekends. Maybe some people need to be able to bring their kids. Maybe some people can’t afford a $20 entrance fee. Maybe some people just aren’t interested in listening to classical music. This list could go on.

This is why it’s so important to have people of all backgrounds and interests organizing and implementing events in our communities. There is no one-size-fits-all perfect event. The more people that bring new experiences, the more inclusive a community will be. If you don’t see something you want to go to in your community, consider getting some like-minded friends together and organizing a get-together yourselves.

I’ve put together a non-comprehensive list of examples of free events in Salt Lake City. Although I lean towards publicly funded events because they tend to be more accessible, it is important to acknowledge that there are businesses that provide free events to the public as well.

Arts, Culture, Museums

Classes

Farmers Markets

Festivals

Nature/Outdoors

Like I said, this list is not comprehensive, but it gives you a taste of the possibilities out there. The thing is to choose something that fits your needs and–most importantly–show up.

Step 2: Learn about the presenting organization.

Ok, you’ve picked an event. You’ve shown up. Now what?

Showing up is great and if you’re already at the event, why not take it one step further? Take some time and do some research or ask an organizer to tell you more about the event you’re attending. For example, did you know that Sunnyvale Farmers Market was founded in part with the International Rescue Committee? Or that you can redeem SNAP (food stamps) for double the value at the Sugar House and Downtown Farmers Markets?

For many events, there is usually more than meets the eye. Learning about why an event is being organized will help you see how it is benefiting your community. Is the purpose of the event to educate? To provide services? To provide quality entertainment? To help  populations within our communities?

An informed participant is the best kind of participant.

Step 3: Sign up for updates. Be informed.

The power of social media is amazing. Notice how I was able to link to further information for every single event that I suggested on my list?

Thanks to the internet, I was able to quickly find free events in my area. This might be difficult if you don’t know where to start looking. This is where going back to Step 1 (Showing Up) and Step 2 (Learn about the organization) is helpful. If you go to an event and talk to one person, it is very likely that you will get information about a related or future event. If you had a good time at the event, sign up for emails, follow the organizing group on social media, etc.

With all the crazy cookies and algorithms tracking our behavior on the internet, I’m sure you’ll soon start getting suggested events based on your new likes and subscriptions. And if you apply Step 2, you can continue to be a more informed consumer and participant at any new event.

Step 4: Repeat and bring a friend or two.

This step is self-explanatory, but very important. Like most things in life, creating a habit requires practice. This is why repetition is so important. Creating a habit of community participation doesn’t need to be tedious, boring, or painful. Bring some friends and family along, learn about what’s happening in your community, and have fun while you’re at it.

Why Participation Matters?

Showing up is the first step to shaping a community. If you aren’t out there adding your voice–whether that’s through voting, organizing, or consumer power–someone else will make those decisions for you in your place.

From a numbers perspective, showing up is critical. Attendance numbers help non-profits in the grant writing process. It helps them make the argument that programs are effectively serving a community. This evidence will likely help them get future grants, which could subsidize future programming. If you have a favorite non-profit, attending events can be one way of helping support their cause.

Using your purchasing power at businesses that are aligned with your ethical opinions is another form of showing up. Choosing to shop at a farmers market or taking your bike to the Bicycle Collective are affordable consumer acts that you can do as an individual to make a difference in your community.

Of course, we are human beings and numbers aren’t everything. Participating in your community has so many added benefits that are difficult to quantify. These benefits come from engaging with others who don’t share your opinions, language, way of life, or background. These benefits come from confronting your own preconceived notions on entertainment, education, and quality of life. At the confluence of all this is the opportunity to create something new.

Reframing thoughtful participation as a form of engaged citizenship, now that’s not too radical of an idea is it?


With that, I leave you with some questions I’ve been pondering. What are some other alternative and inclusive ways to be more active in your community? How are our choices as consumers shaping our cultural and physical landscape?

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