Importance of Community Engagement

“We earn a living by what we get: We get a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

This quote inspires us to share time, treasure, and talent to improve our communities. Everyone benefits when citizens make communities vibrant and healthy places to live. Community engagement is one of the personal characteristics of the 16 Road Less Traveled (RLT) subjects. They see the value of making their communities better for everyone.

The subjects engage their communities almost naturally and do it with little fanfare. This happens on two levels. First, they do the daily community activities most citizens do by sharing time and treasure. Second, their community service is an extension of who they are and the specialized work they do and love. They share their talent. For example, most people donate to a clothing or food drive but could never help a veteran write a song about military combat experience as Rachel Brown has done. Both levels are evident in each RLT subject

Daily: Daily community service activities are the ones most community members do on a regular basis. These are the heart and soul, the bread-and-butter service activities of most communities. For most people, this is how they share their time and treasure. Treasure is shared in the ways people donate to causes such as clothing drives, fundraisers, and food banks. It is also tithing at church and donating to veterans’ groups. Time is shared in the many ways people volunteer to assist various community causes, coach youth sports teams, and help in all sorts of ways. Volunteerism is an essential part of a healthy community.

Specialized: RLT subjects contribute to their communities through daily activities like everyone else. They also go beyond the daily community participation to share their time and unique talent. They contribute activities that are specialized to their expertise and experience. For RLT subjects, specialized community service is an extension of who they are as people. They leverage their professional lives for the betterment and enhancement of their communities.

The following examples indicate how RLT subjects share their time and talent based on the work they do. Few of us can contribute to our communities in these ways.

Artsparks is a dance program that brings dance/movement to students with limited exposure to the arts. One of the founders of the program is Kara Stewart (Volume 9), a dance professor at Akron University. She uses her extensive education and experience in dance to guide instructors who provide classes to elementary students throughout Northeast Ohio. Few people could lead ArtSparks to the success it has had but Kara can.

Yes I Can Dance – Joan Meggitt (volume 19) created and delivers this dance program for InMotion in Warrensville Heights. She is a teaching member of Dance for PD program created to help people with Parkinson’s disease feel better each day. Participants experience dance in ways that are refreshing, enjoyable, stimulating, and unique. In the process, stretching, muscle strengthening, balance, and coordination are improved through this program.

Project Drew is part of the Music on a Mission initiative based in Avon Lake. It is named after Drew Ferguson, an Army war Veteran. The program brings song writers and combat veterans together to write songs about the veterans’ military experience. Delivering Restorative Energy to our Warriors aims to use the gathering power of music to honor and energize American service members. Rachel Brown (Volume 18) helps veterans write songs about their war experience. She can do this because she has a gift for music and song writing.

Grill for Good is an excellent example of how a RLT subject leverages administrative and leadership skills. Marilyn Sessions (Volume 14) and her husband Brian love to grill so they started Grill for Good to raise money for various causes in the Kent area. They enlisted the support and interest of numerous people and groups (Kent Jaycees for example) to assist them. Each year, one Saturday in downtown Kent is devoted to the outdoor event. In 2019, the 9th year for the activity, Grill for Good provided $10,000 to Family and Community Services of Portage County.

High School Bowling – Bill White (Volume 17) leaned on his many years of bowling experience to help establish boys and girls high school bowling programs throughout Northeast Ohio. As a professional bowler and owner of bowling centers, he set up leagues, tournaments, and even created scholarships for students in six Portage County high schools.

Many people have talents they can share with their communities. Like RLT subjects, they can leverage their talent and experience to go beyond their daily sharing of time and treasure. The more people who share time, treasure, and talent, the healthier and more vibrant the community will be. Future installments in this series will explore how failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow.