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Opinion: Improve yourself, city, next generation by giving back

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Community engagement and volunteerism are vital to the strength and success of the communities in which we live, work and play. They’re more than just a good deed.

These two services create positive measurable changes that directly benefit nonprofit organizations, as well the businesses and the individuals that invest in these efforts.

In a broad sense, community engagement is the act of coming together to work collaboratively for the greater good. Many people think of volunteerism as the hours they give, but there are many other ways to volunteer or engage in your community.

Industry associations have a variety of volunteer opportunities. From volunteering at events to serving on task forces and in official positions, there is an opportunity for every type of person to advance their career or give back with their expertise. Giving an effort in industry specific or professional organizations often will be more focused on career building, bridging the community together and offering expertise in the form of mentorships and task forces.

A recent example of volunteerism as a task force was bringing experts from architecture, engineering and construction together to weigh the benefits and costs for the city of Springfield and surrounding areas to adopt the newest building and energy codes. The collaboration of a variety of perspectives allowed volunteers to work together for the betterment of the industry and community. Bringing city experts together with those in the field offered an opportunity for a compromise to be brought before the Plans and Policies Committee. Volunteers donated time to meet and discuss for more than a year.

When individuals are engaged in the community, they are more likely to buy into the outcomes. Thankfully, the city recognizes the importance and places a value on bringing in experts for large decisions or creating workshops to further initiatives. Drawing on a large base of knowledge and a variety of perspectives can lead to innovative solutions and move the needle on important conversations. The numerous workshops available for Forward SGF, the planning process for the city’s new 20-year comprehensive plan, is a simple way all individuals in the community can give a small amount of time to focus on the betterment of our community.

Although nonprofits rely on volunteers to fulfill their missions, volunteers also experience fulfillment in the form of stress relief, increased self-confidence, and a larger personal and professional network. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic Health System, “Helping people, changing lives: The 6 health benefits of volunteering,” the practice decreases depression risks and helps maintain physically and mentally active lifestyles.

Volunteering is important for all stages of a person’s career. Early on, volunteering and prioritizing community engagement builds stronger relationships with others in the community and can help individuals gain career experience for their resumes. Younger generations emphasize the importance of mentorships. Getting involved in associations or nonprofits that focus on a person’s passion or career can connect young professionals with more seasoned professionals who can act as official or unofficial mentors.

Mentorships are beneficial for both sides. While the mentee gains knowledge from the mentor’s experience, the mentor also is able to learn perspectives from young professionals that are beneficial in more senior settings, fostering a more diverse but connected workforce. Mentors are able to reignite their passion by reflecting on their path with their mentee.

As baby boomers continue to retire, it is more important than ever to pass down their knowledge to younger generations. For those who are unable to commit to an ongoing mentorship program, volunteering at local schools for career days is a great opportunity. Schools are always looking for speakers to showcase their experience with real-world examples.

Businesses should encourage employees to get involved in an association, nonprofit or community group. It’s good for one’s health, business and their community.

Megan Short is executive director of the Springfield Contractors Association. She can be reached at megan@springfieldcontractors.org.

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