What is community engagement?
For some it is civic engagement, or active participation in your community, perhaps voting, volunteering or joining organizations. According to Thomas Ehrlich of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, “Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skill, values and motivation to make that difference.”
In its simplest form, it means taking time to learn what’s happening in your community and being a good ambassador when conversing with others about city activities and events, candidates for election or proposed public policies. Better yet, it means taking some action when you disagree. It is easy to understand how an involved citizenry strengthens a community through the collective energy and wisdom.
But why is this important to you as an individual? Studies indicate “engaged” individuals may perceive benefits to their health, self-esteem and relationships. But some of those same studies found civic engagement can have a downside. Stress or exhaustion based on too many commitments may drain a person’s time, energy and even financial resources.
Civic engagement needs to be tempered to fit an individual’s personal style. Spending time with friends, neighbors and new acquaintances can bring us companionship, humor, advice and comfort. Sharing with our closest friends can bring meaning to our daily lives.
Community engagement helps create more and better connections that can result in a richer, fuller life for ourselves and our community of friends. A commitment to helping each other makes everyone stronger and better able to take care of themselves with a sense of vitality.
Ron Smith is a Maricopa resident and aging-in-place advocate. He is a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee, a member of the Maricopa Senior Coalition and a certified Aging-in-Place specialist.
It is estimated 20% of adults over the age of 65 live alone and face isolation from peers and community. Researchers believe it is seriously detrimental to our physical and mental health.
So, how do we make those connections? Well, we can:
• Actively search for activities to invest time in helping our community or neighbors.
• Pursue groups that share similar interests (perhaps a challenging game of cards).
• Check out the calendar of upcoming activities in the city at the senior center, Copper Sky or the new Library and Cultural Center. A bus trip to a mystery museum, tea party or lunch with a friend may do the trick.
• Listen to City Manager Rick Horst when you have the opportunity or attend a city council meeting. A good donut and coffee are hard to resist.
This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa magazine.