Five Ways to be a Good Neighbor in the New Year

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be-kind-everyone-you-meet-fighting-hard-battle-whoisplatoThe old year is put to bed, and the New Year is still waking up and getting started. As you rise up with it, consider some ways to make this year a little happier for you and those around you. You can make a difference in the lives of the people you come into contact with with only a small amount of effort. Here are five ways you can be a good neighbor this year. Can you suggest more?

1) Seek First to Understand: By now we’ve all seen the Internet memes out there with Plato’s quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard (or harder) battle.” Next time you encounter someone who seems like he or she is about to bite your head off, consider the person might be having a really bad day, or is going through a painful time. If it’s someone in a store or on the road, let them pass and silently wish them well. If it’s a friend, co-worker or family member, save the tart response and ask a few questions. Hey, are you having a bad day? What’s up?

2) Schedule in Chance Conversations: Years ago my neighbors told me it always looked like I was in a hurry to get somewhere. I [Read more…]

‘It’s Up to Us’: More Ways We Can Help Our Community

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Santa-Clara-County-Assessment-Carole-Leigh-Hutton-United-Way-Silicon-ValleyYesterday I shared the list from last fall’s Santa Clara County Assessment Project. It has excellent suggestions for how we can all improve our neighborhoods. Today’s list casts the net a little wider to the community.

I love the very first suggestion to “experience our rich cultural diversity”. That’s the reason I feature cultural festivals in my “Five Ways to be a Good Neighbor” column at the start of each month. The more we know about our neighbors and their backgrounds, the more appreciative of each other and closer-knit we become.

Another favorite of mine suggests attending a school board meeting or city council meeting. This I think everyone should do at least once, and maybe even once a year minimum. Not only is it a good education for you as a citizen, giving you a better understanding how your local government works, but it also serves to keep public officials in check. [Read more…]

Mandatory Volunteering Proves Beneficial – Under Right Circumstances

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When I first heard about mandatory volunteering in high schools about a decade ago I thought it was a real-life oxymoron. To me volunteering was only real when it was done out of a true desire to help, not out of a fear of missing requirements. I also cast a wary eye on teen volunteering that was done purely for puffing up college applications. I was doubtful that these types of volunteering had long-term positive effects on students. But recent studies have shown that under the right circumstances, mandatory volunteering actually improves the chances of future community involvement.

In Saturday’s “Shortcuts” column in the business section of the New York Times, columnist Alina Tugend did an interesting piece about the studies called, “The Benefits of Volunteerisim, If the Service is Real.” The studies found that when the volunteer jobs were meaningful – in other words, volunteers could see how their work was benefiting others – the volunteers were more likely to volunteer in the future. Even more so if the work was combined with a chance to talk about it with other students in class and talk about the greater societal issues involved. Those discussions can help students see that problems aren’t just solved through individual efforts, but also through public policy. That can lead to students who are more likely to vote and take part of the civic process in the future.

There is a danger to giving students just any volunteer job. One unpublished study found that engaging students in “busy work” can actually be detrimental to future volunteer involvement. So for example, if students were told they were going to be helping people, only to perform menial tasks that seem unrelated to actually helping others, that could lead to frustration and being turned off to volunteering in the future.

These results are good news for communities. It’s a win-win-win situation. Volunteering by students can help individuals who are on the receiving end, it can help the students to grow and change in positive ways, and it can help communities that will benefit from future involvement by the students as adults.