Our Community Is Calling You to Get Involved

— Written By and last updated by Leeann Crump
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Do you hear it? The Richmond County community is calling out to you!

Recently, several people have remarked to me that it seems that a lot of good things are happening in our community. Indeed, we have had good news on Facebook and in the Daily Journal and a buzz on the street about new businesses coming, festivals and new funding.

Our community is calling out to each of us to jump on the bandwagon and keep the momentum going by getting engaged in something — anything positive.

Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” In my line of work, we call this civic engagement, and my favorite way of thinking about this topic is that it is the sense of personal responsibility individuals feel to uphold their obligations, as part of any community.

Communities are at risk of becoming disconnected; with citizens feeling that their involvement is not needed and negative discourse becomes the norm. There is a local movement under way in our community to reverse this trend by becoming involved in citizen forums, volunteering and joining leadership groups and other organizations.

An actively engaged community that reaches all segments of the citizens is a strong community. In addition to economic development efforts that bring new business, a focus on community civic infrastructure supports those businesses and helps attract more visitors and residents to the area. This is something for us to consider as our governments are successfully bringing new companies to the area. Is this an engaged and connected community?

Why should you be concerned about being engaged with your community? People who volunteer for organizations and clubs and participate in community decision-making feel more pride and ownership for their community. Youth who are civically engaged are more likely to feel fulfilled in the human need for belonging and having a life with a purpose.

Civic engagement is a key part of the transition between adolescence and mature adulthood, one reason that school and community clubs and activities are so important for youth development. North Carolina ranks 28th in the nation in volunteering, contributing a value of $5.7 million in service in 2014. But only 26.3 percent of citizens are engaged in volunteering or community service.

Opportunities abound with opportunities to get involved in Richmond County in our many churches, civic organizations, nonprofits, youth groups, schools and more. Recently, a grassroots group called For A Better Richmond County (www.forabetterrichmondcounty.com) started meeting in community forums to discuss things about the community that we like and that we would like to change.

Another forum is meeting in the Norman Community Center doing the same thing, and calls itself N.E.A.T, which stands for Northern End Action Team. A new leadership group has formed to support young leaders of the community. United Way, Habitat for Humanity, the Chamber of Commerce, Cooperative Extension and many more nonprofit agencies are looking for volunteers.

Rockingham, Hamlet and a new group forming in Ellerbe exist to help support downtown improvements and are also good places for people to become involved.

The Cooperative Extension exists to help communities become engaged. According to M. L. Wilson, the national director of the Cooperative Extension Service in 1940, “Extension workers and others who are charged with assisting in the development of programs to meet not only current needs, but also the changed needs of the world, are vitally concerned with the questions of leadership… Their primary job is to help the community analyze its problems in the light of all available information and so to organize itself that the necessary action can be taken.”

So if you don’t know where to start, but are feeling the tug of responsibility to your community and ready to become involved, call us at the Extension office and we can try to help you connect in a way that you will feel that you are contributing and needed.

You can reach us at 910-997-8255 or by emailing us at Richmondces@ncsu.edu.

Susan A. Kelly is director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Richmond County Center.