Have you invested in getting to know your local community? I think it’s a great way to learn to love where you live and develop a vested interest in protecting the local makers, growers, and retailers. In a world of ever-growing global corporations, it behooves us not leave our local economy behind.
Learn To Love Where You Live
Several years ago, I read a book called This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. After several moves around the country with her family to new and unfamiliar places, she wondered how much getting to know and investing in her local community could foster a love for that place, no matter how glamorous or mundane it might appear on paper. Maybe loving where we live is more about the energy we put into the community than the benefits we innately receive from it?
Before reading this book, I never thought much about investing in where I lived. After leaving home to go to college, I spent more than a decade hopping between temporary homes following the path of life. I always knew the homes were temporary, so I never really invested much time or energy planting roots.
I read Warnick’s book just before we moved back to Pennsylvania, and the timing was perfect. With this move, we bought our first house in anticipation of sending our older son to kindergarten, and we planned to stick around for a while. The book gave me a great perspective on the importance of investing my time, money and energy into my local community, to get to know the people and places, and understand how it really works.
Start By Getting Settled
During our first year in Philly, we spent quite a bit of time adjusting. We bought a house, but we lived with my in-laws and renovated the house for the five months. We spent the next year making the house a home and getting acclimated to our new town.
This past summer we really had a chance to dig our heels in, participate in activities, clubs, and organizations, and visit many local restaurants and shops to really get a feel for the area. We started to memorize the shelves and see familiar faces in the grocery store, which is the ultimate sense of feeling “at home” to me.
Why Investing In Our Local Community Matters
I think investing in our local communities is important for at least three reasons. First, I think it makes us happier. Finding community and connecting with neighbors brings joy. Maintaining relationships online and far away with friends and family that don’t live near us is definitely important. Investing in relationships with people we see each day, however, helps us feel connected in a different and important way.
Getting involved in the community also helps give perspective. It’s easy to live in a bubble and spend time with people only like ourselves, but I think this creates divergence and divisiveness among us. Of course where we live dictates, to some degree, that people are somewhat similar to us. But really getting involved in the community, you meet and work with people outside of your typical social circles.
When we build connections with people who aren’t exactly like us, we begin to understand the opinions and perspectives of those who disagree with us. Goodness knows we could use a little more understanding of each other these days!
Further, as described by Kate Raworth in her book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, relying on a few monstrous companies instead of a network of goods and service providers introduces instability into our economy. We found out in 2008 that banks can be too large to fail. Local businesses provide balance in our economy to ensure it doesn’t crash when one or two participants lose their footing.
We need to invest in and support our local economies to protect the stability of having a network of local makers and vendors. They work in tandem with multi-national companies, who definitely aren’t going away and provide other benefits to our economy and quality of life.
Myriad Opportunities To Invest Locally
Most towns and neighborhoods have a variety of opportunities to connect with and invest in the community depending on preferences and interests. This past year, after finally feeling settled, we began to spend more time participating in local events and community organizations. Here are five ways we invested our time, money and energy in our local community, and it’s really paid off in making our town feel like home.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
For the first time, we participated in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. We prepaid a local farmer for a set amount of produce to be receive during the upcoming summer. Every two weeks, we picked up a box of fruits and vegetables selected by the farmer, most of which was grown just a couple of miles from our front door.
Through the CSA, we supported a local farmer and better understood the seasonal produce right in our own neighborhood. A couple of times during our visits to pick up our bi-weekly produce box, we saw employees throwing peaches to the conductor of a train passing by on the railroad track just next to the farm stand. The boys and I thought this was great and so much more unique and intimate then picking up perfect, generic produce from the standard grocery store in our town.
I recently wrote more about our experience using a CSA and the lessons we learned. I am not sure we will do it again, but it definitely gave us more insight into the local community.
Coaching Kids’ Sports Teams
M loves playing basketball. This past year, he started coaching our older son’s basketball games. His assistant coach told him about a weeknight basketball league, comprised of dad coaches within our local youth sports organization.
He’s been looking for a basketball league for many years. Through his investment of time to coach our son, he was connected to just the perfect league and he loves his weekly games.
Finding opportunities like this really helps us make this town feel like home. Now he occasionally sees other guys from the league at sports games, at the grocery store, and in restaurants around town. Seeing familiar faces at local spots really helps us feel like members of the community and that we’re in a comfortable place where we’re supposed to be.
Local Non-Profit Board Membership
Both M and I have joined boards of local non-profit organizations. I sit on the board of our library and he for a local arts organization. These experiences bring such a wealth of exposure to the real world of our community. The board and the patrons of each entity bring a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and knowledge to the table.
For me, it’s opened my eyes to the inner workings of local government, community engagement, funding social services organizations, and the complex community of people in my area outside of my “bubble”.
Attend Community Days & School Events
Over the summer, we attended a community day and the boys had a blast. We ran into neighbors. The boys got their face painted by local high school students. They played on inflatable bounce houses. The township provided it all for free, courtesy of our tax dollars of course. We’re paying the taxes so we may as well attend the events they are funding. 🙂
We also see many neighbors and parents of our boys’ friend school events. Whether they are birthday parties or sponsored school events, I’ve found they’re a pretty good way to connect with other parents. We’re all in this crazy boat of life together, so it’s helpful to hear perspectives from other parents.
Just Invite People Over To Your House
It sounds simple, but this always seems to fall to the bottom of the priority list. Extracurricular activities, family gatherings, work and travel fill our calendar. Without making a concerted effort, time for having friends over just doesn’t seem to present itself on our calendars.
Make it a priority to invite over parents of your kid’s friends, parents from sports teams, people you’re meeting at work, or any other collection of neighbors and new friends. And if you forget their names, don’t be afraid to ask again! Chances are they probably forgot your name too.
Simple But True
It might sound like a grand generalization to suggest that investing in our local communities helps us relate to others, gain perspective and be more understanding of those who are different from ourselves. Attending community days, sitting on board of local organizations, and supporting local businesses can seem like small steps.
I think these connections and investments guide us to be better stewards to our communities, our local economies, and advocates of social justice.
Over time, it all results in a stronger neighborhood network, more enduring and profitable local business, and a better quality of life.
How do you invest in your local community? What benefits have you seen?