I had my first vague sense of what it means to be part of a community in high school.
I was one of the pack of students hollering “Go Rebels!” at football and basketball games, and I volunteered with the other members of the Intergenerational Club at local nursing homes and also visited the nearby state school to teach my friends there the alphabet and play games.
It was then, as a teenager, that I first saw there was something in the world that was bigger than me, bigger than my family. I just didn’t have a name for it.
Then, I arrived at Westfield State College in 1981, and I learned the phrase associated with this kind of giving: community involvement. And boy, did I get involved.
I was a member of the on-campus Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, on a committee that helped bring about the passage of the Bottle Bill. I wrote for the student newspaper, then called The Owl. I danced and sang in the Musical Theatre Guild. I volunteered in local schools. I babysat. I did community involvement, on and off campus.
That didn’t change after I graduated, got married and had a family. I volunteered in my daughters’ preschools and held leadership roles on their PTOs as they grew. I was active in my church and served on its governing board. I helped raise money for countless local causes.
I was all about community, and I’m grateful to Walpole High School and Westfield State for planting and nurturing those important seeds within my psyche.
Community engagement—the buzz words you’re more apt to hear on campuses or in the business community now—is important for every citizen to take seriously. It is giving back. It’s about showing gratitude for the fact that we have healthy, vibrant cities and towns that support us with resources of all kinds.
I think it’s especially important for business owners and organization leaders to be involved in their communities. Yes, it’s good for business because you are out there meeting people, networking, making connections. But it’s also good for everyone around you—those real and important people who ensure that your business thrives and survives. It’s a way to thank your community for the privilege of being a successful entrepreneur.
The way I do community engagement is quieter now, far less public than it once was. This, because I realized I had something to give that was bigger than brownies for the bake sale. I have skills that allow me to tell stories and raise awareness for groups that needed visibility to increase their reach and touch lives. I am especially all-in for that.
So, instead of changing diapers in the church nursery, I’m doing things like writing press releases that help United Way of Hampshire County promote its work and its partner organizations.
Instead of serving lasagna for the cot shelter in Northampton on a team with fellow church parishioners, I’m writing stories about cancer survivors and caregivers for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Hampshire County to raise dollars for research and programming.
Instead of sitting in PTO meetings, taking minutes, I’m doing PR—writing blogs, press releases and Facebook posts for organizations in the Valley that support children, the arts and people in need.
Unlike the kind of volunteer work I used to do, my work now goes unseen, and that’s fine with me. I know that, in the quiet of it, there is the potential that I am helping more people.