Investing in Our Communities by Investing in Community Members
by The Opportunity Agenda, Tue Mar 31, 2009 at 05:54:30 AM EDT
Our communities are more than just the physical spaces, or indeed even the relationships, that constitute them. Rather, our communities are a reflection of the countless individual times when each and every one of us has looked beyond our parochial interests to invest time, energy, and resources into something bigger than ourselves. Bringing food and comfort to an ailing neighbor, organizing a block party, or even stopping to pick up a single piece of litter; these are the actions that build a community.
Every year, tens of thousands of Americans, young and old, feel such a strong commitment to their local, state, national, and international communities that they choose to participate in full-time service programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. Participants engage in a range of community-building activities, such as after-school tutoring, environmental clean-up, and home building, and receive a meager stipend and, in some cases, tuition assistance or loan forbearance. In addition to strengthening the physical and social infrastructures of communities, these programs strengthen economies by providing a transition into the workforce or higher education for participants.
The House and Senate have both recently passed legislation to dramatically expand these programs, and President Obama has expressed enthusiasm, citing his own work as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago. In times of economic instability, these types of investments—grounded in our values, and yielding long-term economic and social benefits—make so much sense.