Building your volunteer experience through local involvement

We’re all so obsessed on national politics lately. But besides the vote you cast in November, what direct influence do you have as an individual at the national level?
Where you can make a difference is within your local community. Local elected officials are more accessible, and changes can be made with just a little commitment and work. Plus, local involvement can help you position yourself as a better candidate with potential employers.
Get involved. It can be as simple as attending your neighborhood association’s monthly meetings to stay abreast of private development, crime, and city infrastructure projects. Meet and talk with your neighbors. Create a profile in Nextdoor, a free app that connects neighbors and surrounding communities.
Even if you live in a community in Missouri or Kansas that doesn’t have a neighborhood association, you can take action and have influence.
Call or tweet your city’s 311 or customer service center. This is the first place to start to get information about a project or file a complaint. If you don’t think your issue is resolved through 311, that’s when it’s time to make bigger moves.
Sign up for email notifications from your local city government, and monitor weekly city council meetings (many governments broadcast this via their municipal government cable channel or the web).
Pay attention to upcoming projects that might impact your property or neighborhood by monitoring city council meeting dockets (the document released weekly that details what will be discussed at that day’s council meeting); and special council committees such as Planning and Zoning, and Public Works/Infrastructure.
Band together with your neighbors to champion a project or make your voice heard about a local issue. Attend public meetings together. There is power in numbers.
Call or email your councilperson. Since council district jurisdictions are relatively smaller than state senate districts, these officials tend to pay more attention to individual constituents. For Kansas City, Mo., residents, go to kcmo.gov to find out what geographical district you live in and get your councilperson’s contact info.
If you think your neighborhood needs a specific fix like new sidewalks, you can make a request to Kansas City’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee. A certain amount of the City’s budget is allocated for new capital infrastructure projects, and PIAC determines how these funds are parceled out. Every summer the committee looks to residents to provide recommendations to help the city identify potential projects. To learn more, visit www.kcmo.gov/citymanagersoffice/piac.
This is just a starting point. Your involvement will not only expose you to new aspects of how your local government works and help you make new connections, but also reflects to future employers your ability to organize and your interest in the common good.