Neighborhoods are invigorated and strengthened by the contributions of caring and creative individuals — people who take the time to give back locally and cultivate community on their own block. Restoring communities on a local level is better than donating time to a larger cause because you probably understand the needs of your community.
Here’s a list of twelve ideas to kick-start your charitable summer work. Pick one … or try them all.
1. Clean it up!
Whether you live on a private suburban cul-de-sac or a bustling city street, you’ve probably noticed at least one area in your community where garbage regularly collects. Whether it’s a storm gutter, flood ditch, or sidewalk, identify the most needy spots, grab some gloves and a garbage bag, and clean up the mess.
Attend to this location once a week, and you’ll see a real improvement by the end of summer.
2. Start a rotating day care
One of the best ways to support a community is to help with the care and protection of its children. For many, the lack of safe and affordable child care is a huge roadblock to professional success, upward mobility, or even just survival. Set an example by offering a free neighborhood child care service once a week, then organize a rotating neighborhood program.
3. Plant a community garden
Make sure you receive the necessary permissions before breaking soil on a suitable space, but if there isn’t one, consider offering a portion of your own yard. Or find a neighbor who would be willing to do the same.
Neighborhood gardens bring people together, reduce crime, and provide food for needy neighbors. If no one on your block is in need, seek a family who could benefit from your neighborhood garden, and make them honorary neighbors.
4. Host a block party potluck
Summers are for grilling outdoors with family and friends. Bring your neighborhood together by hosting a potluck in the middle of the street. If your street is heavily trafficked, wait until National Night Out when many cities will provide road signs and blockades for communities that want to participate. National Night Out is intended to reduce crime and increase awareness, and hosting a neighborhood party will do the same.
5. Screen a family-friendly movie
Giving back to your community doesn’t have to be work. Consider hosting a movie night once a month, or even once a week. Let guests bring snacks to share, and make it even more special by staging the movie against a house or building using a projector (and a screen, if you really want to get fancy).
Start the movie at dusk, and choose PG classics, or older movies that everyone can enjoy. If the event becomes popular, consider allowing people to vote on which movie you’ll watch together next.
6. Visit with the elderly
Older members of the community are often overlooked: they tend to stay indoors, and what’s out of sight is usually out of mind. Don’t let your elder neighbors be forgotten. Go for a visit on a regular basis and give an otherwise lonely person something to look forward to.
7. Create an online discussion forum
The Internet makes helping your neighbors easy by allowing people who need help to ask for it in a format where they feel comfortable. Think Craigslist, only smaller. A WordPress blog or even a Facebook page will do.
Make it clear that this is a forum for neighbors to help one another — whether by offering up an unneeded personal item, or by requesting assistance with a household chore; even to find an emergency babysitter or borrow a tool or appliance.
8. Sponsor field trips
Either curate, offer to provide transportation, or find the resources necessary to take the neighborhood children on a field trip. Try to get a fair number of adults to come along, and see if there isn’t some unique experience you can expose the children to. Think of the people you know: Do any of them have unique jobs? Cool hobbies? Remember always to obtain parental permission, and to transport children safely.
9. Get artistic
Is there a bare and boring brick wall, bus stop, or piece of sidewalk that could be improved by a community art project? Do the dirty work and create a proposal, get the necessary permissions, provide the supplies, and encourage your neighbors to join you in beautifying your block.
10. Share a ride
Across the country cities are embracing the concept of shared bicycles, and your neighborhood can do the same. Pick a neighborhood color, and when you see a cheap used bike at a garage sale, resale shop, or online, scoop it up, spray paint it with your color for easy recognition, and then designate a place where the bike(s) will be stored when not in use.
11. Hold your own charity auction
Host a charity night, offer a fine meal (cooked by the neighborhood’s best chef, maybe), and run a silent auction. Let the auction items come from various members of the neighborhood, kids, and adults, and use your imagination: everyone has unique talents to share with their community. Donate the money your event generates to a local adoption agency or a nearby children’s shelter.
12. Don’t forget about the dogs
People who have dogs also have to walk them. So try establishing a time each day when dog walkers can meet up and socialize their pets while they chat with neighbors. If your neighborhood is lucky enough to be near a park, go there. If not, try to find a good substitute. Schools, public buildings, and even shopping centers can be acceptable alternatives.