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Engaged citizens and their halo effect on communities

What does it mean to be an engaged citizen?

At its core, I believe it means making your community a better place by volunteering or raising money for a worthy cause, reaching out to your neighbours or voting in the municipal, provincial and federal elections. 

Engaged citizens help build healthier and happier communities. But in a world where "time poverty", especially among working parents, plagues so many of us, people often believe they simply don’t have time to give back. 

As Manager of Advocacy and Public Relations at YWCA Metro Vancouver, Chantelle Krish spends a lot of time thinking about how to get people to become engaged in their communities. She emphasises that citizenship doesn’t have to mean chairing a board, donating large sums of money or committing to a single cause. 

Engaged citizenry can start small and stay small, and each act has a halo effect: when an act in one area influences or impacts another area.

“When people are engaged at any level in their communities, it benefits organizations like the YWCA and others doing similar work," says Krish. "The worst thing you can do is to give up hope that things can get better." 

Those who volunteer their time remain closer to their personal causes, while others can use social media to stay engaged and educate and influence their friends and networks.

“Millennials aren’t inspired to get involved by watching a video that pulls at their heart strings,” says Krish. “They tell us that they are motivated by becoming a part of the change or the solution.”

What engagement means to me

For myself, engaging in my community has always come in the form of volunteering for causes or issues I am passionate about -- CKNW Orphans’ Fund, Canadian Diabetes Association and most recently the YWCA. My goals align with those of the Y - to build better futures for women and their families - and even though I’m not donating thousands of dollars to their programs, I feel I’m making a difference through sharing the YWCA’s stories on this blog. That's being an engaged citizen.

Krish challenges those who argue that one person can’t make a difference. 

“It isn’t enough to rely on the government or organizations to create stronger communities,” she says. “Healthy and engaged communities are created by raising your hand and getting involved - in big ways or small.” 

Here are a few simple ways you can make a difference:

  • Get to know your neighbour
  • Register to be an organ donor
  • Measure your carbon footprint
  • Bike or walk to work

Beyond that, start thinking about what you’re passionate about and how you can transfer your passion into creating a happier, healthier and more engaged community. Then do it!

Jessica Gares is a communications and public relations professional working in Vancouver. She is a volunteer blogger with the YWCA - follow her on Twitter at @jessicagares.  If you're interested in learning more about being an engaged citizen, start by reading more about the YWCA's work in social change and don't forget to tell us what inspires you - join the conversation below or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

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