Here's an interesting article from the Arizona Republic about overall civic engagement in Arizona: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/2009/12/17/20091217morrison1217.html. While it makes a pretty clear case for Arizonans not being engaged enough in volunteer efforts, charity, or even that most basic American right and responsibility, voting, I'd like to believe that we in Laveen are well above this average. Not to mention, I wonder if the polls that were used in the research take into account some of the more opaque but nonetheless great activities that we have to offer in our community.
As I type this, Catherine is off to a cookie exchange with one of the two local moms groups with which she regularly participates. While this is not exactly what most would consider a volunteer/charity event, I think it's important to consider the positive social role such groups play in our community by connecting neighbors with similar needs. It's sort of like the blockwatch that a few neighbors and I created in our neighborhood in that we want to facilitate neighborly relations more than ever, given the negative trends that seem to have appeared elsewhere in communities where I've lived. We want better and we're willing to work for it.
Here are a few other examples I've observed in our community: I not only serve on my HOA board of directors (as many do in their HOAs), but have also represented us in the Laveen Association of HOAs. And more recently, I have dedicated more time to my involvement with the LCC and on the Laveen Village Planning Committee. Then there's the LPC/LCRD, Laveen Lions, Friends of the Library, Laveen Art League, and even the Laveen School District's governing board and the various PTSAs. Each of these groups is very community focused in its own way, and they seem to each attract a slightly different subset of people interested in helping their community. Also, each of these groups has shown incredible ability to affect positive change for Laveen as they support each other and raise funds for those who need them--such as our community sports groups, scholarships for our students, and similarly worthy efforts to help those in need.
And by the way, I'm totally omitting things like our planned farmers' market (search for it on Facebook) and the proposed Laveen Economic Development Council, both of which will emphasize strengthened sustainable commerce in our community (and also both lagging in moving forward--more about that later). And then there are the organizations that cross boundaries into Laveen, such as the South Mountain/Laveen Chamber of Commerce, which has done excellent things for our community and its businesses, or the South Mountain/Laveen Village Festival Committee, which hosts great events for our families every year. Also, let's not forget the churches, boy scout troops, and the many, many others who make this a great place to live (including even our local newspapers South Mountain District News and South Mountain Villager). And I know several people who partake in their own pet projects around the metro Phoenix area (like Lisa Doromal's Dress for Success), and we'll claim those as well. I'm certainly omitting several other important people and organizations here, but hopefully you can find mentions of them elsewhere on this blog, or else please let me know.
My point in listing every one of these groups is that they are certainly small and therefore may fly under the radar when outside pollsters try to evaluate our civic engagement, but they are incredibly accessible and influential, as community organizations ought to be. Plus, the sheer number of volunteers who take part in these organizations' efforts really should prove other than the old 80-20 rule (aka Pareto Principle). Sure, there are only so many people with the time, inclination, and energy to lead the efforts, but we've all seen the uprising of support whenever there's a community event or a call to action (see for instance the Loop 202, school bonds, or our zoning battles as great examples). So I urge my fellow Laveen residents to stay involved and take pride in bucking these negative trends.
P.S. Since our modern culture seems to be very sensitive to political discussion, I saved this part as an important afterthought to the main discussion. You should also know that we have a few very active political groups in our community, and politics is a wonderful means by which we can all make the cogs of our system turn. I urge my neighbors to engage in frequent and lively political debate in every appropriate forum possible, and hence learn the forgotten art of influencing policy for our benefit rather than just seeing and experiencing its effects. As a Canadian coworker recently commented when we discussed our CEO's controversial political commentary at a meeting, "Isn't that what once made America great--that people could freely discuss their views?"
For your reading pleasure, here are a couple of viewpoints about how political discourse factors into our modern society: Here and here. Here's an entertaining bit of satire on the subject. And then there are the hazards of our political discourse becoming increasingly noisy and vicious: here, here, and here. But I have an idea: let's discuss every way in which we want to improve our society, keep it civil, and try to respect independent thinking and intellectual curiosity. I've always believed that contrary to the most conservative modern etiquette guidelines, you should prepare to discuss politics when in my personal space and it is my right to live by this policy (work is a slightly different story for most, but I mean at home, at a restaurant/bar, or while out and about). And guess what, I still have tons of friends on Facebook (and yes, in real life too), where I have been known to toss out random politically charged URLs, etc. Many of my friends disagree with me on important issues, but as long as they have a difficult time pigeonholing me into a particular group and view me as being tolerant of opposing views, they seem to tolerate my attitude well (not to mention that anyone who knows my family knows that this is a hereditary trait, so they may just pity my helplessness in the matter).