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Raleigh in 2022: Start the Civic Renaissance

How could Raleigh be better for more communities in 2022? We asked local community leaders and doers to share their ideas for the future. 

First up: Amber Smith, the Executive Director of Activate Good, a nonprofit that mobilizes locals to improve our community by facilitating volunteer projects around the Triangle. 

By Amber Smith

When COVID-19 arrived, nine out of 10 of Activate Good’s active volunteer opportunities were canceled. Our community partners lost the critical volunteer help they needed to keep their operations going. 

I watched people recede into homes and disconnect and feel the pangs of isolation and listlessness.

But then I saw the first sparks of a “Civic Renaissance” — a phrase I admittedly made up, probably during one of my classic unintentionally-brainstorming-while-sleeping episodes. 

It stuck out in my head as a near perfect descriptor of what I was seeing: A widespread understanding of our interconnectedness. A realization that everyday people hold the key to transforming things for the better. And for some, a fresh initiation into a world of service.

Research came out that validated my observations. 95% of participants in a 2020 civic engagement survey conducted by Points of Light stated they wish to maintain their level of involvement or do MORE to make a difference after the pandemic passes. 

So here we are, nearly at the end of 2021, and we’re at a crossroads. The way I see it, we have two choices: 

  1. Continue as things have been, accepting little progress on the big issues we all care deeply about: Hunger, homelessness, health and wellbeing, the environment and more.
  2. Choose to make today the start of our own Civic Renaissance. For ourselves as individuals, for this beautiful city and state we live in and, inevitably — because good things tend to ripple out beyond borders — for the world. 

What that could look like:

  • Ask questions, listen, and learn. A spirit of discovery and learning is a key component of any good renaissance. Have you ever wondered why things are the way that they are? Why do we still have hunger, poverty, and homelessness? How can we help people but also better understand root causes so we can ultimately address them once and for all? 
  • Proactively practice empathy. I’ve seen people from all walks of life helping others and yearning for meaning and connection. So, find someone different from you, talk to them, and try to identify 3 things you have in common with them. 
  • Take action by helping your community. There are hundreds recovering from the numerous setbacks of the pandemic. Consider what you’re passionate about, how you can use your skills, and what fits your schedule (Find some at ActivateGood.org).
  • Grow your impact by inviting others. Nearly half of all new volunteers got started because a personal invitation. You can help increase the number of people involved in our community just by sharing the causes you care about with passion, enthusiasm and a clear call to action. 

So, what do you think? I for one am excited about the possibilities a Civic Renaissance holds for us. I hope you’ll join in. We need every person we can get. 

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