Friday, April 3, 2009

Volunteering in your community

I wrote this almost a year ago, and it appeared in and the Hopkinton Independent in May and June 2008. The sentiment remains true today.

Volunteering on a Town Board or Committee in Hopkinton

Hoping to make a positive impact on town government, two years ago I began serving a five year term on the Planning Board. Some joke that it’s a five year sentence. But I disagree. Although a pure volunteer endeavor, public service has been one of the most personally rewarding things I’ve ever done.

As a way of encouraging others with specific interest and skills to offer their talent in the form of public service to the town, I’d like to share some reflections from my first two years. Today, there are several openings on various town boards and committees in Hopkinton.

Why Volunteer: Making Hopkinton an Even Better Place

At the simplest level, I volunteer for the reasons I tell my four year old daughter when she asks why I have to go to a meeting: to make Hopkinton an even better place for her future. Making Hopkinton an even better place for our families and loved ones, our neighbors, and our future here together is a powerful motivator. And it’s actually quite achievable when you volunteer for a town board or committee with the right attitude, patience, persistence and attention to detail.

When to Start: No Better Time than the Present

Volunteering for public service is a form of investing in our community’s future. And, like financial investing, the best time to start is now. A lot of people think things will slow down providing time to get involved when their children are a little older, but I’m not banking on that. Plus, having children who will grow up here provides a very real incentive to get involved in shaping Hopkinton’s future. One convenience of volunteering while your children are still young is that meetings take place after their bedtime, enabling an uneventful departure that causes minimal disruption to the family routine. I’m usually reading bedtime stories right up until about 7:20 on Planning Board meeting nights.

Job Requirement: Self Control and Acknowledging Differences Respectfully

A lot of people don’t get involved because they “don’t like politics.” In fact, interestingly enough, most people I’ve met volunteering on these boards in town say that they too don’t like politics even though we’re all deeply involved in it! The fact is, when dealing with other people on emotional issues of what’s best for our community, there are bound to be differing viewpoints that lead to conflicts and misperceptions that can feel personal. One thing I’ve learned is that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But also, an ability to acknowledge differences respectfully and move on pragmatically to constructive engagement goes a long way.

Time Commitments: Balancing Priorities is Key

Most people feel pretty busy already, but somehow find time for things that matter. Most town boards and committees meet either once or twice a month. Meetings generally run between ninety minutes and four hours depending on the committee and agenda for the meeting. And there can be reading material in between meetings if you want to be most effective. I don’t watch much TV, so I guess that gives me back several hours a week otherwise lost. And having a supportive spouse helps. Still, for me, like most, family comes first. So, balancing priorities is critical. Family, work, travel schedules, and other personal commitments become natural balancing factors that force prioritization and the setting of personal limits to keep things in balance.

Not Ready? Other Ways to Get Involved

For those who want to get their feet wet first before stepping into town government, or just want to help in other ways, there are many other ways to get involved. Whether it’s the Library, the Cultural Arts Alliance, the Historical Society, a booster club for the schools, signing up as a writer for a local news outlet, taking a Saturday morning hike with the Trails Club, joining a running group, or volunteering at a local charity; each of these activities offers a chance to meet new people and gain new perspectives on our community. If you introduce yourself to any of these groups you will find people eager to accept your involvement, and the payback in personal satisfaction will be instantaneous.

Ready? Take the Next Step

There are currently openings on several boards and committees, which will be filled through appointments by the Board of Selectmen. If you’re ready to get involved, the first step is to send a note expressing your interest to the Board of Selectmen through the Town Manager’s office in Town Hall. Vacancies currently exist on Planning Board, Appropriations Committee, Cable Committee, Tax Relief Committee, Marathon Fund Committee, and the Veteran’s Celebration Committee. To stay tuned with openings throughout the year, check the town web site at:

Joe Markey serves on the Planning Board.

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