Live Green and Earn Points


5 Steps to Organizing A Community Service Project

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Just in time for Earth Day, here’s how to mobilize your community to take on a service project.

My little corner of Atlanta is pretty environmental-minded. Our councilperson holds an annual electronics recycling drive, our elementary schools have teaching gardens, and my younger daughter’s preschool recently hired a team of goats and sheep (from the aptly named company Ewe-niversally Green) to clear the brush from their outdoor area in an eco-friendly way. But an effort that brought the whole neighborhood together is a greenspace-beautification project that my friend Ashley Miller started 4 years ago.

She started the Daffodil Project, she told me, “as a way to provide the community, especially the children, the opportunity to make a hands-on, colorful and long-lasting contribution to their community, through the planting of flowering bulbs.” She sells bags of daffodil bulbs to raise money in order to buy more bulbs, which are planted in areas around the neighborhood: in front of schools, in the park, in front of the police precinct. “Over the four years we’ve done this, I would say we have planted over 600 daffodil, hyacinth and tulip bulbs,” Ashley estimates. Along the way, the local Girl Scout troop, the park’s conservancy organization, and the neighborhood parent’s group have all gotten involved to help sell and plant the bulbs.

With Earth Day approaching, Ashley’s Daffodil Project made me think of how magical it is when a neighborhood bands together for an environmental cause, or simply to make their neighborhood a better place. It’s a way of teaching kids the value of service and philanthropy, while giving adults the chance to feel good about contributing to their community. And if Ashley’s success is any indication, it’s not hard to put together such a project, if you put a bit of planning and thought into it. Here’s how:

1. Come Up With a Concept: Look around your neighborhood or city and determine what its needs are. A trash pick-up in the park? A community garden? A workday to fix up a playground? A recycling drive for electronics? Your idea should be one that will resonate with and benefit a wide swath of residents, with the opportunity for folks of all ages to get involved.

2. Join Forces: Consider getting an already existing group involved to help promote and provide manpower to get it done. Groups that have some sort of service aspect are the obvious choice: A church or synagogue, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, or high schools in which the students have a service requirement are all clear choices. Even a local company that encourages and rewards its employees to volunteer might be able to help recruit participants.

3. Plan Meticulously: Form a small committee and think through your event or concept and plan every last detail, delegating individuals to oversee various aspects: Publicizing the event, coordinating volunteers in shifts, setup and cleanup, etc. There are some great online sign-up sheet services (my favorite is Sign-Up Genius) or shareable documents that can help keep everyone in touch and in the loop. Don’t forget to set a goal for what you hope to accomplish so you don’t lose sight of your original inspiration.

4. Spread the Word: In the era of Facebook, Evite and Twitter, it’s never been easier to publicize and promote an event. Create a Facebook or Evite invitation or page and ask people to spread the word about your activity. Flyers hung on bulletin boards or windows of local businesses can also help get the news out.

5. Keep it Going: If your event was a success, even if it was on a small scale, don’t waste the momentum you’ve got. Use the email addresses or Facebook followers you’ve built up to spread the word about other, similar events you might be interested in. Make your event an annual or seasonal one, if it makes sense to do so, or pick a new service project for the next effort. And be sure to take plenty of photos to share with local media.

Has your city or community done any exciting, environmental-minded community projects? Share your stories in the comments below!

Jessica Harlan

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Every Monday, I'll be here to share one, two, three… sometimes even ten! eco-friendly ideas at a time, so we can all do a little bit to save the Earth.

When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • Janet G. 9 months ago
    I purchased a house 7 years ago as a "tear down". Instead of tearing it down, I completely restored it and wrote the nomination for it to be placed on the Historic Register. I also started a Non-Profit to preserve and maintain buildings of this era (1950's). My community schedules tours of my home to raise $$$ for other community improvement projects. It was a lot of hard work, but very rewarding and more buildings of this era are now being repurposed instead of demolished.
  • Lydia L. 3 years ago
  • Lecel and Emily C. 3 years ago
    will try this in my town
  • mary a. 3 years ago
  • Trinity S. 3 years ago
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