One of the most difficult things that I find in community work is figuring out how to get volunteers to join us in participating and enjoying community work. Often times for those who do get involved, it’s hard to know exactly how to own and grow from the experience of community service. Without the right attitude on what you can gain from or contribute to your volunteer experience, you can end up feeling your efforts weren’t valuable, or worse yet, that you were used. In my experience, volunteering and being involved for the past twelve-ish years, I’ve learned there are four basic ways you can look at the work. Starting with this article, I’ll be writing a four part series of why and how anybody and everybody should get involved in community work.
Hmong community work is pretty much driven by the fact that we care about our community. From the college student orgs to volunteers to our community based organizations, all volunteers who serve our community help because they care about our people. It is a unique and beautiful aspect of our culture that we have such deep passion for our people. Although it is noble and good that so many young Hmong folks are so willing to give back, I do feel that if we can expand our ideas of what community work can be, we can have a much greater sense of ownership of and connection to the work.
Too often we think of community work as basic services. Our people have needs, we have time, and so we fill out forms for elders or tutor youth. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are many possibilities where you can infuse what you deeply enjoy with the people you deeply care about. If you like doing video, audio, politics, sports, or any other activity, be creative and combine that with your community work. Our community is starving for experiences and it is important that everyone gives back what they feel reflects their strengths and interests.
At Hmong Innovating Politics, a group we started here in Sacramento, our efforts have been focused around getting our community to vote and participate in politics. We gave back by taking our passion for politics and policy to host two voter community forums to get more folks voting in last year’s election. Elders came to learn how to vote and all the propositions on the 2012 California ballot.
If you want to check out some pictures of that effort, you can go here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.276605259125875.70847.259445380841863&type=3
We were able to combine our passion for political involvement with our passion for the community. In doing so we created an entirely new and valuable experience for our community. As I said before, it’s not just limited to one particular interest. My sister who’s in beauty school, volunteered one day to do hair and makeup with an elderly Hmong women’s group at Hmong Women’s Heritage. Here’s a picture of some of the work they did:
The elders thoroughly enjoyed the activity and were really happy to get a chance to do their nails, their hair, and their makeup. On top of that, my sister got more experiences in how to help make people feel confident and beautiful, especially older people from our community. Hmong Women’s Heritage Association regularly holds these classes, but she took up the opportunity to give back in a way that made their lives richer and more meaningful. Everyone with a passion can do this. On top of that, it’s a great experience when you can share who you are with your community and build relationships in a way that might not be “traditionally” Hmong but is still exciting and fun!
I hope you now realize that community work can be done with art, politics, film, exercise, beauty, or whatever you love to do and care to share with everyone else. It is deeply fulfilling and rewarding to be able to give our community new opportunities and experiences. Just make sure that you find the right place to tailor your interests, whether to youth, elders, parents, etc. There are plenty of organizations, schools, and programs that regularly convene our community that do the same thing every day or every year. With your time and your interests, you can greatly improve the quality and value of these programs, and at the same time touch the lives of our people. Here’s a list of things I think our community needs that matches the interests you might have.
- Physical activities for elders with health problems, especially chronic illnesses like diabetes
- Arts and music for youth
- Sports mentoring/coaching for youth
- Parenting classes and discussion groups for parents
- Family and marriage groups for families
- Mentoring groups for youth and young adults
- Professional development coaching for all adults
- Health education for everyone
The list goes on and on. If you have a passion but don’t know how exactly you’d like to give back, hit me up on Facebook and we can think something up.