Gap Year Ideas for Civic Engagement

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2 minutes


Imagine if every U.S. citizen took a gap year (or even a few months) involving a form of service to their community. What kinds of strides could we make in environmental conservation, social services, infrastructure, and more?

Here are a few ideas for piecing together an impactful gap year (or shorter!) here in the U.S. As with anything during a pandemic, approach these activities with care and when appropriate look for virtual alternatives.

Reach out to your neighbors

Life is better and communities are stronger when we’re friendly with our neighbors. While this starts with a friendly wave and small talk in the neighborhood, many communities offer more formalized outreach programs like AARP Community Connections or its Spanish language counterpart Mi Comunidad.

Hunger is a big issue in the U.S. — volunteer at a local food bank to serve those in need.
Hunger is a big issue in the U.S. — volunteer at a local food bank to serve those in need.
Image courtesy of Unsplash

Give back locally

  • The Student Conservation Association is a great organization to connect with for environmental projects and education.

  • Food insecurity is a huge issue in the U.S. Check out Feeding America for ways you can help.

  • Organize a community clean-up session near your local lake, river, or creek. Don’t forget the gloves, boots, and masks!

  • Donate blood.

  • Be a substitute teacher. You can make a few bucks while gaining solid leadership and classroom management skills.

  • Check out Idealist for other opportunities in your region.

Planting a community garden is an excellent way to help others.
Planting a community garden is an excellent way to help others.
Image courtesy of Unsplash

Visit a place of worship you’re unfamiliar with

Rather than continuing to wonder what happens inside, visit your local mosque, temple, church, or another establishment and speak with other attendees or clerics. Let them know you’re hoping to learn more about their community.

Attend city council or town hall meetings

There are literally hundreds of thousands of elected officials in the U.S. working for their constituents on a daily basis, and in much more tangible ways than it might seem than at the federal level. Attending local town hall or council meetings brings you face-to-face with the daily decision making that affects all of our lives, and gives you the chance to weigh in directly. Have an issue in your community you want to see addressed? Contact your rep!

Vote and participate in voter registration drives

Voting is the most simple and critical thing you can do to ensure you move your country and community in the direction you want. If you’re abroad, know that you can still vote and if you’re wary about standing in lines, look into mail-in or early voting possibilities in your state. But what if you could increase the impact of voting exponentially? Learn how with Rock the Vote or the League of Women Voters.

Voting is the most simple and critical form of civic engagement - make your voice heard!
Voting is the most simple and critical form of civic engagement - make your voice heard!
Image courtesy of Unsplash

Volunteer to be a poll worker

Many communities are expecting major shortages of poll workers in 2020—to step in and help consider being a poll worker.

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