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How to Create Change In Your Community: Finding or Forming A Local Group

Members of Sustainable Capitol Hill Engaging With Neighbors At Park(ing) Day Plot

Living Locally & Creating Change

We have discussed living locally here before – essentially, living locally means you’re not only eating locally grown food, but you’re buying locally, and becoming an active member of your community. You are beginning to work on community building and strengthening.

When we live locally and strengthen our communities, we become stronger and better able to adapt to changes in the economy, climate, and energy availability. Each community is unique and has its own needs, whether it be public transportation, sustainable food resources, strengthening local businesses, reducing carbon emissions, increasing recycling and reducing waste, building community gardens and parks,… the list is varied and lengthy.

And we have discussed a bit here about what we can do. But we haven’t talked much about how to do it in detail. So… how do you create change in your community? And how do you form a group of people who can tackle these community needs?

originally uploaded by ClifBar&Co on Flickr

Finding A Local Group

First of all, before you think about creating a new group of people, I encourage you to make sure you’ve taken a good hard look at what’s out there. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to! If you can find an organization that is already working toward sustainability in some sort of way, it may be easier to try to create a project within their already established group, rather than start completely from scratch.

Slow Food Booth at Seattle Tilth Harvest Festival Last Month

The types of groups where you might find local people who are interested in creating community-wide change include: disaster preparedness groups, peak oil, climate change and environmental groups (those working in your local community), gardening outreach organizations, programs that help fight homelessness, food banks, community gardens/allotments, neighborhood associations, block watch programs, neighborhood, city and town councils, city and neighborhood sustainability boards, youth programs, PTA meetings, community center events, earth day and other “green” fairs, city or town Department of Neighborhoods, native planting/invasive species clearing groups, local animal welfare societies, university campus groups,… the list goes on, but these are some things that I’ve come across.

Garden Gathering Tent At Sustainable Ballard Festival This Weekend

Where Do You Find Them?

Subscribe to your local paper – either online or in paper form. Subscribe to your community paper or newsletter. Look through your local “goings on” paper, usually a weekly paper. Search online using Google, the phone book, The Relocalization Network, and Transition Towns.

Talk to people, ask around, call one organization and ask them if they know of an organization that is more what you’re looking for. Attend conferences, film screenings, fairs, and local meetings about things you’re interested in – and talk with people there. Ask local bloggers, follow links on websites, visit your city/town website for possibilities, and check out your local chamber of commerce.

Local Biodynamic Farm Tour At Harvest Celebration This Weekend

But… What If There Isn’t Anything Locally?!

Forming A Local Group

Starting an organization is not particularly easy, but you may find that there just aren’t any groups that are doing what you want to do – nor working on what your community needs most. So go for it. Get like-minded people together. Get people with disparate areas of expertise together. Find people who can complement your skills. You may not know how to do something, but someone else you know (or who you could meet and get to know) may be able to do it!

Network. Bring local bloggers together, introduce yourself to people at your farmer’s market, attend your chamber of commerce (or city council and neighborhood council) meetings and feel out people who would be interested, announce a sustainability meeting at your church and ask people to come, talk with organic gardeners, slow foodies, knitters, environmentalists, whoever you can find that might be interested.

build community sign uploaded by whizchickenonabun on flickr

Then Set Up A Meeting!

Once you have a group of people interested, set a time, date, and location and publicize it! Email and call everyone. Put an announcement in the local newsletter, the community paper, and post fliers in coffee shops and other gathering places.

Include when, where, directions and/or a map, beginning and ending time, briefly what the meeting is, and whether or not people need to bring anything. And make it sound fun, worthwhile, and interesting!

When setting a time and date, try to schedule around other local events, sports, and holidays, and make sure to schedule a meeting after work or on the weekend days. If you are holding the meeting in a space where having kids is appropriate, do tell people it’s ok to bring children. If people don’t have to leave their children at home and pay a sitter, they’re more likely to come.

And make it easy. Host something small at your house, the local church, the local community center, a nearby park or community garden. You can make it a potluck. Or if it’s after dinner, you can provide just a few snacks and coffee and tea. Or make it a dessert potluck.

When the meeting time nears, make sure to email and/or call people to remind them of the meeting. If you have a limited time, don’t be afraid to set up a phone tree with people you trust.

originally uploaded by run4unity on Flickr

What Do You Do When You Get People Together…

The First Meeting

First of all, if only a few people come to the meeting, don’t despair. That’s a few more people gathering about sustainability than have ever gathered in your community before. So make it worth everyone’s while, make people excited and motivated, find common grounds and enjoy one another’s company. And then get them to invest in the group, feel a part of it, and they will talk with other people who might be interested in coming next time.

Secondly, if all your first meetings do is get people together talking and feeling like they are not alone, that is great. That is more than most people accomplish.

Originally uploaded by fullcirclefund on Flickr

But do set out with at least a rough schedule and a list of things you want to accomplish – and let everyone know at the beginning of the meeting, so they know what to expect. A good ice breaker is to ask everyone to introduce themselves and tell a little about why they’ve come to the meeting (especially if it’s a small group). Name tags are also a good idea.

group discussion by brentcarpenter on flickr

Make sure someone is greeting guests as they walk in. That person should be saying hello and introducing themselves, making people feel comfortable, handing them a nametag, and asking them to sign in with their phone # and email address. Don’t forget to get contact information so that you can make sure everyone stays informed!! If people are hesitant to give the info, tell them it’s to email them the meeting notes and the details of the next meeting.

Group Discussion by carissamariposita on Flickr

Generally speaking, getting people sitting in a circle facilitates a more informal and discussion-oriented meeting. You want people to participate, and to become an active part of the discussion.

Originally uploaded by JOJO TRAN on Flickr

So, now you have people together and they have met one another. Next, it’s time to address some of the things you are interested in seeing in your community. Community gardens, educational seminars about sustainable living, motivating people to recycle, helping the impoverished in your community, fighting crime or graffiti, planting trees and creating more parks, overall community preparedness, helping local businesses become sustainable – whatever it is, bring it up and gauge people’s interest. Ask what others think are important, and what they would be interested in working on together. Make a list of priorities. (If there’s a chalkboard or whiteboard you can write these down, otherwise take notes.)

Group Discussion by Arkfamily on Flickr

Engage people, let them talk and make sure to listen to what they have to say, let ideas become better with discussion, and also keep the conversation moving and productive (you don’t want people to lose interest and feel like their time is being wasted).

Group Discussions by emmapersky on Flickr

Make sure someone besides you is taking notes so that you can all remember what you talked about, and disperse those notes later in the week (via email, most likely).

Make sure to leave enough time at the end of your meeting to establish the next meeting time and place. Find out if the same time next month is good. And then THANK EVERYONE FOR COMING, sum up the meeting at the end, let everyone know how exciting it is to have everyone together, discussing these issues that are so important to the community.

As people leave, shake their hand, tell them you look forward to seeing them next time, that you liked their idea about xx, that you’ll follow up with them about the question they asked….

What To Do After The Meeting

Sometime in the next few days, send everyone an email: compile the notes, follow up on anything else you were supposed to do, and thank everyone for coming. Make it fun. And then remind everyone about the next meeting.

A week before the next meeting, make sure you remind everyone about it, and tell them how much you’re looking forward to it!

Sustainable Capitol Hill Sign

What’s In A Name?

A name of a group or organization is very important. It must be unique to your own locale, and it must be a name that people will be fond of, or at least a name that they won’t mind being identified with. Nothing too controversial – you don’t want to turn off people (and businesses) to the group before they even meet you. But descriptive enough that it’s clear what the group is about.

Some groups here include: Sustainable Seattle, Sustainable Capitol Hill (our neighborhood group), Seattle Green Drinks, Washington Toxics Coalition, Environmental Coalition of South Seattle, Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, NW Energy Coalition, Farming and the Environment, Bicycle Alliance of Washington… just a few ideas to put into your head!

So you can think up a name for the organization before the first meeting. That way you’ll be able to put a title on your fliers and emails. Or, you can give it a temporary name and then let the group decide what the name should be (probably not during the first meeting, but several meetings in). You decide, you can gauge how people feel about the name and see how it goes!

Working Together originally by rockinpaddy on Flickr

That’s it for now. Next time, I will probably discuss finding a good first project and making sure it works. Sound good?

Let Me Know What You Think!

Is this helpful to you? How could it be more helpful? What questions do you have?

Also please share your knowledge – how have you successfully formed groups? What advice do you have for others who are thinking about it?

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26 comments to How to Create Change In Your Community: Finding or Forming A Local Group

  • If anyone is in the Enumclaw, WA area, please let me know. Looking to hook up with like-minded folks.

  • tom

    Wow there is a lot of information here. Thanks for taking the time to post it. I am psuedo linked with a student group where i work. I know a few people in, but it is laregly for students on campus…. I’m staff. I need to look closer to home. thanks for the tips

  • I took a voluntary simplicity class through last fall through a local environmental education center and met some very wonderful people. Since then, I have volunteered with this organization which has resulted in meeting more local, like-minded people and finding out about other groups and businesses.

  • This is great! I just went to my first ;Sustainable Burien meeting and was amazed how I am sorrounded by like minded people. I also went to the sustainable ballard festival, albeit I was there for a class on sprouting, being given by Seattle Free School, and I had one fine time!
    You are so right on building community! I say take a class or something if there are no groups in your area or start one!

  • curiousalexa

    Last year I started an environmental action group on campus, because i was frustrated there wasn’t one. it was very slow to start. i’m hoping for better turn out and activity this year – our first meeting of the semester is this afternoon.

    The administration is *very* supportive. they took over putting recycling bins next to the garbage cans in all the classrooms when it was clear the group didn’t have people on board to help.

    How can I make this year different? how can i get students (and staff and faculty) to be involved and active? to actually DO something? I was the only one who showed up for volunteer day at the local preserve last spring!

    i do not consider myself a leader. i help people get things done, but there has to be some ambition on their part that i *can* help. getting, and keeping, this group going has been really really hard for me, a natural introvert. but i need to do something more than just change my lightbulbs! (the group gave away 100 CFs at a campus event last spring. one gal didn’t know what they were, another thought they were a brand-new technology. gah!)

    beautiful timing on this post, thank you!

  • Melinda this is a wonderfully informative post. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. As you know from the post I wrote a few days ago, I have felt a little disenfranchised as of late due to the lack of local community. We have a great online community of like-minded people, but that does nothing for my hometown. I need to be out there too.

    We had tried getting involved with a local group that didn’t really work out for us. Had we looked into it, we would have known right away that while it was a great group – it wasn’t focused on what we wanted to focus on. But we so desperately wanted to do SOMETHING that we attended meetings and always felt as if there was something missing. We volunteered all the time, even though we didn’t feel particularly comfortable or knowledgeable, we just wanted to help. Eventually, obviously we got burnt out and just couldn’t get our hearts in to it. This led both Brett and I myself to feeling a little bit like “failures”.

    However, this post has inspired me to look around. There is a group here called Big Canoe and they focus on sustainable communities, there is also a group called Wild Ones that focuses on native plants, as well as a Community Garden Coalition. So luckily we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We are going to research these organizations further and see about possibly attending one of the meetings to see how we like it.

    And talking with folks at the farmer’s market is great. They remember you the next week and that is really nice to be able to walk by someone at the market and say “hey Phil!”

    This aspect of living sustainably has been quite difficult for Brett and I because we are both intensely shy and reserved in “public” (online we can feel a little more anonymous), but we are working on breaking out of our shells a little bit. It takes time.

    Sorry for my insanely long comment! Again, excellent post, seriously!

  • Duh, now I remember why I find it so hard building community. I was reading this post and thinking, “yeah, this is great and informative!” and a the same time shivering like crazy thinking about all those PEOPLE and trying to speak in front of them and how scary it is.

    I think I’m going to keep going to my knitting group at school and make friends there. And go on from there. I wanted to go to the gardening club but I just didn’t feel comfortable enough to go back after the third week. Will try again next year.

  • Great post, as always Melinda. I know you and I have a long history or building these communities and your recent efforts to bring together NW Bloggers was a great start here locally.

    I think we need another bottle of prosecco to help us work through some issues we are finding here with our local Sustainable West Seattle group. Maybe it’s just time for us to start another group?

    Thank you for posting such a comprehensive, step-by-step guide for community building.

  • LatigoLiz, I will keep my eyes and ears out for Enumclaw locals! Have you heard of SCALLOPS (crazy name – Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound) – it doesn’t look like they have anyone in Enumclaw, but you might want to contact the one closest to you. There may be some people near you working with them, or you may find that this is a good organization that could help you start a group in your community. Just a thought!

    Tom, Thanks for your comment! I’m sure you’ll find a good group to hook up with – good luck in your search!

    Monica, Oooh – classes are another great resource – good idea!

    Rob, Awesome – I’m so glad you’ve gone to your first Sustainable Burien meeting!! I’m am so excited about the Seattle Free School. I’ve signed up on the wait list for the making cheese classes – YUM.

    Alexa, Sometimes organizations to have a slow start – that’s a good reminder. But everyone starts somewhere. : ) As awareness grows, and you continue to reach out and advertise to others, I’m sure the group will grow. Spread the word & keep at it!

    It’s wonderful to have a supportive administration. I wonder if there’s anyway you could take advantage of that, by having them announce your group to new students, or …?? I’m not sure, but ask them what they might be able to do to help spread the word – they may know.

    Also, try to get the campus newspaper to write a story about what you’re doing. Tell them the next time you have an event or an action of some kind.

    And maybe you could team up with other campus organizations on a bigger project…

    I don’t consider myself a leader, either, and I’m naturally quite shy. But it’s important, and if we don’t do it nobody will, so here we are!!

    Jennifer, Thank you for your lengthy comment – I love lengthy comments – no need to apologize!!

    I understand completely, the feeling of failing, of investing in a group that doesn’t really pay off. Time and time again that happened last year in Geyserville and it was very disheartening. Those new groups you’ve found sound great! And remember: even if they aren’t doing exactly what you want to do, there may be room for you to start a new initiative under that organization.

    It’s always possible that there just isn’t anything else. And that’s ok. You just have to start something! It’s tough, but it’s certainly rewarding. There are other people out there, you just have to find them and get them together!

    It does take time, but we all can come out of our shells. As I said above, I’m quite shy, too… but if not us, then who?

    Stephanie, Ah, you’re not off the hook because you’re shy and reserved!! Many of us are. I’m an incredibly shy person. But here I am! I keep introducing myself to new people. One of the scariest things is the beginning of the meeting when everyone goes around the room and tells who they are and what they do… But I do it, because it’s important! : )

    There are lots of ways to make your campus a more sustainable community. There may be a group working toward that already, that you could join up with. Look around! And enjoy the knitting and gardening groups as well!

    Shibaguyz, Thanks! Uh oh. Hmmm. Sounds like a bit of bubbly is in order… I’d be happy to do what I can to troubleshoot with you!

  • I found this yesterday:
    I hope to write for an upcoming issue of the magazine, too.

  • Wow, that sounds great!! : ) Awesome. I’m glad you found them.

  • [...] doing some research this morning, I realized that going to community meetings in my neighborhood really feeds my soul. It makes me realize I’m not alone, that others care, [...]

  • [...] It seems big, but just revel in it for now. Picture it. Contemplate it. And then do some research, talk to your neighbors, go to some local meetings. Now you are powerful, because you have a vision. You have a goal to work toward. You can see it, and you know where you need to go. Now work toward it. [...]

  • A great place to find local groups and support is to contact the Low Carbon Communities Network a grass roots organisation run by and for low carbon communities. We had a very successful conference on 4th October in which over 400 people participated, either online or at one of our two locations (Llangollen and London).

  • Tracey, Thank you for your comment. I’ll add the Low Carbon Communities Network to our Community Building resources.

  • [...] Find or form a local group of people interested in helping you create a local food system, and start on it now. You can begin by forming a local community garden system, or by creating a farmer’s market once a week, or pushing local groceries to carry products from local growers. [...]

  • [...] What if you don’t have friends and family who are interested in these things? You know my answer to that: find people who are! You’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely. Chat with the people at the local yarn shop or CSA, take a soap making class and ask your fellow students, join a green book club or some other club – there are a myriad ways of meeting people. (I have written a lot more suggestions here.) [...]

  • [...] 4.  Other gardeners:  online groups, local gardening classes, community gardens, etc.  If you can’t find a group in your area, start one!! [...]

  • [...] We love local solutions, and the best way to get to solutions is to get people in your town talking to each other. Here is a good article from One Green Generation on Starting a Local Group. [...]

  • marguerite moore

    I liked what I saw and read in your website I feel that this will help me put our plan for the outreach in our commuinity for our church and will help me with forming our teams. I dont think I am local but I felt the warmth from a far.

    God Bless you

    thank marguerite

  • marguerite moore

    please send me a reply that you received this message marguerite

  • [...] Raisin (and our own futures) to the pesticides were a big issue. Plus a growing understanding that community is important, that we cannot survive and thrive without a community. And the feeling that actually, Matt and I [...]

  • [...] within your current friends, you might consider finding like-minded people who can support you.  Check out Finding Or Forming A Local Group for ways to do [...]

  • imran tahitr

    this article is very much beneficial for a person who is going to bring a huge change within a community by forming an organization .I liked it very much.

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