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Build community involvement if you want to have a community.

The following is a preview of one of the topics to be covered during Leadership Training Institute seminars at the Congress of Cities in Charlotte, N.C. "Mobilizing Citizens and Building Community Involvement" will take place Tuesday, December 6.

Check your calendar. Monday night's council meeting: canceled. Wednesday night's sewer board meeting: canceled. Thursday night's neighborhood watch meeting: postponed. Playground refurbishing, Main Street revitalization: scrapped. What happened? No one wanted to get involved.

Volunteers make your city a community. "This is a partnership, city staff, city council and the city residents working together to make their city, their future and their lives better," states Paul McNamara, vice mayor of Marysville, Fla.

How can you build that community partnership? Every volunteer must first be involved. Embrace citizens of every age. Bring the new, disenfranchised, busy and disinterested into the fold. Stage activities that will appeal to families, seniors, neighborhoods and different ethnic groups.

To round up potential volunteers, first you must understand what motivates people to get involved. Each person has a different impetus. If you don't believe this, ask your volunteers why they stepped up to the plate. If you know the motivations, you can design events, marketing, time commitments and approaches that grab constituents.

Generate a variety of ways to attract constituents. Be visible. Pat Eklund, council member from Novato, Calif., says the council "makes presentations at Rotary, Soroptimist, home owners associations and other clubs to get the word out and ask for representation on boards, commissions and committees."

Be accessible. Eklund says, "I encourage people to call me at home or send an e-mail message." Showcase boards, commissions and other community groups at a tradeshow.

Lakewood, Colorado's on-hold telephone recording notifies citizens of council meetings.

Educate your citizens. Many cities offer leadership training institutes to bring citizens up to speed. Your website should be fresh, updated and interactive. Welcome new neighbors and businesses. Get them involved immediately. This serves the newcomer as well as the community. New residents can feel detached, especially in communities where citizens scatter daily to larger cities to work.

Convert the involved into volunteers. ASK! The main reason people become volunteers is that they were asked. If a friend asks them, chances are even higher that they will say, "Yes." Match the volunteer job to the volunteer. Keep a current database. Recruit volunteers where they hang out. Recycle volunteers. Boards and commissions tend to be good training grounds for future council members.

Maximize the volunteer experience by holding orientation sessions, promoting volunteers, and offering training opportunities. Reward volunteers often. Be creative and specific. Develop an exit interview. Volunteers like to be asked their opinions. You'll discover how to improve future volunteer experiences.

It takes time, patience and money to recruit, train and retain volunteers, but the payoff is worth it. Palo Alto City Manager Frank Benest said, "The future of local government lies in transforming passive consumers of public services into responsible citizens. Local government can help people rediscover their lost sense of responsible citizenship."

Karen Susman is a speaker and author with Remarkable Associations in Denver, Co. She can be reached at 303-756-6939 or
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Title Annotation:Leadership Training Institute
Author:Susman, Karen
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1U5NC
Date:Sep 19, 2005
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