Invest In Yourself, Invest In Your Future

(Image Description: Photograph of a pair of hands cradling a piggy bank)
By: Allison Jensen Marketing Coordinator at Compu-Mail and YNPN Greater Bflo Director of Programming
As a young professional, it’s important to think about investing now to secure a stable future for yourself. Of course, it’s natural to immediately think of investing in the form of financials, stocks, and bonds. These are great tangible investments to start thinking about, but perhaps equally important are the intangible investments you make, like how you spend your time.
Here are 3 ways to invest in yourself that are also an investment in your future:
1. Decide what you want to be, and design your career around it. 
Some people know what they want to be before they leave high school. Some may not figure it out until years after college. Either way, it’s important to turn inward to determine what drives you and what you are passionate about, then design your life and career in ways that support and nurture those passions.
2. Find people that can help you chart your path. 
Joining networking groups is great for meeting new people. Challenge yourself to connect with diverse groups of people. Depending on the groups you join it’s likely that you will meet people at all different stages of their career. When you take the time to get to know them on a personal level, you may find that they have insights on how to help you chart your path. Surround yourself with a network that can push you to grow and develop.
3. Show up and be present. 
Along those same lines, an important investment to make in yourself is to push yourself to go to events you might not normally attend. Maybe you were planning to attend with a friend or coworker and they had to cancel last minute. Go anyway. Maybe you have never been to an event with this group before and you’re not sure what to expect. Go anyway. The most important thing you can do is just show up and try something new. While you are there, try to stay in the moment. Put your phone in your pocket or purse and focus on the person in front of you.
These 3 simple investments in yourself are a strong long-term investment for your life.
Not sure what groups to join or how to grow your network in the Western New York community? Get started with YNPN Greater Bflo! Become a member today and start networking with other young professionals in the area. (Link to member registration). Already a member? Check out our upcoming events and mark them on your calendar!
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Engaging the Active Citizen Continuum to Support Your Organization or Your Personal Growth

By: Aurora Schunk Assistant Director of the Civic and Community Engagement Office at Buffalo State College and YNPN Greater Bflo Board Co-Chair

When you hear the phrase “active citizen,” what comes to your mind? What do you think are the characteristics that make an “active citizen?” Can anyone be an “active citizen,” or do you need to be Ai-Jen Poo?

Active citizens are individuals who see the world through the lens of community.  They prioritize the community in values and life choices and take action on issues that matter to them. So yes, Ai-Jen Poo is without a doubt an active citizen. In fact so was/is Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, and you.

But how does one become an active citizen? Active Citizenship isn’t like the Birth of Venus, springing forth, fully-grown from the sea.  Break Away, a national nonprofit, created a developmental model, known as the Active Citizen Continuum, that they share with colleges and universities who host service immersion trip experience programs for their students (also known as alternative breaks). I’ve used this model with the students I supervise in SUNY Buffalo State College’s Alternative Break program, and my office has adopted much of the language into our academic community-engaged learning taxonomy.  This concept of an individual’s self-development and movement from one stage of the the Active Citizen Continuum is not only something that college students can follow through their engagement in an alternative break or community-based learning course. Rather, anyone can use the model to either motivate and encourage others’ movement along the continuum, or use as a guide as they expand their commitment to the community.

The Active Citizen Continuum is a model that provides language to describe an individual’s transition from mere existence to being a part of community-driven solutions to social justice and social issues.

ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP 1

So how does a nonprofit professional guide their volunteers, donors, board and staff members as they build active citizen skills to best assist the organization with capacity building, retention, and building a stronger network in the community?

Step #1: Identify placement on the Active Citizen Continuum

This can be done in different ways, but I’ve created this “pop quiz” to share with your target audience. You might incorporate these questions and create a corresponding rubric to evaluate board member or volunteer applications; or perhaps when surveying donors, you might similar add questions to better understand your donor active citizen IQ. Be creative in incorporating this into your role at your organization.  

Step #2: Thoughtfully create experiences

Depending on where an individual places themselves on the Active Citizen Continuum in Step #1, I’ve shared some ways you can incorporate to help them start their journey on the continuum.  

  • Member
    • Invite them to participate in a low-pressure volunteer experience but one that gives them direct service experience (if possible)
    • Provide orientation and resources (mission/vision; ways the organization impacts the community/key social issue)
  • Volunteer
    • Provide orientation that identifies the way the organization individually and in collaboration impacts the community/social issue(s)
    • Create opportunities for service projects that clearly connect to social issue
  • Conscientious Citizen
    • Provide opportunities for strong direct service where they can realize the kinship they share with the community members they meet
    • Help them connect their service experience to daily life
    • Create ways for them to advocate for community issues
  • Active Citizen
    • Facilitate opportunities for them to engage and lead others in your organization’s mission (ie: board service, committee, fundraisers, team leaders for service day)

ACTIVE 2Step #3: Share Educational Resources and Inspire

It’s difficult to get involved or connect to an issue in the community if you don’t know anything about it. Furthermore, once you know something about an issue, you shouldn’t keep all that information to yourself; you need to share it with others to inspire them!

  • Member
    • Expose them to social issues and service by identifying other ways for them to get connected and learning more
  • Volunteer
    • Focus education on the issue and what underlies the need for service (why service is needed to tackle this issue)
    • Provide education that connects the social issue to social justice issues
  • Conscientious Citizen
    • Share information on the intersectionality of social issues so they see beyond this issue + gain a desire to make a broader impact  
  • Active Citizen
    • Encourage their own continued education
    • Give them a platform for educating others, sharing their experiences, and knowledge to other volunteers, board, staff, etc.  
    • Allow them to share ways they incorporate daily changes into their life

ACTIVE3Step #4: Facilitate Critical Reflection

Reflection is oftentimes where learning happens. It’s when you pause to think critically about your experiences, how they connect or differ from what you have learned or from other experiences that things become clear.  

  • Member
    • Before they begin their service, board year, etc, ask them to articulate: Goals for this volunteer/board/ experience? Why this organization? What are they expecting (to learn, to do, to impact)?
  • Volunteer
    • Encourage them to ask “why” questions: why is this a need in the community; how will this provide assistance; why is the need greater than what can be provided; why is this an issue in the community, etc.
  • Conscientious Citizen
    • Encourage reflection to connect service work, daily actions, and education
  • Active Citizen
    • Ask them to reflect on their experiences life choices, education and the issue in a way that is promoted to others and serves as an example
    • Allow them to use their story to advocate

ACTIVE4

Thanks for sticking with me as I talk about the Active Citizen Continuum! Have other questions? Want to brainstorm some ideas for the role you have in your organization? Need an outsider’s perspective to help transform your own role on the continuum? Email me! Let’s chat! You can reach me at schunkam@gmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!