3 minute read

IGNITE May 2019

Unleash your young professional power

You can make great change in the world

Consider this: despite all of the things we need and don’t have, so much of what we have we don’t need in the slightest.

I know, it’s a statement so obvious that it’s almost pointless, and there’s no doubt some version of that has graced its share of graphic t-shirts. What IS interesting about it is what it leaves out. There are some things in this world that we need, and that we have, that we simply do not use.

Our generation has come up in a time headlined by anxiety, by inequality and by access to jarring amounts of information. More than in any other time we are aware of the options and possibilities of the world, and we are cowed by them. There is so much we can learn and experience from the comfort of home, but only at its surface. We watch glamorous Instagram influencers on beach vacations and 24-year old entrepreneurs giving TED talks. We listen to the athletes and experts, we learn about different cultures and exciting music and unbelievable places, pressing political crises, and then we look back at ourselves and don’t recognize how we could possibly fit in. So while the world is at our fingertips, it feels totally out of reach; too fast and too big to fit into.

But what we need we already have.

You Have Power, Use It!

Young professionals have the power to make great change, but it goes untapped. For brevity let’s limit our scope to Rockford. Guess what? The scope is still massive because you can get involved with almost any cause, hobby or mission. Rockford is blessed with a great art scene, service organizations with incredible volunteer opportunities, tons of nature, small businesses, and so much more that I can’t tell you about because I promised I’d fit everything onto one page.

There are things that you probably want to see happen here, and you can make it happen. Young professionals are underrepresented in these major ways, and it’s a waste we can change.

Volunteer or Join a Board

As the manager of the I READ Program here in Rockford, I should get this out of the way: There are thousands of volunteers in Rockford who are taking the future into their hands every day with their volunteer work. Rockford has always been unique in how many dedicated people go out of their way to make a difference.

And you could too! The truth is that the volunteer pools of my program and those of my colleagues are composed overwhelmingly of volunteers over 50. The Baby Boomers are crushing it, and working full-time does not account for the low levels of Millennial and Gen X participation in volunteer organizations. We are missing out on our chance to grow ourselves and help shape this community.

Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity is how few young professionals sit on nonprofit or corporate boards. You, yes you, can make a direct and significant positive impact by joining a board for a cause or business you support. It doesn’t take some expertise you don’t have, it takes very little time, and boards all over the community are hungry for young engaged volunteers. We are throwing away our power by passing on these opportunities.

Check www.volunteermatch.org or the local United Way-operated www.wevolunteer.org to find opportunities that speak to you.

Local Politics

There are so many ways you can impact the future of Rockford through the political process. As Mayor McNamara has said, local politics are less partisan. Local concerns are more cooperative and issue-based. Start by getting an rrstar.com subscription. From there, attend or watch the YouTube uploads of City Council meetings. You can even settle for just reading the agenda each week. Take these steps before worrying about anything else -- it is in this way that you can better learn what’s actually happening in your city.

Then maybe down the line you can petition your alderpersons, your members of Congress or even run for office yourself.

The city is eager for our contributions. We have so much power we don’t use, and our city has a lot of good work ready to be done to build our future. Start small, commit to one small way to connect more to our community. If you’re not sure where to start, talk to me at ma.hargrove@gmail.com.