Making a Difference in Your Community Through Service

There you are, heading to school and you see something that practically screams, “People do not care about their environment.” Perhaps you notice there are cups and bottles along the route your school bus takes. Or, you go on a hike and see a stream with garbage dumped in it. Or you realize several students at your school live near you, but you all drive your own cars instead of carpooling.

This is an important moment. Will you act on what you notice, or ignore it and hope it changes by itself? Let’s hope you choose to act. But, what can one person really do? The answer to that question is: a great deal. One person can act alone or join with others to change the way things are.

After you decide to do something about a problem, find out why it is happening. You may have to talk to others – classmates, parents, teachers or community leaders – or do some research.

Once you understand the problem, the next step is figuring out how to get people to stop doing whatever is causing it. You’ll soon discover that people act according to what they know and think. If people think it’s OK to take their used car oil and pour it down a storm drain, that’s what they’ll do. But if they learn that oil can cause a water pollution problem, they may dispose of it properly, which is to take it to a service station.

Figure out how to teach people about what causes a problem and how to solve it. Who are you trying to get the word out to? What is the best way to reach that audience? This might be a project that needs more than one person. Get organized. Find out who can help and team up. You can form partnerships and work with others who will give you support or ideas. Get your team together, set up a timeline of when you are doing what. Then, go to work and get the project done.

As you read this, you may think: “Well, sure, it sounds simple, but doing something isn’t that easy.” True. But, following up on the decision to do something will help your community and develop your ability to act on what you think , plan ahead and lead others to accomplish a goal. Even if it is something you do by yourself, the results are the same.

Take that first step. Decide to solve that environmental problem. Once you take that first step, you’ll understand that you can make a difference.

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About the author: Terry Ippolito is the Environmental Education Coordinator for EPA’s region 2 office in New York. Terry came to EPA in 1988 after being a science teacher, grades 1 through high school, and school administrator. Her work at EPA enables her to combine experience in education with a commitment to the environment.