“I don’t need your help.”
- Me, circa age 7 –– channeling “Miss Independent” long before Ne-Yo would write it
20 years later:
*Deep sigh* “Hey, I would really appreciate your advice on… ”
(Code: I need your help).
I’d love to say that two decades of growing up, falling down, and generally making a lot of mistakes based with my bull-headed personality has turned me into an intentionally vulnerable and humble seeker of advice from wiser beings.
Despite many years (plus scrapes and bruises) of confirmation to the contrary, I have reluctantly, slowly, painfully accepted that I can’t do everything myself. Or better put, I’ve realized that it makes a lot more sense to ask for help sometimes rather than struggle through life, learning everything the hard way.
(I almost always learn things the hard way.)
You might be a little bit like me. For that reason, I started this blog series, where I’ll bring you advice from successful community changemakers –– or people who have already launched local initiatives –– without you having to ask for it.
They’ve already done the work, made mistakes, and learned along the way so that maybe, just maybe, you won’t have to stumble (as much).
So, lower your can-do, tough exterior, and soak up some wisdom from these wise folks. They know what they're talking about.
1) Andrew Wilsterman –– The Good Neighbor Project
Tuscarawas County, Ohio
Andrew’s project began with the desire for a new hobby. Then one day, while mowing his own lawn –– the idea arose. Why not use his spare time and resources to serve others in the community? So, he offered to mow local neighbors’ lawns, no charge, no questions asked.
Throughout the summer, he mowed over 100 lawns in what would become The Good Neighbor Project. His meaningful connections made with individuals he met along the way have spawned sister projects, from rucking around Tuscarawas County picking up trash, to planned snow shoveling in the winter, with more to come.
“The thing is to start. Start with what you have and not what you want. You can use the simplest things. Great things happen in the service of others. Step out, create relationships, and good things happen.”
Follow along with Andrew’s Good Neighbor Project journey on his Facebook page.
2) Barb Hughes –– Swap Positive
Barb began a clothing swap for women in Portland, Oregon to help adults and teens actively “participate in free-frugal-fun treasure hunting, sustainability, and the sharing economy.” Her swaps have extended into other parts of Oregon and Washington, too.
The free swaps help women declutter their closets, meet new friends, find new things they can use and help others –– remainders are donated to charities that give the clothes away.
“You will most likely start small, with a few friends, and as your starter team sees how much fun it is and invite their friends, you will see your swap grow.”
Find out more about Swap Positive or learn how to start your own swap here. Or check out what a swap looks like in this video.
3) Cesar Gallardo –– Dona Un Libro, Cambia Una Mente
Cesar’s project started small and grew into something big. He decided to help a public school get more books by calling friends with businesses and setting them up as donation centers where people could drop off books.
From there, he started a Facebook page and organized a 3-month book drive, which resulted in about 1,500 used and new books being donated. Since then, the project has grown into a full-blown organization that trains teachers on techniques to motivate children to read, and develops libraries into “more than just a place to read.” He and his team have impacted over 6,000 kids in public schools.
“To start solving problems in our country [you] need to work with everybody and that every person is as equally important to the cause… Don’t wait for change, create it.”
Learn more about Cesar’s project here.
4) Gabriel Riggle –– Norma Johnson Center Fishing Dock
Through his AmeriCorps service, Gabriel helped make a fishing dock at the Norma Johnson Center in Tuscarawas County, Ohio wheelchair and stroller accessible. After noting that there was no existing dock, and the terrain around the ponds was uneven and difficult to navigate, Gabriel decided to help make it easier for “anyone that wanted to be involved in the outdoors to have the opportunity to be involved.”
As part of the project, we're improving access to everything in the lower part of the property with ramps and, eventually, a nature trail.
“Start with smaller projects that are not complex. Implement these and work up to larger projects. This way, you learn how to work with your partners without a lot of stress. Once everyone is comfortable with working together, tackle the larger projects.”
See more about Gabriel’s project and the Norma Johnson Center on their Facebook page.
5) Ilyana Kadushin –– Stories Love Music
New York & Maryland
The effects of Hurricane Sandy on displaced senior citizens helped Ilyana recognize her own potential for using her skills and passions to make an impact. Her project, Stories Love Music, is a “a creative engagement program utilizing music and storytelling to deepen the relationship between the elder with dementia, anxiety and depression and their caregiver.” While she started her project in Brooklyn, New York, it has since become a 501(c)3 nonprofit in Maryland.
“I have learned about what it means for me to ‘be of service’. That is going to be different for each of us. Look out into the world and see what resonates with you that needs change and then look at what skills you already possess and whether they can meet that need you saw. Do your research on the subject , start developing and testing, gather allies and mentors and be proactive!”
If you’d like to learn more about Ilyana’s project or get involved with Stories Love Music, check out her website.
6) Shawn Graham –– Environmental Education Projects
As a science teacher in Omaha, Nebraska, Shawn and his students have pioneered several community environmental projects, that have garnered them a Good Earth Steward Award from the Environmental Protection Agency, among other big names. The projects created have included turning an abandoned locker room into a hydroponics lab, growing and distributing pollinator plants to the community, supplying Black Locust trees to their partner Omaha Permaculture.
These same students (with Shawn’s guidance and mentorship) are working on further projects with the Nebraska Wildlife Federation to grow different species of milkweed plants, and pledging $20,000 worth of tilapia to the Open Door Mission, a nonprofit that serves 2,000 meals per day to individuals in Omaha.
To find out more about Shawn’s work with his students, check out this article from the EPA.
“I believe that our youth are the key to new ideas to solve problems. Patience is the key for all. We need to work together as a community to solve problems.”
7) Tomas Prado –– Mapeko
Santiago, Chile has a trash problem, and Tomas Prado decided to try and fix it. His project, which has now grown into a full-fledged social enterprise, aims to make cities eco-friendly with a concept to improve people's lifestyles through environmental education, recycling, and upcycling.
“You have to have in mind that you are going to fail a thousand times, and that you are going to have to pivot the thousand times to get to the right point.… Give everything you have, believe in your ideas, think and work smart, and do not let anybody else tell you that what you are doing is either insane or useless.”
Check out Tomas’ project here.
Would you like to be part of a community of changemakers like these?
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.