(published in Asian Fortune August 2011 issue)
Like many busy professionals who live and work in this area, I used to commute to Washington, DC for my job and find it hard to get involved in the local community where I live. So I applied to serve on the Montgomery County Commission for Women, and the Nominating Committee for Montgomery College’s Board of Trustees. I also enrolled in Leadership Montgomery to learn about the various aspects of the County and to get better connected with other community leaders. These experiences not only gave me a deeper appreciation of the many treasures in our community, but also a much stronger sense of belonging to this place that I now call home.
Even without the Census data or official reports, anyone living in the capital region knows how dramatically more diverse we are now than just a generation ago. In fact, Montgomery County today is half non-white and 1/3 foreign-born. While such diversity has brought about a great deal of community vitality, social integration at community level remains a challenge.
For the most part, the immigrant communities, regardless of our countries of origins, are organized along the lines of ethnicities, languages, and nationalities. Even professional and trade groups such as the numerous chambers of commerce and technology-based associations are largely ethnic based. Not to mention the abundant supply of in-language services in just about any areas you can think of and the plethora of performing arts groups with a dizzying array of shows year round catering to the specific ethnic communities. If we don’t make a conscientious effort to step out of our comfort zones, we can easily live our entire lives in our invisible ethnic enclaves without much meaningful interaction with the larger communities beyond our jobs or business activities.
A great way to expand our horizon and integrate with the larger community is to serve on a local government or community nonprofit’s board, committee or commission that oversees policy issues. These are mostly volunteer positions designed for greater citizen involvement. Montgomery County, for example, has over 80 boards, committees and commissions that oversee a broad range of issues and services with direct impact on our everyday lives, in addition to countless community nonprofit boards. A list of all County boards and vacancy announcements can be found at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/boards. You can find other jurisdictions’ information on their respective web sites.
The benefits of serving on the boards, committees and commissions are manifold. I can easily think of at least five good reasons why you should apply for one right away.
1. Expand your horizon and add an interesting dimension to your life. At the very least, serving on the boards can open your eyes to many new resources and services that you or your community can take advantage of. It’s also a great way to develop a new area of interests or expertise that can come handy and even enhance your professional and personal portfolio.
2. Influence local government and policies. From public libraries to consumer protection, from transportation to energy and air quality, you get to exert influence on a variety of local issues closely related to our daily lives. You’re already paying taxes, so why not weigh in on how the local government should work?
3. Connect with others in your neighborhood with similar interests. You will work with some talented and passionate people in our community, including highly accomplished individuals in their professional fields and very engaged citizens who have done amazing things in our community.
4. Develop communication and leadership skills. Whether it’s an extension of your professional work or a new adventure, serving on the boards affords you the opportunity to verbally articulate your thoughts in meetings and learn proper ways to conduct meetings and address conflicts if you become the chairperson. The beauty of learning these skills in a volunteer setting is that the risk of making mistakes is rather low to you.
5. Have a sense of belonging and ownership. Few things in life foster the feeling of belonging better than working together with others. Your will also develop a stronger sense of ownership when you find yourself paying attention to many local issues beyond the scope of your board.
Board positions require County Executive appointment and many are competitive. To learn more about boards, committees and commissions in Montgomery County, please visit www.montgomerycountymd.gov/boards.