Paying your civic rent

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 7/29/16

Sometimes, I wish people my age would get more involved in their communities.

I don’t mean to criticize or cavil.

I’m blessed to have a job that not only gives me the flexibility to help …

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Paying your civic rent


Sometimes, I wish people my age would get more involved in their communities.

I don’t mean to criticize or cavil.

I’m blessed to have a job that not only gives me the flexibility to help out at various events and actually encourages me to reach out to the community.

I recognize not many people my age have such jobs.

You work hard and don’t have the sort of breaks or leeway to be able to attend weekly luncheon meetings.

Dues for civic clubs can be problematic, as those of us who are working starter salaries know how hard it is to make those checks stretch all month.

There’s a million reasons not to join, not to do it, I know.

I fought getting involved for a while myself.

I left the “do-gooder stuff” to classmates of mine that did things like found an organization to help foster kids and their families, work at summer police camps for underprivileged kids or even spend time giving away books to kids who don’t have them.

I gave of my time and my money sparingly, always trying to find an excuse or an out as to why I couldn’t help.

Unfortunately, my generation and those who are coming after us have a dangerous self-interest streak, one that seldom allows us to participate in events or help out in our community without thinking to ourselves “What’s in this for me?”

We’d all participate in things like Keep Opelika Beautiful’s annual Cleanup Day or go label books at the Reading is Fundamental Warehouse when we were going through school, sure, but only because most of us needed the mandated community service hours that honors organizations and clubs required of their members.

We donated canned goods and coins to various causes, all the while trying to win contests and prizes for our classes, as the motivation of helping others didn’t seem to be enough to fan the flames.

It was forced volunteerism, and we treated it as such, occasionally coming to resent having to help others.

Yes, some of us were that bad, myself included. Some of us still are.

What we didn’t see then was that our forced actions of volunteerism did actually help the community.

Roads and thoroughfares got cleaned, adding to the sense of civic pride we felt as citizens.

Children received books we labeled, getting to take home not only a new book but a sense of pride of ownership and a new zeal for reading. Those books may be some of the only ones those kids ever got.

What we need to do is get past the idea of “What’s in this for me?” and take it to a new level, one I’ve heard used repeatedly by my late friend and all-around class act Henry Stern: paying our civic rent.

The generations who came before us gave us a wonderful county filled with almost any amenity we might need.

They built parks and baseball fields for us to play on.

They gave us schools filled with computers and resources that most schools in Alabama wish they had.

They did so much for us, and all we had to do to take part in this county was to be born here or live here.

They gave of themselves to give us better than what they had, and now it’s time we all start to do the same.

If you can, join one of our city’s many civic clubs – there’s contact information on the back page of our paper  for all of them.

If you can’t find the time to be able to do that, look for other ways you can help pay your civic rent to your community.

Help an elderly neighbor by offering to mow their lawn or help with chores they might be unable to do.

Pick up trash wherever you may find it, or, better yet, recycle it and return it to use.

Find an elementary school class to go and read a book to, just on a whim. You have no idea how much children appreciate an adult coming to read to them, to get on their level and be a reading role model for them. (My dad, Homer McCollum, did this for years.)

That simple action could plant the seeds of literacy that could grow into a bumper crop of lifelong readers. It did for me.

Pick a cause you feel strongly about and give whatever time and money you can to support it.

Find some way to make this community a better place to be.

If you see a problem, try to find a way to fix it or ask for help when you can’t.

If we’d all take just a minimal amount of effort, give just one day to bettering our town, think what we’d be capable of, what good we could accomplish by working together for a common goal.

Honestly, if my lazy self is able to do it, no one else has any valid excuse.

Get off your butts and get to work for your community.

The rent’s overdue, and it needs to be paid now.