Colleen Laird is a Bethlehem resident who works as Assistant Chief Information Officer for Strategy and Communication at Moravian University. She is currently serving an elected four-year term as a Bethlehem City Council member. (Courtesy of Colleen Laird)

Community Voices: Fighting boredom by getting involved


Colleen Laird is a lifelong Bethlehem resident. She graduated from Moravian University, where she now works as Assistant Chief Information Officer for Strategy and Communication, and began serving an elected four-year term as a Bethlehem City Council member this year. She presently volunteers as a Girl Scout leader, Northside Alive Economic Vitality Committee chair, William Penn Elementary School PTO president and a Bethlehem Environmental Justice Steering Committee member. She formerly served on the founding steering committee and maximum term on the board for the Bethlehem Food Co-Op.


Like many other young adults, I previously found myself wanting to move away. I was bored with the town I grew up in. I thought the West Coast could offer the lifestyle I wanted to pursue — passionate communities, rich arts, nature and amazing food. At the time, family obligations kept me in Bethlehem, so I made a conscious choice to learn to love my hometown. I decided I would find all of the things that made Bethlehem great. What I couldn’t find, I would work to create. This decision inspired much of the volunteer leadership that now defines a huge part of my life and has built a passion for encouraging others to get involved. 

When deciding the focus of this piece, I realized the greatest thing I can offer is encouragement to get involved, whatever that looks like for you. My experience of weaving myself into our community has been fulfilling. It has also made me aware of the privileges that allow me to engage as I do and the obstacles impeding my path. So, I offer a few tips for those who want to become more engaged.

  1. Engagement does not always equal volunteering. A big part of being engaged in your community is awareness and interest. It means understanding not only what is celebrated in your community but also where some of the struggles lie. You can learn these things hands-on, but you can also listen and observe without signing up to volunteer. Read your campus newspaper and local news outlets. Attend a city council meeting — or even listen to it on YouTube while you are at the gym. Enjoy a local festival, or sit to study in a city park. Read and sign a petition about a community issue that matters to you. Have a short conversation with the shop owner when you pick up your coffee. 
  2. Follow your interests. Any interest you may have presents an opportunity. I was a Girl Scout through all the levels, so it was a natural place for me to look to give back. I got involved at the first Bethlehem Food Co-Op meeting because I didn’t have a car, and my neighborhood lacked a walkable grocery store. Do you like to cook? Volunteer at the Bethlehem Emergency Shelter. Politically inclined? Door knock for a local candidate near campus; it’s an amazing way to meet local residents. Are video games your thing? See if a local scout troop needs help earning a coding or game design badge. Take advantage of campus resources to connect you with organizations like the Lehigh Community Service Office.
  3. Communicate your interests and boundaries. Once you’ve found a place to get involved, make sure you let leadership or coordinators know your interests and limitations. If you have a passion for animals but you’re also a data cruncher, let the animal shelter know! Sure, they need people to walk dogs, but they might also need someone to pull statistics together for an annual report. Maybe you are passionate about a youth mentorship program but aren’t comfortable working directly with children. Ask about behind-the-scenes work that could benefit a local program. Is your only free time late at night? Maybe you can design an email newsletter for an organization or upload their social media content and schedule it to be posted throughout the day.
  4. Don’t overcommit and follow through. Keep your boundaries in mind when making a commitment. Not everyone can volunteer weekly, and you can’t focus on every important cause. That’s OK! Maybe attending regular meetings for an organization you care about sounds dreadful, but jumping in as extra hands at a special event feels right. Regardless of what your level of commitment is, follow through when you commit. Saying no is a better option than saying yes and dropping the ball.
  5. Ask questions and make suggestions. As you start increasing your engagement, you’ll no doubt run into obstacles leaving you wondering “Why is that done that way?” Progress doesn’t happen when people don’t ask questions or give suggestions. If you notice that a community meeting is lacking attendance from local families, ask if there is a way to offer a family meal as part of the meeting. Even better, offer to approach a restaurant about donating or set up an online meeting link. If an organization is struggling to get responses from volunteers, suggest a Doodle poll or SignUp Genius form. The more we help make opportunities for engagement accessible, the more we can come together as a community to find the good and make the good.
  6. Doing one thing is doing something, which is always better than doing nothing. 

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