Cities participating in American in Bloom compete in eight categories to win our coveted awards, and they’re all important, but community involvement is the bedrock of the program. It’s an important factor in assessing the other seven judging criteria.
Remember that broader promotion translates into better participation from the entire community, which gives you better chances to win. Here are my top tips for getting everyone involved.
Let people know what you’re up to: Highlight your town’s America in Bloom activities on your website and include a link to AIB’s homepage. Ask local churches to mention the program and related projects in their weekly bulletins. Enlist civic organizations like the Lions Club, Rotary and Kiwanis by asking them to put AIB on their meeting agendas as a talking point. Contact the various scout councils and invite their ideas and participation.
Most people like to stay current on what’s going on in town. Be sure to keep these groups updated on your town’s AIB projects and events so their interest stays active and they’re armed with knowledge when their constituencies have questions.
Once you have everyone’s attention, pick targets and make plans for action. Look around for a needed project and figure out how best to “spread the love” to involve as many groups as possible. Is a litter-strewn vacant lot near downtown an eyesore? Enlist a church group or Boy Scout troop to spearhead a cleanup day.
Ask the city’s public works department to provide waste bins and remove collected trash from the site. Invite the Garden Club to do some planting. See if a local business will help pay for plant materials. Ask the neighborhood pizzeria to furnish lunch for volunteers.
Many civic organizations have ongoing projects. Embrace those projects and offer to assist. Maybe you can help them find partners or link them with citizen volunteers for special events like charity relays and carnival fundraisers. Arts groups are often looking for performance or display venues. Help them explore opportunities to team with local businesses. Ask the Chamber of Commerce or Bureau of Tourism for assistance.
It’s important to remember that the warm, fuzzy feeling we get when we volunteer is great, but a pat on the back makes it even better. Volunteers – both individuals and groups – should be recognized and applauded. Businesses are often more generous when positive publicity generates public feedback. Municipal departments and employees like to hear that their efforts make a difference.
A community is far more than just a collection of buildings in close proximity. It’s the magic that happens when individuals, social groups, businesses and institutions work together.
America in Bloom provides a perfect framework for promoting community involvement. It creates an awareness of the importance of each of us to all of us and gives us the resources to turn good intentions into positive outcomes.
The author is an America in Bloom judge.