The Impact of Volunteering in Your Community
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Clara McCool, Broadband Equity Fellow, discusses the importance of volunteering to help build community resilience.
Serving as the Broadband Equity Fellow with the Resilience Corps, I split my time between supporting the Maine Broadband Coalition and the towns of Harrison and Naples – two communities working to improve broadband for their residents. In Harrison and Naples retirees, librarians, town managers, firefighters, and other community members are dedicating their time to improving internet access for themselves and others as they follow the Community Driven Broadband model. I have had the opportunity to serve with these communities and see firsthand just how important it is to have residents who will take time out of their lives to work for something that will serve their entire community. Pushed forward by a group of volunteers, these committees are demanding better internet connectivity for their residents, creating resilience through an act of volunteerism not unlike efforts in the Resilience Corps.
What stands out about the Harrison Broadband Committee is the amount of progress they’ve made since forming less than a year ago. Phil Devlin, a resident of Harrison, has been an especially instrumental member of the committee. He figured out a way to conduct his own inventory on which houses in town are served by Spectrum, created and filled out an evaluation guide to compare the incumbent providers, put together a PowerPoint presentation to present to the Harrison Select Board, and meets with me weekly to brainstorm next steps for the committee. Not only has Phil relentlessly led the Harrison Broadband Committee forward (he is familiarly referred to as “our superstar”), but he has also helped other committees in the region to progress their efforts. He met with members of the Naples Committee to share tips on his inventory process and gathered data to create a broadband dashboard, tracking committee efforts in surrounding towns. Phil has decades of professional experience in project management that he has showcased time and time again in his role on the committee. This challenges the idea that service involves manual labor only – sometimes a master of Excel documents is needed, or a seasoned IT specialist, or even someone with grant writing training. Bringing together individuals with different experiences and interests has been key for both committees.
In Naples, I’ve seen the benefits of involving a wide range of community members wherein every member has their own unique role. As town manager, John Hawley often weighs in on municipal operations that the committee needs to know about. Dani works in the library and has been an invaluable resource for survey outreach by printing out physical copies for people to fill out when they come in. One committee member, Meg Williams, created an inventory in town by cross checking E911 data and tax addresses with Spectrum records to find out which households have access to cable. All of these efforts contribute to the quest for more reliable, more equitable broadband in the Lakes Region.
I’ve learned that meeting consistently, ensuring work is completed in between meetings, and tapping into existing expertise in the community is key to a productive and effective committee. Unable to get the data they need from Internet Service Providers, these town committees are taking matters into their own hands. Coalescing data about broadband access in their town creates a powerful tool to prove where there are underrepresented, underserved areas and get access to the grant funding they need. It is inspiring to see how far they have come and is a true testament to the power and importance of volunteering in your community. It is individuals like those on the Harrison and Naples Broadband Committees that ensure our communities continue evolving and growing in a way that is equitable to all residents.
About Clara McCool
Clara is from Newburyport, Massachusetts. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia, where she majored in Psychology and Russian Language & Literature. In her free time, Clara enjoys hiking, doing crossword puzzles and spending time with friends and family. She also loves to play piano and is very passionate about Russian literature and game-based learning. She spent the past year and a half as a research assistant for the Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming at UVA’s public policy school. Her work focused on the development of simulation tools to help future local and civic leaders gain a better understanding of how policies, financial priorities and urban planning approaches encourage the use of sustainable transportation and renewable energy. While she loves the research aspect of educational game design, she is excited about working in a hands-on environment where she can assist in creating a framework to respond to the current coronavirus crisis. She is ready to incorporate the needs and priorities of the specific municipalities GPCOG serves into her research and help make data and program information easily accessible to all community members.