August 31, 2018

3 ways you can go to work for your community on Labor Day

Here are three stories on how local innovation can make a difference in everyday lives

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. Today, an idea for paying it forward to your community; how D.C. residents are helping their city cut red tape, and an innovative tactic for reducing recidivism. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tel us at

3 cheers for volunteers: This weekend Americans unofficially celebrate the end of summer. While there is value in the rest and reinvigoration we get from a three-day weekend, why not use the extra day off to do some work for your community? We have shared many articles in praise of volunteering. Not only does it serve your community, it can also boost your spirit and create interpersonal connections.

Even if you aren’t available to volunteer this weekend, here are three ways you can find opportunities in your neighborhood.

  • Check out sites like VolunteerMatch and JustServe. They make it easy for you to find events and nonprofits that could use volunteers.
  • Go to your city’s website for activities and events, like local park cleanups, where you can lend a hand.

  • Look to your local United Way. Their nearly 1,200 field offices serve as hubs for nonprofits in the community.

If you’re a nonprofit leader who is looking for volunteers, maybe we can help. The Renewal Project loves to promote the organizations that are working to find solutions to the problems every community faces—from homelessness to economic inequality. Are you a volunteer or do you work for an innovative local nonprofit? Tell us about it. We may publish your story and share it with our audience, a national network of people just like you who care about their communities.

Form reform: Government bureaucracy be damned. Or so say the residents of Washington, D.C., who gathered this summer to lend a hand in improving access to some of the city’s essential services. The event, called “Form-a-Palooza,” called on residents to help improve the usability of lengthy and complicated government forms, from public school enrollment applications to disability parking placard forms.

The daylong event was sponsored by The Lab @ DC, a team set up by Mayor Muriel Bowser that collaborates with city agencies to explore solutions to some of the District’s most pressing issues. Participants of Form-a-Palooza listened to guest speakers and attended break-out sessions where they could weigh in on how to simplify specific forms.

“Forms are one of the most common touchpoints people have with government,” The Lab @ DC’s David Yokum told Bloomberg Cities. “So forms really matter. They’re one of the most important things to pay attention to because they’re key to how people navigate the rest of the government experience.”

All their hard work will culminate in real change when new forms are released by City Hall. Follow @TheLab_DC for details.

Prison-preneurship: Job seekers with a criminal record face an uphill battle. The unemployment rate for the formerly incarcerated is nearly five times the rate of the general public. But innovative prison entrepreneurship programs that aim to help returning citizens are reducing recidivism and helping to carve a path for self-employment and economic opportunity.

A new report from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City looks at the impact that one of the oldest and most comprehensive prison entrepreneurship programs has had on inmates. The state of Texas’ Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) offers a three-month leadership course, including a “mini-MBA,” where students learn entrepreneurship skills and create their own business plans. PEP also provides re-entry services for its graduates, including temporary housing and post-release employment and entrepreneurship support.

Since its launch in 2004, PEP has graduated over 2,000 individuals. According to the report, nearly one in four graduates started a business after being released, and another 67 percent were employed, while just 5 percent were unemployed.

Wages for graduates were also higher than the Texas minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The average wage of PEP graduates surveyed was $17.17 per hour for employees and $21.19 per hour for entrepreneurs.

Read the full report here.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.