Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 2Topic 4: Gangs, Police, Riots!
Engineer a Solution
Engineering A SolutionA fire that destroyed the downtown business district; gangs fighting in the streets; an inadequate water supply; an epidemic of cholera -- New York City had plenty of problems in the early 1800s. But with leadership, planning, and hard work, New Yorkers eventually improved these problems and disasters.

What about your community? What are the problems facing it? Drug abuse, crime, pollution, crowded schools, homelessness?

Whats the Problem?
Icon 1 In this activity, you will learn how to identify the problems facing your community and how to begin solving them. But it's best to start with just one.

Maybe you already have a problem in mind. If you don't, learn about some of your community's problems. Look through your local newspaper or watch the local news on TV. Talk to family, friends, teachers, and community leaders. These could include school principals, police officials, or city council persons.

If this is a class project, have fellow students suggest problems to work on. Discuss and debate their relative importance. Then hold a vote to decide which you want to tackle.

Whats your Answer?
Recycle AnimationNow that you have decided on a problem, it's time to think of some solutions. First, you should learn more about the problem you want to work on. What are its causes? For example, littering is caused by careless people. Crowded schools are a government problem.

How big is the problem? Is it in one place -- like a dangerous street corner that needs a traffic light? Or is it all over town -- such as too much litter? Or is it a larger problem -- like drugs or air pollution?

Now that you know a little bit more about the problem, it's time to come up with a solution. Remember, even one person -- YOU -- can make a difference. But it helps to have as many people as possible working together. Try to get friends, family, and classmates involved. Also, keep in mind that some problems took a long time to develop. They may also take a while to solve. But every journey begins with a single step.

It is good to come up with a plan first. There are three ways to solve a problem. First, you can work on the problem yourself. A park full of garbage can be cleaned up by you and your fellow problem-solvers. Planning helps. Have enough garbage bags and learn ahead of time where to dump the junk.

Second, you can ask others to help fix it. You can't put up a traffic light yourself, of course, but you can get the local government to do it. Writing, phoning, or visiting your local councilperson, state legislator, or congressperson is one path to a solution. You might even want to work on the campaign of a politician. But first research their record. Have they worked on the problem before? Have they voted for solutions? Letters to the editor of your local newspaper can help, too. They can help get the public to think about the problem.

Finally, you can work with your local government or other groups. You should not try to stop crime yourself. But the police might have suggestions about how you can help them.

If you're still stuck for ideas, try visiting these Web sites:
Do Something
Site for an organization created by actor Andrew Shue (of MELROSE PLACE) to encourage volunteerism among young people.

Impact Online
A nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing volunteerism through the Internet. IOL offers VolunteerMatch, a matching service for volunteers and nonprofits, Virtual Volunteering, a research project on volunteer activities which can be completed over the Internet, and information and resources on volunteerism.

20/20 Vision
20/20 Vision is a national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the environment and promoting peace through grassroots action.

Earth Force
Encourages kids to help protect the environment.

The Giraffe Project
Site that finds and publicizes examples of people who "stuck their neck out for the common good."

The above organizations have many suggestions to help you identify problems in your community and help you solve them. They can also help put you in touch with organizations already working on the problem. Sometimes joining a voluntary organization is the best way to help solve an important problem.