Each year, volunteers across the United States come together on specific days to make a difference in local communities.

There are several of these national days of service during the year, but one of them is particularly significant. Each year, the National Day of Service and Remembrance is held in September to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

This year, the National Day of Service and Remembrance holds particular meaning, as we mark the 20th anniversary of the attacks. That tragedy, which still reverberates in the lives of Americans today, changed many things about the world as we knew it. But even in that dark time, communities rose up and came together.

This year, although our challenges are different than they were two decades ago, we are again coming out of a time that has changed many things about our world. And once again, we have an opportunity to reconnect with each other and come together as a community.

There are many ways to serve each other and support the community as a whole. Utah County is fortunate to have many exemplary organizations and programs that support local families. Volunteering with these programs is a wonderful way to invest time and care into our community. Many of these programs are in need of ongoing volunteer commitments, in addition to the larger volunteer projects that accompany days of service like the one in September.

One way to ensure that your efforts on the National Day of Service and Remembrance have long-lasting impact is to use that day to find a program that you can support year-round.

In addition to the many excellent formal volunteer opportunities available, we can each make a significant difference in our own neighborhoods by looking for ways to serve each other on a more informal basis. As Kayla Bradshaw, volunteer center director at United Way of Utah County, says, “Service isn’t always about doing a big project for an organization. Service is taking time to make someone feel seen and appreciated. Service is becoming a mentor to the kid next door and cheering them on. Service is bringing people together and creating connections.”

Making those connections is even more important this year than it has been in the past, as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and re-learn how to interact with those outside of our personal social circles. It is often these connections that are forged between neighbors and friends that are the most significant aspect of our volunteer service.

As neighbors, we are the first line of defense in our communities. We can often provide information, resources, and support that are crucial to helping others succeed. But in order to help each other, we have to know each other.

That’s one of the reasons, as Bradshaw believes, “It’s often those little things that we might not always qualify as service that makes the biggest impact in the community.”

Little things like organizing a neighborhood book exchange or readathon can promote literacy while also building relationships between neighbors. That one small act has benefits that not only address immediate needs, but also lay a strong foundation for support and success in the future.

If you aren’t quite sure where to start, United Way of Utah County’s Volunteer Center has many ideas that can help. For example, you may want to consider organizing a clean-up effort at the homes of senior citizens. You could also organize a recycling drive, a first-aid kit assembly event, or even assemble supply kits that can be donated to local programs. Other project ideas that can be done in your neighborhood can be found on the Volunteer Center database, which includes a wide variety of individual, group, and family service ideas.

“If people are looking for a project, they need not look further than their own neighborhood. Check out volunteer.unitedwayuc.org to see how you can connect in service with your neighbors,” Bradshaw explains.

As we take time together to remember and reflect this fall, let us also take time to come together to build up a strong, thriving community. No matter what challenges may come in the future, by uniting our efforts we can ensure that our community is prepared to face the future.

For more information about the National Day of Service and Remembrance, or for additional volunteer opportunities, please visit unitedwayuc.org.