Most of us like where we live, but our neighborhoods and communities can be even better.

(StatePoint) Most of us like where we live, but our neighborhoods and communities can be even better.

While many people are concerned about the direction in which our country is heading, it sometimes seems like one person can't make a difference. However, there are many ways - both big and small - that you and your family can improve your neighborhood and community.

Whether it's volunteering at local schools or churches, working with local organizations to improve streets and shopping areas, or simply voting in local elections, there are many relatively easy ways to help make your community better.

"Don't look for other people to lead or fix problems. You can be a leader and a contributor in your community and our country," said Mary T. Ficalora, author of the new book, Choosing Honor: An American Woman's Search For God, Family and Country in an Age of Corruption.

"We each have the knowledge and power to help improve our communities and make our streets safe and cleaner, strengthen our schools and hospitals and even help lead our local governments," she added.

Here are some ways you and your family can work to improve your community:

* First of all, tune in, stresses Ficalora. Learn what's going on in your community, your world and your government. Think about what things you would like to improve and find out if others are working to improve these same areas. Either join their groups or start your own.

* Buy from local stores. Local stores and businesses pay taxes that help the neighborhood and community. They advertise locally and help the economy where you live. Also, buying locally helps the environment by reducing energy consumption necessary to transport goods over long distances. So look to local stores and farms for groceries and other goods.

* Move your money into community banks that contribute to your neighborhood, state and region. Since we all need to have bank accounts, why not establish them in places that help your hometown?

* Remove litter near your house, even if you didn't toss it there. Get involved in local cleanup campaigns or start one of your own. You can get your family and others involved and see results quickly. These can be great projects for children.

* Join local neighborhood associations or similar groups. If one doesn't exist, organize it. You don't need to lead a group to strengthen it. Be sure someone in your family attends its local meetings. This way you can be informed and help shape your community's future. Help get other residents and local businesses involved. Make sure your association holds regular meetings with officials from local government, as well as police, fire and sanitation departments.

* Get the whole family -- and even your friends and neighbors -- involved in working in your community. Giving time together not only strengthens your family bond, but helps your selected cause. "Families are more powerful than individual family members and communities are more powerful than families," urged Ficalora. "The more people you get on the same page, the more united you can be in strengthening or taking back your community."

* Vote in local and national elections. Pay attention and question the motivation of authorities. Consider giving your time to a local campaign or cause, or even running for office. Remember, you can voice your opinion not just about things that are wrong, but about how to fix them. Find out where your local tax dollars are going and get involved to help ensure they are directed to needy causes - be they local schools, emergency rooms, law enforcement, roads, etc.

These are only a few ways to get started strengthening your community and the country. For more ideas, read Ficalora's new book Choosing Honor, available at bookstores or online at www.availpress.com.

"Take action to make changes happen in your world and be of service," said Ficalora. "Find out what is going on for yourself. Regardless of economic or social status, we each have an equal opportunity to make a change."