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Civic activists – Clearing hurdles

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Contrary to the popular notion that Americans are plugged into the Web and cut off from one another, a new survey finds citizens actively involved in the life of their communities.

But citizens also worry that the American dream may be beyond the grasp of many individuals, says the poll by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change.

“Americans are ready, willing and able to make a difference in their communities,” says Suzanne Morse, the partnership’s executive director.

“It is time to unify their efforts and broaden their partnerships.”

Three-fourths of Americans feel connected to their communities and say their quality of life is good or excellent, with 111 million Americans volunteering during the past year and more than 60 million volunteering on a regular basis.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents donated money to local charities, religious groups and other nonprofits, 77 percent helped a neighbor and 59 percent talked about a local problem with friends or co-workers.

Two-thirds are optimistic that the best years of their community as a place to live are still ahead.

Despite their optimism, however, Americans see big problems in a lack of jobs paying a living wage; access to affordable health care; illegal drugs; a feeling that too many children and teens are not supervised; a decline in moral values; and insufficient affordable care for the elderly.

Americans have greater faith in non-governmental groups to solve problems than in those run by elected officials and identify as the top problem-solvers local police departments; local churches, synagogues and mosques; nonprofit groups; friends and neighbors; parent and teacher organizations at local schools.

Americans also say they could be even more involved except for limits on their time and a lack of knowledge about how to get involved, who to call or where to go.

Yet nearly 90 percent of Americans say that working with others to solve problems gets better results.

“The challenge for Washington,” says Morse, “is to recognize that the troops are ready, willing and able to be partners in the solution to the most critical problems facing all communities.”

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