“It still feels kind of strange to be up here talking to all of you,” Tipi Colley Miller said, when addressing the Lions Club as its guest speaker Monday.

“It’s weird to see Cliff here, too. I feel like we’re both still supposed to be about this tall,” the Keep Opelika Beautiful director continued, indicating a small child’s height with her hand. “I just don’t feel we’re that old.”

I knew full well what she meant.

I often feel the same way.

I look around at my fellow Lions, and the other civic organizations that help build up and support our town, and I can’t help but feel young.

Save the presence of a 20 Under 40-er like Tipi, the faces I look at tend to be a great deal older than me,  at least 20 years and sometimes more.

I see the parents and grandparents of people I graduated with, but few fellow ‘04 graduates.

I don’t mean to criticize or cavil.

I’m blessed to have a job that not only gives me the time off to join a civic club like the Lions, but encourages me to do so.

I recognize not many people my age have such jobs.

You work hard and don’t have the sort of breaks or leeway to be able to attend weekly luncheon meetings.

Dues can be problematic, as those of us who are working starter salaries know how hard it is to make those checks stretch all month.

There’s a million reasons not to join, not to do it, I know.

I fought getting involved for a while myself.

I left the “do-gooder stuff” to fellow ‘04ers like Micah Brown (founder of the Big House Foundation, Opelika’s organization for helping local foster kids and their families), Meg Gafford (Jean Dean Reading is Fundamental organization, who gives books to underprivileged kids across our area), J.M. Anderson (another dedicated RIFer) and Michelle Breedlove (who has volunteered with the yearly DARE camps for years and has even mentored at-risk children in our community), to name a few.

I gave of my time and my money sparingly, always trying to find an excuse or an out as to why I couldn’t help.

Unfortunately, my generation and those who are coming after us have a dangerous self-interest streak, one that seldom allows us to participate in events or help out in our community without thinking to ourselves “What’s in this for me?”

We’d all participate in things like Keep Opelika Beautiful’s annual Cleanup Day or go label books at the RIF Warehouse when we were going through school, sure, but only because most of us needed the mandated community service hours that honors organizations and clubs required of their members.

We donated canned goods and coins to various causes, all the while trying to win contests and prizes for our classes, as the motivation of helping others didn’t seem to be enough to fan the flames.

It was forced volunteerism, and we treated it as such, occasionally coming to resent having to help others.

Yes, some of us were that bad, myself included. Some of us still are.

What we didn’t see then was that our forced actions of volunteerism did actually help the community.

Roads and thoroughfares got cleaned, adding to the sense of civic pride we felt as citizens.

Children received books we labeled, getting to take home not only a new book but a sense of pride of ownership and a new zeal for reading. Those books may be some of the only ones those kids ever got.

What we need to do is get past the idea of “What’s in this for me?” and take it to a new level, one I’ve heard used repeatedly by Observer owner and all-around class act Henry Stern: paying our civic rent.

The generations who came before us gave us a wonderful town filled with almost any amenity we might need.

They built parks and baseball fields for us to play on.

They gave us schools filled with computers and resources that most schools in Alabama wish they had.

They did so much for us, and all we had to do to take part in this town was to be born here and live here.

They gave of themselves to give us better than what they had, and now it’s time we all start to do the same.

If you can, join one of our city’s many civic clubs – there’s contact information on the back page of our paper  for all of them.

If you can’t find the time to be able to do that, look for other ways you can help pay your civic rent to the city of Opelika.

Help an elderly neighbor by offering to mow their lawn or help with chores they might be unable to do.

Pick up trash wherever you may find it, or, better yet, recycle it and return it to use.

Find an elementary school class to go and read a book to, just on a whim. You have no idea how much children appreciate an adult coming to read to them, to get on their level and be a reading role model for them. (My dad, Homer McCollum, did this for years.)

That simple action could plant the seeds of literacy that could grow into a bumper crop of lifelong readers. It did for me.

Pick a cause you feel strongly about and give whatever time and money you can to support it. Organizations like Big House Foundation and Jean Dean RIF always need folks who are willing to pitch in and lend a hand.

Find some way to make this community a better place to be.

If you see a problem, try to find a way to fix it or ask for help when you can’t.

If we’d all take just a minimal amount of effort, give just one day to bettering our town, think what we’d be capable of, what good we could accomplish by working together for a common goal.

Honestly, if my fat, lazy self is able to do it, no one else has any valid excuse.

Get off your butts and get to work for your town.

The rent’s overdue, and it needs to be paid now.