It’s good to see the community spirit in action and, these days, between benefit concerts, fundraisers and the stories of volunteers on their way to or newly returned from the Gulf states, there is plenty of evidence that in crisis at least we can still count on each other.

But you don’t have to travel to disaster zones to know that each day people here are pitching in to make positive changes through volunteering and innovations.

The unfortunate trend, though, is that community service–the kind you perform, not the kind you’re sentenced to–is waning in North Carolina. In its latest report, the N.C. Progress Board notes that our state ranks 38th in the nation in community service. That lack of involvement sends a terrible message to our children. And it’s not the only lesson they’re learning.

Barring a last minute conversion of the eligible electorate, next Tuesday promises to send a similar message, as fewer that one-fifth of the registered voters in Durham and Wake counties are expected to cast their ballots in local elections. Turnout statistics from past elections tell us that few of those voting will be under 25–a sign that not only are most young people disinterested in politics in general, they are almost completely disconnected from politics at the local level.

What’s really sad about this is that while it is the national elections that get most people–the young especially–fired up, it’s at the local level where community service and participation in the political process can make the most difference.

Even in Orange County, where there is something of a history of student involvement in local politics, it usually takes a student candidate, as there is this year, to get the college kids to the polls. Still, with a student on the ballot and with adjustments like early voting to make voting easier, turnout is unlikely to be overwhelming.

In a few weeks, we’ll be making our endorsements in the Orange races along with municipal elections in Pittsboro and Hillsborough.

This week, on page 15, we’ve reprinted our voting guide for next Tuesday’s municipal elections in Raleigh, Cary and Durham and the Wake County school board.

In all these elections, how our communities function, the kind of leaders we have and the way we plan our communities are your choices to make.

So, if you’re inspired at all to help, to pitch in, we suggest that next Tuesday you start at the ballot box and work your way out from there.