[Column] Our communities – are they worth saving?

12 min read879 views and 101 shares Posted December 13, 2019

This column was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”
– Helen Keller

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It is human nature to want to feel a connection to something. To feel like we belong. To be part of a community. This connection can happen through participating in events, supporting local businesses, and getting to know your neighbors. It’s a fact every year we are alive things change. Sometimes those changes come with excitement and eagerness to learn. Other times they are handed to us, steam rolled over us, or completely go around us, and we are left with a decision to make – do we hop on the band wagon or do we sit in a corner and suck our thumb until we are pulled out kicking and screaming and not given a choice but to pull ourselves up to speed by our fingernails. With change comes personal decisions and I am here to tell you – the older you get the less you like change. We are stubborn like that.

As our lives move forward and our memories soften I often look around at the community I live in and make a mental list of how things used to be in this place I call home. A few things on my list are the stores my parents would take me to up and down the streets of our town and the ones I wandered in alone once I was old enough to wander. The Bobby Sherman watch I saved my money for. Sitting on the chairs that spun drinking lemonade at the Pharmacy. Filling my tires with air at the Sporting Goods Store. I think about the neighbors I knew and still remember, even if they are no longer here. Which brings with it the realization that I don’t know most of my neighbors names and I’ve lived in my neighborhood for 15 years. When I was young you knew people in your neighborhood. You played there. You were looked after by everyone – “It takes a village” was the mantra a lot of us older folks grew up experiencing first hand.

Life moves forward and change happens. Families change. Friendships change. Communities change. There are things to fill our days that make things faster at work, at school, at home but somehow we have less time. We have not freed up time but instead have filled our calendars with more than we can fit into a day. As these changes happened we found we need less people to do a job but we adapted. We learned new jobs. We moved forward but the pace continues to increase with no signs of slowing down.

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In our need for speed we started losing time. Time with our family. Time with friends. Time in the communities we live in. We can order anything and everything we need online from a computer inside our home. We can watch movies or TV on a computer in our bedroom. We can message, text or email anyone rather than having a conversation in person. We stare at our phones instead of participating in the world around us. Do I sound old yet?

So where will all this take us? My fear is it will take us further into ourselves and although self appreciation is a good thing to have it can make you extremely sad when you are alone. I don’t want to touch on depression or mental illness because I am not an expert in either of them but I think it’s safe to say people need people in their lives which brings us back to the community of family, friends and the places we live.

We are missing opportunities to talk to our parents, our friends, our neighbors. We are clicking buttons on our computers and phones instead of wandering behind the doors of some amazing little shops in our towns to see what someone’s dream consists of – because small business owners are rarely opening their doors to become millionaires. They are opening their doors because they had a dream and took a leap of faith to go for it in the hopes you would stop in to take a look and say hello, whether or not you buy something. What you would get is a feeling. You would feel the love they poured into their little space. You would have a conversation with a real person. You would leave with a warm, small, feeling that you would realize feels good because everything in life seems so big and vast anymore. You would feel, if only for a moment, what it feels like to be part of your community.

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So the people who make up their communities have a decision to make. How important is your community? To have a connection to others who live where you do? To have small businesses up and down your streets. Or is bigger and faster going to rule the world and take over before we have a chance to think about or realize what is happening. We have the power to make our communities better by doing little more than giving of our time, going to local events, walking up and down our streets, and spending some of our money locally so small shops filled with dreamers can keep their doors open – and maybe you will discover you want to be a dreamer too.

My fear is the loss of our small businesses on our Main Streets and beyond will soon lead to the death of our communities. If there are no small businesses you have empty storefronts and buildings and no reason to stop as you pass through. Communities need small business owners. They are the ones putting their money back into their communities. They are the sponsors of their local sports teams, parades, or local events. They care when someone in their community has a need. They often give back when it is a struggle for them to do so. Our towns and small businesses are struggling from the progression of faster being better and they don’t know how to compete. I don’t think they want to make time stand still but I believe they see the importance and value people feel when they slow down and reconnect to other human beings. How nice it is to buy something handmade. To find something they can’t find online. To feel the warmth and goodness when you walk through the door into a real person’s special space.

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When is the last time you walked up and down the Main Street (or side streets) into the small shops in your town. In my little town of approx. 4,600 people there are 85 small businesses. If you had asked me a few years ago how many we had I would have guessed 20, maybe 30. Then I decided to walk up and down the streets in my town and step inside those doors I had driven and walked by hundreds of times and it changed me. I met so many people and discovered so many things available right here in my town. I don’t do all my shopping there – I do love Amazon – but I try to shop and eat local often because I never want this feeling of connection to other people to go away. We need the dreamers and the risk takers in our community and if you take a moment to open their door I think you will be surprised how good slowing down feels and how conversation flows – just like the good ‘ol days.

Are our communities worth saving? I guess we all need to decide. If we do – we have the power to make it happen – I BELIEVE!


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Community Reactions

Want to add your community reaction? Use the form here, and see other comments below.

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Emily – 21 years

Being a part of a community gives you the security of never being alone. Life can get overwhelming sometimes and I personally find that in my low times I turn to the people I know I can count on to be there to pull me back up. There are times where I think it is okay to rely on others. Some things are too big to take on by yourself, and having a community of people around you that you know you can turn to is the most important security blanket for sanity for me. Without other people I would be a shell of a person actually. The people around me make me who I am. There is a sort of collective conscience created in these community situations and when you have a strong and supportive group of people in that community, that look out for each other, that have each others best interest at heart; that is something really powerful.

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata”
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people
— Maori proverb

Eliza – 31 years

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I’m a huge advocate for small business. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law own a precious little shop in PA and there is nothing better than connecting with customers one on one and bringing something special to a community by sharing items made from the heart, from people who grew up with similar values in your local area. We all need to support each other, lend a helping hand, and be compassionate. What are we without our local community? Help spread the love this holiday season by sharing that kindness toward your neighbor.

Tom – 59 years

Shop local. In today’s fast paced world, shopping on the internet can be convenient & save time, but remember… The small local businesses you shop at and support today are the same businesses that give back to the community by supporting youth sports, school activities, fire companies etc, and have done so for generations. Personally, our family, like many others has experienced tragedy & loss during our lifetime. The support shown to us from our local community during those times has been overwhelming. That support continues to remind us just how important friends, neighbors and a caring community are during difficult times. I feel strongly that small businesses and small communities are the backbone of our country.

MaKenzie – 19 years

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Being a part of a strong local community is essential to the longevity and dependability of your neighbors, schools, and small businesses. #shopsmall is more than just a hashtag, it’s a life mantra to support business giving back on a personal and economical level. But, communities and small businesses are co-dependent, they need each other to thrive. Consumers who shop locally are putting dollars back into their own economy fueling better social outreach services, parks, and education opportunities. Be apart of something bigger then yourself- reach out to a neighbor, volunteer at the local food pantry, and shop small, the future of your community depends on it.

Angie – 36 years

It’s friends, acquaintances, and people I’ve just met. People that want to do good in this world. People that want to give to others. We come together to lift one another up, offering support and love not just when times are tough but also when times are good!

Amaury – 23 years

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Community to me means connection, the connection between people that helps our society function and become better as we learn how to treat each other with respect. Community is also communication, the ability to communicate our wants and needs to those around us and through that create the necessary support to build a community

Erin – 31 years

Community to me means a group of people who are your “home away from home”. They are not just people you may have grown up with; but supportive people who value something in common, and take pride in it. These people come from all backgrounds, ages, etc. Yet they all share the same passion about the same thing. I grew up in Annville. The people there are supportive of local businesses, the schools, the churches; and supportive of each other. It’s a small town, and many have left or are “newcomers”, but whenever I come “home”, it still feels like the small, yet strong community that I remembered as a kid.

Lee – 23 years

Community to me is a union of people that come together to support something bigger than themselves. Communities require sacrifice, to help bring people up when they are down and push others further ahead while their up. While others types of teams and groups unite to achieve a common goal, communities seek to constantly improve the lives of everyone within it (they even help improve the lives of those outside). Like your family, I have grown up in a family that has had a large footprint in our local area. It’s been able to help me appreciate community in our area. It has allowed my family to pursue opportunities for ourselves and our local friends. Everyone should be thankful for their communities, to use the different avenues to help their area flourish.

Doug – 59 years

Community is sometimes defined by geography but it shouldn’t be limited to just spacial terms. For me community involves commitment to a cause and those who support that cause regardless if you like them or not.

Kevin – 54 years

When I initially hear the word community, I automatically think- “It’s the town where I live.” However, a community is so much more. A community is the town, but it is also the schools, the churches, the businesses, the sports teams, the performing arts groups, the service organizations . . . it’s the people! People who look out for each other, help each other, smile at each other at the gas pump, attend each other’s events, shop at each other’s businesses, go to church together and so much more. And it’s important to be a part of the community. Playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”

Russ – 56 years

To me, community means a place I want to be, whether to live, work, or simply to spend time relaxing. It also means a place where I belong and have my roots. Ingrained in those meanings is a desire to protect and enhance our community’s values, traditions, and attractions.

Maria – 46 years

Community means extended family to me. You know there’s always those people around you, you can always count on to help when it’s needed. It always makes us feel good to help others when there’s a need. I love this little town.

Darrell – 49 years

The importance for community to me. This could be defined in so many ways but I’ll try and tackle this definition using two ideas of community. The first idea represents a community of friends and neighbors. It always warms my heart driving in my neighborhood anxiously waiting to see Mr and Mrs Jones waving so happily from their beautifully decorated floral porch with the biggest smile on their faces or the beautifully decorated houses at Christmas time. I’ve also witnessed families coming together to support the birth or loss of a child and many moments that represent the spirit of community.

The second idea represents the local and small business community. Have you ever had a “Cheers” moment? You know the feeling where you walk into a store and they instantly know your name. Well that’s the type of community businesses that bring people closer together because it’s about the people, maintaining a quality product and a sense of belonging to the point where you feel valued, heard and like family.

My hope is that we all continue to support our neighborhood communities as well as our local and small businesses. They are the foundations of our neighborhood. We live in a world where things are getting bigger, taller and faster but i pray that we all continue to take the time to enjoy the foundation that we stand on and that will always be our small and local businesses and the people that continue to believe in our communities

Matt – 22 years

A community isn’t necessarily made up of people that share identical backgrounds or beliefs. Rather, a community built when people work together and become united by a common purpose. Some of the greatest communities I’ve been a part of are the sports teams I’ve competed with in high school and college. While we had short term goals (like beating the opposing team or improving certain skills), there was always a deeper purpose that united us and pushed us to excel. Namely, this was to support, encourage, and celebrate one another in both times of success and times of disappointment. Being on these teams taught me about the importance of community in a real and lasting way.

Doug

Community should be important and meaningful to all citizens, as we work to improve our lives and the lives of those who may come after us. We’ve all been given a great gift by the generations who preceded us. It is essential to not waste their work and to pass on the love. Of course, giving to the community in which we live also brings us joy as giver as much as it brings joy to the receiver!

Rhiannon – 37 years

Our culture is young. Our country is a jumbled up mix of different cultures all being combined in a cauldron and we’re all hoping for the best. But we’re struggling. We’ve come to a precipice of deciding what we want our, the cumulative “our”, culture to be. Our community will be the direct reflection of what our culture is. If we want our community or culture to be a village, then it will take a village. If we want our culture to be dissociative, then that is what it will be also. But we have to decide. Collectively, as a society, we have to decide on whether we will continue to let people outside of our community make the calls for our economics and our livelihoods, of which we will have no say in other than someone who doesn’t know you or I from Adam and makes only the decisions that will directly benefit themselves or their kin. Or we can decide to support our micro-economics through our participation within our society (our community) at that level and see direct results from decisions made from our next door neighbors, of whom we know their first and last names and their kids and their wonderful idiosyncrasies. But we have to choose. The natives have known this for thousands of years and are continually struggling to keep their culture alive-and their culture is of a cyclical nature, everything a season and everything interconnected; through relatives and stories and traditions passed to the next generation. So what will be ours? What are we passing? Are we choosing those we hold close and are close to us, or are we choosing someone who has absolutely no ties nor allegiance to our well-being? At any rate, the choice needs to begin now. And that is what we should be thinking about when we think about community

Steve

I walk around Lebanon often and am amazed at all of the small, locally owned businesses that we have in the city. They deserve our support. These people work hard. Some have been here for decades and others just opened their doors in the past few weeks. They offer quality products, services and food. We all need to make a conscious effort to help them.

Becky Gacono is an Annville-based real estate agent and cafe owner. Her father was V. Carl Gacono, who LebTown profiled after his passing this year.

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