I get to write this post from the Iowa State Fair in a campground that goes on for miles (or seems to, anyway!). Those of us who camp at the Iowa State Fair are a community of people who choose to drag half of our homes to Des Moines where we pack our campers in like sardines on hillsides that make a stomach churn every time a camper pulls in or pulls out. It’s a sight to behold.
Community has been on my mind a lot this week. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Morgan Stipe opened the Open Up Resources HIVE Conference in Kansas City with the line, “…we are truly better together as a community.” Oh Morgan – you couldn’t be more right.
I grew up in the small town West Point, IA, and now live just three miles outside of that small town. Small towns can get a bad rap for their lack of diversity and close-mindedness. Both strikes are certainly there for West Point, but I have been reminded over and over again, this week, about the beauty of living in a small town. It all comes back to community.
There is much comfort in going for a morning run on the community-created bike trail and being greeted by Jeff K., “Hey, Meg!” and a little further down the path being greeted and stopped by Mike W. I told Mike about my bike purchase and recent 60+ mile ride with my brother. By the time we were done visiting, Mike and I had exchanged phone numbers and have plans to bike together. Small town. New biking community for me.
This past week brought the 69th annual Sweet Corn Festival to West Point, which is kicked off by Shuck Fest on Wednesday night. Talk about community! Townsfolk come from everywhere (including surrounding communities) volunteering their time to shuck the 16+ tons of corn that will be eaten during the annual event. Though I don’t take part in Shuck Fest, it is an amazing example of what happens when community comes together.
On Thursday night, I get to work my annual shift at the St. Mary’s Altar & Rosary Tent, serving some of the best roast beef sandwiches you’ll ever eat! The church community comes together to keep the tent up and running for the long weekend. In addition to the many volunteers needed to serve food, an amazing crew of people form the Altar & Rosary committee that makes the whole thing tick. I’m far from a model parishioner, but I still relish in the pride of that community and what they make happen each and every year – not to mention all that the church community does day-to-day.
On Friday night, Bill and I get to work our annual shift in the chicken and corn area. Bill and crew cook the sweet corn that Festival-goers can enjoy, for free, to their hearts content. I get to work as cashier as folks come through to eat “the world-famous West Point Sweet Corn Festival chicken.” For those of you who know Mike Schierbrock, you just heard his voice over the loud speaker making that announcement! It is in this area that nothing short of magic happens. The chicken crew cooks that world famous chicken, the amazing Corn Festival Committee runs the entire food operation, and volunteers from our community work shifts throughout the weekend so that festival-goers can enjoy a terrific food experience. Community.
It is in this same small town that I get to witness community members patronize the Corner Tap, the business my parents have run for nearly 39 years. During the week of the Corn Festival, it’s so fun to see people who have been away come back in to share a beer, a story, and a laugh. They always seek out Mom and Dad, checking in to see how the past year has treated them. Mom and Dad celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this week. All 54 years have been spent in this community, by two people who came from entirely different communities (Lewistown, Montana and Oak Park, Illinois). And talk about community – Mom and Dad’s regular patrons are a community all of their own. They are the very best. They are family. Community.
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this same sense of community this summer while enjoying bike rides on Fort Madison’s magnificent Port Trail. Fort Madison has its own sense of community, and is the home of my school community. There is nothing like seeing familiar faces and hearing friendly “Good mornings!” even from people you don’t know. These greetings do much for the soul and secure your sense of belonging in these small communities.
It was because of my Facebook community that our dogs, who took off on an adventure without permission, were returned to our house within a few hours. I shared the following post, and was overwhelmed with the “Shares,” “hugs,” and well-wishes from the community. It was because friends took the time to share the post, make a phone call, and send a text or two that Bradshaw and Allie made it back home, safe and sound. Community.
While reading George Couros’s weekly email from July 30 which focused on empathy, I was reminded that community is made stronger when we are able to exercise empathy, defined as “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” From George Couros’s weekly email, July 30, 2022: “I am often asked, “How do you move people forward when they are fearful of change?” Before writing “The Innovator’s Mindset,” I would have given you a list of arguments you can share with someone and how to get them to change their mind. Since then, my advice has changed, and I often share the same thing.
If you want to move someone ahead, don’t try to get them to jump to where you want them to be in the moment. That can often lead to them only being more firm in their position. Ask them questions, be deeply curious, and go to the space they are currently in and see if there is a step you can take to move forward together.” Beautiful, George.
This hit me hard as I read Seeing the Good in Balanced Literacy…and Moving On, Right to Read Project, Aug. 3, 2022. I fear that I have been guilty of denouncing Balanced Literacy completely, rather than taking time to sift out the good that came from the Balanced Literacy practices that I utilized for so long in my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade classrooms. The exhaustive list at the beginning of the article was such a great reminder!
As the article mentioned, this ability to exercise empathy feels more important than ever in the polarized political environment that we live in. I find it best to avoid political conversations, so I hesitate to even mention the following. Given the state of our current climate, I have to admit that I am intrigued by the new 3rd Party, Forward, being formed by Andrew Yang and Christine Todd Whitman. The party sounds both interesting and inviting. I generally do not align myself with any political party, and very likely won’t with this one, but love the principals the new party is after. Unity, not division.
Unity, empathy, community. What a grand way to live. May we all find clarity in our communities, growing both stronger and more empathetic through them.