I’ve watched communities come together my whole life. I grew up on a farm in an area where neighbors helped neighbors. The town rallied behind families in need. I’ve watched and been in groups building floats together to put together a parade or gather up supplies and donations for a community event. I’ve seen how many people it takes doing huge and small tasks to pull off a Relay for Life event. I’ve seen dozens of people cook to provide a free meal to anyone who needed it. I’ve watched my current community rally after a tornado impacted a large number of individuals and families. And I’ve served on the committee to make sure an annual event, Chillifest, is a welcoming experience for residents and visitors.
It’s a two-day event that takes months and a small army to make happen. It’s not just the committee but the many volunteers who help with some sort of preparation or donations and the countless teams of people who help from set up to tear down and every minute of the event. It’s organizations and businesses throughout the town who generously give services, time, and resources. It’s vendors who prepare for weeks and months. It’s competitors willing to travel, pay entry fees, and do what they do best, whether it’s cooking chilli, tossing cornhole bags, or parents who bring their kids to pageants or pedal tractor pulling contests.
There’s a lot of community. And every year, there seems to be at least one moment of calm throughout the weekend when it overwhelms me. I stop in my tracks and look around, and I can’t quite take it all in. So many people. So many connections and conversations. So many friends and families making memories together.
I don’t think any one person is able to enjoy everything that happens throughout the weekend. There are options of food, activities, entertainment, vendors, contests, and so much more. People pick and choose how to spend their time, whether they’re attending or serving.
Because I coordinate social media, I get to see at least snapshots of nearly everything. And as I took a lap on the last day, I saw many people I knew and even more I didn’t. I saw lots of smiles. I saw families hanging out and friends relaxing together.
I saw community.
I stood still for a few moments to savor it all. I heard someone say, “What are you smiling about?” as he walked beside me.
“Just taking in my community.”
It doesn’t have to take a large event or crisis for you to appreciate and engage in your community. The more involved I am in the community, the more I notice I’m sensitive to what’s happening around me. I notice my neighbors more. I pay attention to the people I see at the store. I listen a bit more patiently. I look for people I don’t yet know. I ask questions.
Yes, communities create challenges, because all of us are challenging at times, but when we come together, we can make an impact. We make a difference in each other’s lives.