Problems abound in my small town. On every block, small black-and-white signs promoting coal reflect our threatened economy. Houses stand empty; for-sale and for-rent signs decorate neighborhoods. Our schools lose students, and teacher turnover is high. Too many families exist on incomes below the poverty level; too many children go to school with unattended medical and dental issues.
Even the sidewalks have given up.
But it’s my town.
After Joel and I retired, we were asked, “When will you be moving?”
Not whether we’d be leaving, but when.
We’ll be staying.
Last summer, I was encouraged when I read the words of a young resident who volunteers for a local non-profit that works with at-risk teens: “I feel I should give back to my community,” she told a newspaper reporter, “It’s been good for me, and I want it to be good for others.”
My husband has long acted on his belief that if you enjoy living where you do — whether its a farming or ranching area with far-flung neighbors, a small town, a suburb, a row house in a large city — you should help care for it so it continues to be a place you choose to call home. When we married, watching Joel work to improve our community, I adopted his belief.
Fortunately, most residents share our conviction. They provide transportation to medical appointments for those who can’t drive themselves, buy band instruments for students who can’t afford them, and cook free lunches and dinners twice a week for anybody who shows up. They created and continue to maintain a colorful garden that welcomes visitors to town. They clean up the Yampa River, staff the Food Bank, assist victims of abuse, and maintain mountain trails.
In addition, they open their wallets to help neighbors in need and keep non-profits afloat, giving to United Way so generously that Craig’s donations are in the top 10% per capita in the nation.
These folks neither ignore Craig’s problems nor move away from them. They serve our town because they see the same positive things about life here that I do: light traffic, an easy-going pace, the grandeur of the mountains and the respite they provide when we go to them, the unrestricted river that rambles by, the parks well used and maintained on a modest budget, business owners who greet customers by name, drivers who wave, neighbors who chat. And an ice cream truck that roams our summer streets playing Jingle Bells.
In the aftermath of Christmas and on this New Year’s Day, let’s resolve to list the gifts we could give our communities during the coming year — and check it twice.