What Community Means to Me – Growing Up In a Small Town

(Photo Credits by: Tricia Ross and Photo Pin)

Say what you want about growing up in a small town, but I for one am proud of the small town that I still call home. It is a little beach resort nestled along the Atlantic Ocean. Many vacation there, but when I was growing up few called it home. It is a town where Friday nights in the Fall consist of high school football games and the Winter entertainment is high school basketball or wrestling and in the Spring it’s baseball and lacrosse. I haven’t lived there in years, but still call it “home” and travel back for a few weeks every summer. A few months back when I was being interviewed by a writer from CNN’s Headline News, she asked me where I was from. When I told her, the response was “I never knew anyone was actually from there, I just thought people vacationed there”. She asked me what it was like growing up there and I think while answering her question I realized how special the place I call home really is.

I am not writing this to talk about the beauty of my small hometown, the great vacation spot it is or for what some would call “lack of excitement” in the winter. I am writing this to say that on days like this I am reminded that I am the person I am today not just because I had great parents but because of the “community” I was raised in. Community is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society”. For me community is more than how it is defined. It is the values that we live by. I is a sense of family with no biological relation. It is gathering together not only in times of celebration and despair, but in support of each other. Just simply knowing that someone is there for you in a moment of need, whether it be to lend a helping hand or just simply reminding you of how much greatness you have inside you.

The “community” I am talking about was instilled in me and my peers at a very young age. We went to school together, we went to church together, and we were in class and on the field together. Some parents were coaches while others cheered us on from the sideline. We had strict game day rituals, gathering places, and traditions… but we would battle each other out when it came time to show our school spirit and gather together to beat our rivals.

One of the unique treasures of growing up in a small town is that many of our classmate’s parents were our teachers; they had knowledge beyond their years in their academic realm, personally knew us and our story and had the ability to recognize the greatness within each of us. I am not saying that every teacher was great, but we can almost all agree on those that made us feel we mattered and encouraged us to succeed, helping shape us into the adults we are today.

We all make our own choices in life each traveling different paths, many of us now living miles apart, and facing our own struggles. But we are tied together by the community we were raised in. It use to be that we would briefly see our classmates when we returned home for a visit as we walked through the supermarket aisles. Sometimes seeing their parents instead was just as great of an experience. Some are fortunate to still live our small town and their children get to share in our little community. Where I grew up we are a family, bonded by nothing more than a community created by normal people who wanted their children to grow and thrive surrounded by love.

Recently, a teacher/coach/writer (and most importantly a parent), gathered all the courage he could to post on his personal facebook page; that his son, my childhood friend, was missing. He divulged that his son is battling the demons of addiction and mental health, and had not been heard from in a few days. Tears began to roll down my face as I knew how hard it was for this family, whom everyone in our community cherishes, to admit that they needed help. I couldn’t image the pain that they must be feeling not knowing where their son is and if he was okay. My own personal news feed began to repeat itself over and over as other fellow alumni saw the plea for help. Pictures and information spread like wildfire among my classmates and beyond. Then a member of our community took to the phone; calling a friend in the area, and in a few hours our friend was found and returned to his family. To me that is community in every sense of the word.

The sense of community that I was raised to believe in continues on in my life, even years after leaving my small hometown. As a military spouse, many times there are miles and miles between my biological family and our duty station, but that gives me the opportunity to build a community with fellow spouses; we are mothers, fathers, spouses, students, and so much more. We all work to balance life and the bumps that come along when you marry someone in uniform. They understand what my life is like on a daily basis, they know and understand that some days I am a mad military wife, and others I am a PROUD military wife. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and some days it is not the happiest of adventures… but on days like homecomings there is no better feeling!

As a military family, our children will not have the luxury of growing up in the same small town for all of their adolescent years, but I am committed to raising them with the same sense of community that was instilled in me. One of the simplest ways I can do that is to lead by example. With every move we make, my husband and I arrive ready to jump in and become active in my community, whether it is joining the PTA, coaching T ball, leading a scout troop, or just attending events to show our support. We are showing our children how rewarding it is to be involved with others and gain a sense of belonging, taking a little piece of each of our duty stations with them along the journey.

I want the generations that created my, community in my hometown to know that they have succeeded in making future generations of affluent adults. The greatness of these adults is not to be measured by the amount of money that they have or the fame that they have found, but by the continued love, support and commitment that they exemplify in their own communities. I saw this commitment to community play out when two of my school mates banded together to pay it forward and help one of our fellow alumni and his family come together again. For all of the bad that social media can create in this world there, is also good and that was a good day! A family is back together, but the journey doesn’t stop for them today, it is a long a windy road… and together they are stronger than one.

The story from my small town would not have played out this way if it was not for two high school teachers, who helped build a generation of adults who believe in supporting each other and giving back to their community. I am proud to have grown up in this community and work to instill these values within my own family and whatever community the military blesses us with next.

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