Community Column: How can I contribute to make the community better?

Jason Curran

What is a community?

Webster’s would define it as; “a group of people with common interests living in a particular area within a society.” So, what makes a community different than another community? Those shared common interests and the people within them.

The values of people in America’s Heartland and the Midwest comprise of many small towns that appreciate raising children, hard work, time with good friends, appreciating the land we have and being good neighbors to each other; more so than big cities or other parts of the country. This is why the Illinois Valley is one of the greatest places to live and raise a family in Illinois, America, or even the world, as those shared values might be the strongest right here.

The engagement of people to be involved in parts of their community are waning all across America, but this unfortunately is becoming the most noticeable in the places that have the strongest hometown values. I mean, did anyone think people living in New York City 30 years ago were especially neighborly to each other back then? For those places, perhaps not much is as different, but here, in small town America, we can see it, we can feel it. There are less people being coaches, less people part of amazing non-profit organizations, less volunteer firefighters, and in general, less people wanting to get involved in things outside of their own homes within their community, our community continues to have fewer and fewer opportunities.

What’s the cause? We could make some assumptions: the internet and social media taking out face-to-face communication thus increasing bullying and angry speech, the politicizing of viewpoints in the media making people less neighborly with each other, divorce rates increasing which changes the average family unit, or something else. Who knows exactly? However, we do know the solution. We need to be able to push back against whatever those particular causes might be and force ourselves to get back involved in our community again. Everyone needs to find some way to connect with others. Not all volunteer opportunities are created equal as far as time sink, talent needed or effort given. However, they are all equally valued as benefiting the community we live in. Don’t get me wrong, a volunteer firefighter might end up saving someone’s life someday, but that doesn’t mean that someone coaching kids for baseball doesn’t bring equally important value to the community. While one might be preserving life, the other is making quality of life. Both are required to make a great community successful!

I request this spring everyone ask themselves, “How can I contribute to making my community better with what time and talent I have?”

For some, perhaps you’re in the time of your life where you don’t have excess free time, so perhaps only small things are available to you, like volunteering to help sell tickets for a community festival, a 2-hour timeslot out of the year. Perhaps you have more time available now, but only in evenings, there are many great nonprofit or church organizations that do many services to our community that only meet once a month. Maybe you are in the time of your life where you have either a particular skill or a timeframe that you can contribute to significant items that make our community function like; firefighter, baseball/softball board, coaching our youth, etc. My point is, everyone has some kind of value that they can contribute to bringing the Illinois Valley back to what it has better than any other place on Earth, a thriving community of citizens making our best lives. Let’s all be a part of it.

Jason Curran is the mayor of Oglesby and retired with the U.S. Navy.