By Amy Chapman
A high-energy dialogue at the Bethel Inn recently centered on “The Resilient Community in the 21st Century: how can elders shape the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren?”
Twenty-two participants in the Brown Bag Lunch discussion shared their perspectives on what qualities make for a resilient community, why they have chosen to make this area their home, the advantages and disadvantages of living in a small town/rural environment, and their visions for the future of the Bethel area.
Some said they were originally brought to the area by jobs, family, or other circumstances, while others said they had made a conscious choice to live in a small town that was quiet, safe, and offered plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.
In nearly every case, they said they had stayed because of the strong sense of community and the close ties they developed with friends and neighbors.
“We’ve always come back to the realization that we don’t want to live anywhere else, that this is home, and it’s OK to travel to do other things, but we want to come back here,” said Nancy Davis.
Others pointed to the opportunities that residents of small towns have to be involved in the political process on a grassroots level, making a difference by attending town meetings or serving on local governing boards and committees.
Rosemary McLean suggested that one disadvantage of living in a rural area was the homogeneous character of the population.
“We need the influx of the immigrant values, with the emphasis on education and the drive to work hard,” she said.
Lee Smith said she felt the area lacked opportunities for young people, particularly with regard to art and music, a factor that might deter young families from relocating here.
Discussion facilitator Bonnie Pooley asked participants to consider what roles elders can play to make the community “even better, even more resilient, even more exciting than it already is.”
Several people said they were interested in opportunities to mentor young people, through the schools, after-school programs, or other, less formal channels.
They identified a need for a community center that could serve a multi-age population, with programs geared toward seniors, youth, and those in between, while encouraging intergenerational mentoring opportunities.
Pooley said that the local foods movement is one area in which younger people are taking the lead, coming up with innovative ideas and initiating new programs like the Boondocks Buying Club and the Local Food Connection.
“What I’ve learned is that we need to support those ideas—not take them over, but support them,” she said. “They are learning how to run an organization, and supporting those organizations that are being run by younger people who are stepping up is really crucial for us.”
Last week’s Brown Bag Lunch Discussion was part of an ongoing series that is sponsored by the Western Mountains Senior College, and is free and open to the public. Participants are invited to bring their own lunches and join others for a spirited discussion of a contemporary topic.