After living for more than 30 years in and near State College, we moved two years ago to Benner Township, just outside of Bellefonte. While the past two years have been spent adjusting to a new “commute” (from five minutes to work to a whopping 15) and settling into our new house, we have also been exploring what it means to be part of a new community, one we don’t know as well. And I’ve been feeling lately like it is time to be a bit more intentional about that.
Don’t misunderstand, please. We still have very good friends in State College and my neighborhood book group has graciously allowed me to continue participation and has even trekked to our new house when it was my turn to host. State College is where we raised our children, and the connections are still deep there. But I’ve recently been thinking that I need to investigate and invest a bit more in my new community, not only because of the great people I’ve met and the charm of Victorian Bellefonte, but because being part of a community matters — it matters a lot.
In his book “Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good,” Chuck Collins argues that in addressing the crisis we face, specifically the crisis of wealth inequality and climate change, one thing that is needed is reinvestment financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually in local communities. In fact, No. 4 on Collins’ list of things that should be done to help make our communities and our world healthier and safer places for all of us is to “put a personal stake in a place and work for the common good.” Collins identifies practices like getting to know ones neighbors, participating in civic groups, supporting local initiatives, shopping and buying local, actively supporting public schools and becoming engaged in local politics as ways to “put a personal stake” in a place.
Being engaged in local groups and the local community probably come fairly easily to those folks born and raised in a place. But for others of us, it takes intentionality, a willingness to explore and connect with others with whom we don’t share a common history. As Collins points out, “Planting your stake in a place will engage your social capital, your time, money and insight. Democracy requires engagement with other people, making your case, winning, losing, and compromising.”
In my last column, I wrote about how we need to begin to listen to those whose lives are different than ours to create healthier, welcoming communities. This is true, I believe, whether we are the one with roots planted deep in the community or the newcomer to town. Communities that are healthy are those that have an engaged citizenry made up of old-timers and new-comers — and where those two groups learn from and listen to one another. But it takes time and energy and commitment to create those kinds of healthy and vital communities. It takes a willingness for everyone to step out of their own comfort zone to explore what is possible together. Perhaps the place to begin is at home.