Every town in America has it’s issues. Crime, a high rate of high school dropouts, a larger-than-average number of auto accidents . . . the list could go on for days and the issues vary from one town to the next. The size of the city doesn’t matter – they all have problems! But I have one question – why do SO MANY of us seem to focus on those negatives and run our towns/cities/villages down as though that is the ONLY thing happening?
In December of 2009 my family moved to a small Iowa town we had never heard of till hubby got a job offer from there – Fort Dodge. Now I grew up in a town so small that it is technically classified as a village in the state of Michigan – 650 people or thereabouts when I graduated in 1986. It’s grown a little but the population is still, I would wager, in the three digit range. Fort Dodge has a population of about 25,000. They talk about how small they are and I love to tell people how small MY hometown was just for the sake of perspective!
We have a couple of art museums, a symphony that has a handful of concerts a year, a choral society that does the same, a faith related singing group (made up of members from different churches in the community) that performs a couple of times a year, three different theater companies, very active arts and sports programs at the local high schools and the community college in town, and some local bands that perform from time to time at local bars. As if THAT isn’t enough, there is an annual concert called Shellabration that has brought in groups like Foreigner, Styx, Boston and more. Oh! And I almost forgot – there is a blues festival every year called “Blues Under the Trees” and the people that organize that event also regularly bring in blues musicians to entertain at the bars in the area. So we have ALOT going on. A Fine Arts Association that is very active, beautiful parks, trails for hiking and biking, an academy that allows local citizens to work with city police officers to gain a better understanding of the training and preparation our officers go through . . . I could go on for a while but suffice it to say that I have come to love my new “hometown” and what she has to offer a whole bunch.
But, like a lot of cities, she has a past. (Don’t we all?!) This past has earned her the nickname “Dirty Dodge.” Every time a crime is reported in the local news, my Facebook blows up with comments like “Well, what can you expect from ‘The Dirty’.” Or “Business as usual in Dirty Dodge.” Are there people who make lousy choices living in this town? Yep. They might even be just downright awful human beings. I don’t know. But is that ALL the citizens of Fort Dodge are up to? Not by a long shot. I already mentioned a whole bunch of good things about our community in the previous paragraph so I won’t repeat those. But let me tell you about some amazing human beings I know in and around this town.
I got back in to two at 4 a.m. – yes, you read that right – from a trip to Branson, Missouri. The instrumental music department from Fort Dodge Senior High takes a trip every two years alternating between “big” trips – like bowl games in the south over Christmas Break – and “small” trips – like the one we just took to Branson. We left last Thursday at about 1 and got back Monday morning at about 4 a.m. In those few days we packed in a lot – spent a day at Silver Dollar City, the marching band marched through “The Landing at Branson” (think “outdoor mall”) and did a performance of some of the pep band tunes after they marched, the orchestra got a private clinic with a string instructor, the jazz band played as a sort of “opening act” on the Showboat Branson Belle, we went to the Dixie Stampede, hit an outlet mall, spent time in the pool, rode the ducks . . . believe me when I say we packed ALOT into those four days!
On the way home, I got about a 10 minute cat nap on the bus and fell into bed exhausted a little before 5. And I’d pack up and do it all again tomorrow if they asked me to. At each location where we ate as a group, at least one of the chaperones/directors (and sometimes more) were approached by waitstaff who wanted to complement our kids on how respectful they were. One waitress even went so far as to tell me that they were just fun kids to be around because they knew how to – and I’m quoting her, here – “handle themselves like adults”. Were there some minor irritations between students? Well, we spent many hours on charter busses and hanging out at the hotel together – teenagers + lots of time in the same space = of course there are going to be some moments! But they were relatively minor and, for the most part, handled pretty wisely. When we did room checks each night, they were where they were supposed to be without fuss. They were ready when they were supposed to be, they made sure an adult was accompanying them to the pool (as the hotel had requested) and they kept each other in check when it came to their volume so they wouldn’t disturb the other guests in the hotel. This group has its “loners” like every group does – those kids who will never insert themselves into a group but will gladly go along if asked – and these kids took care to make sure that those individuals were being included and looked after by their “family.”
I guess what I’m trying to say – in a very wordy, roundabout way – is this: more than 100 high school students from the band and orchestra programs at FDSH went to Branson for four days and they were INCREDIBLY positive representatives of their school, their community, and their families. It was an honor to share the trip with them. When I, as a chaperone, made a request of a student they did it. No fuss, no whining, no questions asked. When expectations regarding check out time, departure time, etc. were shared they got business taken care of and were ready when they were supposed to be. Many of them were often ready a little early! Are those kids perfect? No. But will they carry themselves with class and excellence when those around them have those types of expectations of them and communicate those expectations clearly and positively? Yep. Saw it with my own eyes this weekend. Repeatedly.
I’m not saying problems don’t exist in my town. They do. And solutions need to be sought, conversations need to be had, and those that care need to get involved. But maybe . . . just maybe . . . this idea of setting the bar high, expecting excellence from our citizens, and letting those around us know how much we appreciate the good they are doing . . . maybe that’s a part of the solution we need to talk more about.