A Lesson in Community

I think that the following story I wrote several years ago and updated an opening for will show you the kind of people who make up the Mahoning Valley.

Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has resigned because of a scandal. Dann is a Mahoning Valley resident so some folks are saying it makes our area look bad. Add his name to others before him who’ve embarrassed this area like: Trafficant, Mickey Monus, Philamena and several judges and you’re going to get some pessimists painting the whole area with a broad brush as being a bad place to live. I’d rather use that brush and a big pallet to paint a landscape of what this area is really about. That is its everyday people and how they come together to help others because that’s what community is all about.

The word community broken down is “common unity.” In our fast-paced, busy lives of today all that sense of common unity can seem like ancient history. At one time I had to harken back to tales my grandfather told me of life during the depression for any sense of true community. My grandfather worked for 43 years at the same barrel plant I spent 27 years at before it closed. He told me how during the depression, the plant was a great place to work. It was one of the few places in the Mahoning Valley that had steady work throughout the depression. Since he was working and so many of his relatives, friends and neighbors were not, he felt his payday should also be their payday. He would cook up something like a huge meatloaf and make a bathtub full of homemade beer and the party was on. Neighbors, friends and relatives would eat, drink and play cards until the wee hours. During the periods he was laid off, those he had helped reciprocated his generosity. That’s the way things used to be, tough times rallied people into a sense of solidarity, of community, a sharing that said, we all matter and we’re all in this together.

Something happened to me several years ago to make me realize those days were not over yet.

Life has a funny way of changing almost overnight if you focus on the good instead of the bad. Many times it takes something bad like the Great Depression to see the good side of people. The bad thing that woke me up to the goodness in people happened in 1999 around Christmas time. My wife was diagnosed with a circulatory and connective tissue disease. She has to stay warm at all times so she has been limited to going outside except to doctors’ appointments, including three specialists.

My wife, Melanie, is a speech pathologist and has also taught multi -handicapped children. She works for the county so she travels between school districts. Due to the pain she was in and the exposure to cold between her travels, the doctor has ordered her not to work the rest of the year.

At work I was being forced to work long hours. So to get her to doctor appointments, I had to miss some work, which the company was not happy about. Not being a person who likes to ask anyone for help, I didn’t. It turns out I didn’t have to, because help descended on our family in a wave of mythical proportions in the form of community. This is the type of community that gives blessing to life by only hoping to serve and it grows by giving.

In-laws, neighbors and friends came out of the woodwork to chauffeur my wife to her doctor appointments. But the sense of community didn’t end there. My neighbor retired and took it upon himself to help out the other neighbors. Every time it snowed that winter, he plowed many of our neighborhood’s driveways. I can’t explain how good it feels to come home from a long days work and find you don’t have to spend hours shoveling out your driveway. Another neighbor got our daughter on and off the bus with her children. Other neighbors called and offered to pick up groceries.

My wife received a lot of cards and letters that always seemed to come at a time when she needed them the most. The substitute speech pathologist called often with questions and comments to let her know how the children were doing. My wife worried about the students so the calls were a relief. My wife’s co-workers, therapists, teachers, assistants, cafeteria workers, bus drivers along with my mother and mother-in-law, dropped in to visit often. No one came empty-handed. They brought flowers; videos, books, lots of prayers and so much food our refrigerator and freezer were always full. My wife works with so many people and so many nationalities that we sampled all kinds of international cuisine. We enjoyed everything from pierogies and halushki to lasagna to a Spanish rice and chicken dish. Melanie’s friends and co-workers chipped in money to pay for a cleaning lady to clean our house (and the cleaning woman brought us food too!).

These aren’t people who just talk about family values, but live them. These are people who have learned that giving of self is the way to true fulfillment…. spiritual fulfillment. Community my brothers and sisters is anything but ancient history. It is all around us when we need a hand or are willing to lend a hand.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “A Lesson in Community

  1. crseum

    Wow. I was just going to jump over and skim really quickly to see about the background setting and i couldn’t stop reading. You made me cry! Im so glad you are blogging. Im going to link you if you don’t mind.

  2. Kris

    Hi Jim! Great post. I love common unity. I don’t know why I never broke the word down before. I’ll be thinking about it all day.

    When our neighbors across the street lost their baby, we say the same kind of spirit around here. In my neighborhood, we watch and feed each other’s children, help with projects, whatever needs done. Two men on my street work for the township, and when they’re out plowing snow in the middle of the winter, one of the guys on the street always makes sure their driveways are taken care of.

    I’m going to blogroll you over at Yoments. Good stuff, Jim.

  3. Tony Fasline

    Thanks for this commmentary on community. It portends of what the christian community should be about. It’s not the community that gets my wrath, it’s the occasional “sheperd that fleeces the flock (community)” that does! I see now that your blog has a neat balance to it. I am happy for your rant against social injustice and delighted for your support of people.

  4. elecpencil

    Thanks a lot Father Tony.

  5. elecpencil

    Thanks Debbie. I’m glad I have a name sake who with his spouse is making the world a little better. I thank you for the Arizona info and will incorporate it into future reading of my poem about guns. Thanks! I am adding your blog to my blog roll and I hope you don’t mind.

  6. Very beautiful story. I really long for that deep sense of community. I need to remind myself that it starts with me taking the initiative to be a brother and a neighbor to my community

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