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What Makes A Community?
And what makes it a happy one?
community - a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society
I grew up in Marietta, Ohio. Nestled in a wide valley where the Muskingum River meets the Ohio River, Marietta is a historic, private college town with a solid business base, sound health system, and multiple opportunities for recreation and tourism. For the most part, Marietta has it all - everything you look for in a community.
A community is a social unit of members who share a common network of some sort — a connection of values, interests, goals, and kinship. Positive communities inspire their members in ways that promote a sense of self-discovery and group connection, encourage members to express their beliefs and values, and build relationships with others.
I moved to central West Virginia in 1992 when I transferred to Glenville State College (now University). I worked odd jobs after graduating in 1994, and in 1999, turning down permanent employment at a temporary worksite in Chicago, Illinois, Frank and I returned to central West Virginia and settled here on his family’s farm not far from the Calhoun/Gilmer County line.
We’re about the same distance from Grantsville, the county seat of Calhoun, and Glenville, the county seat of Gilmer. Over the past 20 years, I have worked and interacted in both counties. They both lie in the donut hole of West Virginia. Neither are intersected by an interstate. Their populations are aging, and shrinking. Both were wounded by the loss of manufacturing. Gilmer has a state university and a federal prison; Calhoun has a small, rural hospital, and... well, not much else.
Unless you understand the quality of a community.
Since I moved to this “depressed” region of Appalachia, I have taken an interest in community and economic development. One of my best friends (lost to Covid), worked in economic development for several decades. I have attended multiple conferences on such topics, read multiple books, and have a knack for seeing potential.
And, living the past twenty years dancing back and forth over the Calhoun/Gilmer County line, I’m always making note of the vast differences in the community differences of the two counties. And I’ve always been perplexed by the way each county is the opposite of what you’d expect.
Economically, Gilmer has many advantages over Calhoun. But when it comes to community, Calhoun never ceases to amaze me.
Note that community quality is not measured by income, employment, status, economic class, or education. What price can you place on a night sky? On being treated with respect? On biscuits over three inches high?
Our region needs a renaissance. A rebirth. And Calhoun County has started theirs. It makes me proud and gives me hope for our future.
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