Growing up, I was part of many different communities. Among them were Girl Scouts, youth group, writing club, a small city just south of Akron and for one long and clumsy year in early elementary school, gymnastics. To me, to be part of these communities meant your pretty standard definition of “community.” It meant to simply be in the same area as other people at the same time who often shared a same interest or purpose.
Quite often, my communities worked toward outcomes that made a difference. However, the purpose behind those accomplishments was never clear; I didn’t always understand the importance of the difference being made. This idea of community began to change throughout my college career.
As I trekked through higher education, I found my way to the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, an organization dedicated to developing the Towpath Trail and communities throughout the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area. These communities include the multiple neighborhoods throughout urban cities like Akron, to cohorts advocating everything from large trail systems to adding an extra trash can on a sidewalk. Through this organization, I have completed communications work, planned events, led volunteer groups and organized development projects. I became surrounded by opportunities to be involved with the various communities throughout the area and the people who made them.
Because of these opportunities, my understanding of the purpose of a community began to shift. Being part of a community suddenly became not so much about simply having a common factor, such as location or quality, but about having passion for that common factor. Passion is what drives a person or group to take action and positively build those places and people around them.
Community, to me, means not only being part of a group, but having passion for it and committing oneself to helping it grow in positive ways. Whether part of a community due to physical location or shared goal, the purpose of community is to strengthen each other and create an even better community for those who will be here long after I am gone.
Often in my middle school and high school years, I heard people disparage my communities, or even their own, despite the great work those communities might have been doing to make a better environment for people my age. Because I didn’t fully understand the importance of great communities, I didn’t speak up. Now, because of the passion and importance shown to me in recent years by fellow community members much wiser than me, I am proud to be part of the Akron Community, my hometown community, the trail community, and so many more.