It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Stanton, Kentucky, a small town nestled at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. My family had just arrived at our home after attending our small church, in which we are currently making decisions of whether or not we want to remain in the specific denomination that we have been in for the past century or so, due to the very liberal approach the denomination is now taking.
We come in to our kitchen and decide the final details of our meal. We decide to open up the dining room, which is typically only used for holiday or birthday meals. We have invited a family who has recently moved into our community, though they have been involved in our community for over a decade. We prepared a cookout style meal, with both families providing fresh vegetables for the burgers.
We casually sit around the table in no particular order. One of my best friends, Zach, sits next to my older brother Matt. They are both in college at different universities, one large and one small. My father, Troy, sits next to Zach. Troy is well-known in our community, being practically everyone’s doctor, though he is only a physician’s assistant. On the other side of the table, my mother, Deana, sits next to Martina, who is a guidance counselor at our town’s only high school. Deana used to be a physical therapist, but is now working in the school system. Rick sits next to his wife, Martina. Rick was formerly working in a factory as a manager, but is now in the Alternative School, teaching kids who were removed from the high school and middle school. He is also a coach for the high school football team. The room was open, the lighting was natural, and the conversation came in the same way.
My goodness, it was a good meal.
I began the conversation by asking what citizenship means to them, beyond voting and paying taxes. This mostly garnered the same general response: being a citizen is giving back to the community, helping the community in a way that you see it necessary. Rick said that people some of the people he works with don’t have any sense of duty or responsibility. They feel like the government is there to support them. People sometimes live with the mindset of doing what you need to get by, and forgo being a productive member of society. Troy mentioned that there are generally two basic types of people in a community, people who contribute and people who take, meaning that some people consciously put time and money into the community while others sit back and reap the rewards. With that in mind, though, we all take away from what communities offer, whether it is intentional or not. Kids going through school are taking away, usually without giving their fair share back. Anyone who lives in the protection of the military is taking from society. With these in mind, Matt adds that it is then your duty as a citizen to give back.
My next question dealt with their careers, and whether the desire to be a citizen impacted that career path. Martina claimed that she always wanted to teach, to help people and to give to people. She saw that becoming a counselor would maximize her potential to give to a community, but she never imagined how rewarding that profession would be for her. She sees every type of student, from first-time college students to first-time high school graduates, and having a touch on people’s lives in that sense is the rewarding part. *8:30*
Rick then told a winding story of his career path. Basically, he began in a factory in his hometown. The factory was very family-oriented, making sure that priorities were kept straight, and that workers were being treated right. For this reason, he loved the company. Eventually, his company was bought by a bank, and as most banks are, the bank was very money-motivated. The company he once loved lost sight of the values it was built upon, and the work was draining; the only thing that mattered was profit. Eventually, Rick left and went back to school in search of making a difference. He became a teacher, and now works with kids that have had disciplinary issue. Here, he is able to have a direct influence on the kids that may need it the most.
Troy and Deana both added that any job could be turned into serving the public, if you make a conscious effort to do so. Their thought was that if you focus your job on providing for people that need the work to provide for their families, then you could see a factory job (such as Rick’s) as serving the community through providing opportunity. Reflecting on that outlook, though, a self-centered attitude in a role that should contribute heavily to the community could have a reverse effect and negatively impact the people it touches (think a teacher who doesn’t invest in students). Thus, we somewhat concluded that any job can have social impact with a certain context, though there are some careers where you can have a much larger impact on the future generation.
I asked the table if they would rather live in place that had a focus on family or community. Most people responded that they would rather have communities building each other up as a whole than serving their own family first, which is very interesting. There are several takes on how you could answer this question, an infinite number of variables as well as an infinite amount of outcomes. One way to look at it is if you, as a parent, build up a community as your primary focus, your family will learn from your example. At the same time, you do not want to neglect your family. We did not go deep into this conversation at the table, but the influences were felt throughout the remainder of the meal.
I recalled a story we read about in class about the Shipyard Project. As the northeastern town was split between an artistic community and a blue-collar community, ours is split by drug abuse. Statistically, Powell County is one of the worst counties in the state for drug abuse of all kinds in one of the worst states in the nation for drug abuse. We have a problem, and you can see the effects on our community as a whole. Rick, Martina and Deana are all working in the school system, Troy works closely with all the students (especially athletes) and Zach, Matt and I have all been through the school system in the past 3 years. We all agreed that there is a split in the community, and the school. I specifically asked Rick, since he is the head football coach’s right-hand man, if he thought football serves as a joining activity in a way similar to how the Shipyard Dance unified that community. He said he saw potential for it, but doesn’t see that yet. Kids are greatly affected by their parent’s participation. Though transportation can be provided for students who wish to participate, it is difficult, and often there’s no motivation from the students.
For the students who do get involved, though, the results are spectacular. Martina tells of an after-school Zumba program that she dabbled in last year, saying that several students really enjoyed the activity and looked forward to Zumba. Most of these kids are kids that otherwise are not involved in any activities outside of academics. I also brought up our high school’s soccer team, which has been started within the past 4 years and is already competing for regional championships. Of the 40 kids on the team, soccer is the only extracurricular activity that 26 of them participate in. On the subject of new start-ups, Martina brings up several new clubs in the school, like Card Club and FCCLA. As a counselor, she sees that kids long to be a part of something, some kind of community that they can really dive into and find an identity in.
As a final question, I asked if the members at the table grew up having family dinners around the table. Deana grew up always eating together, as she lived within yards of her extended family. She also finally admitted that she, too, preferred Kraft Mac & Cheese over her grandma’s homemade macaroni. Martina said her family made it a point to eat together at home every night, maybe getting a burger from a local joint and taking it home once a month. Rick grew up on a farm with all of his aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents. Every day, they would all work on the farm, congregate in a house for lunch and then meet in a different one for dinner. Troy was much like Zach, Matt and myself, in that we were always busy, resulting in plenty of dinners with our brothers but not necessarily with parents during sports seasons, resulting in an amazing bond between the brothers. The ones who grew up eating meals with their families recollect extraordinary memories from the systematic tradition. Deana says that you never know how special it is to have dinner around a table with your family. We decided after the meal was finished to have dinner together more often.
I look back on my own memories, growing up at the high school football field with my brothers, having our own feasts around a table at China Wok. We had always had our meals at home from the good doings of mother. On Monday nights, Ma would feed us. It never failed that we would surely either have a breakfast-dinner or a pot roast with potatoes and carrots. Some of my fondest memories came centered around food. I find it odd how much of a staple in American culture food has become, it seems like we have holidays just for food. It does something amazing for us, as families and as groups. People come together to provide an essential of life, providing for one another. There is a certain kind of service, yet in some situations it can become a competition between cooks. For some reason, when we gather around a table to eat more than we should, and we open up. Being at the table, we listen to each other, we acknowledge one another in a way that is nearly impossible in our daily routines. Maybe simply being around the table with people outside of just our families would help us understand our world better, thus helping our society get where we want to go. We could understand how to bridge the gaps in our community, we just need to sit together and open up.