Albert Lea has a true sense of community

Published 3:12 pm Saturday, July 21, 2012

Column: Ann Austin, Live United

One of my favorite things to do is to make a new discovery.

Ann Austin

It’s fun to walk down a path you haven’t been before or visit a place in town during a different season. You see sights, experience smells that you haven’t known quite the same before.

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The same goes with people — each person has many levels and you may encounter a different side of her or him depending on the situation, location, weather condition, etc.

We are all so changeable — our world is so changeable.

Such is the same in our community. What an amazing difference a year can make! And what a community this is turning into!

I am part of a group called Pioneering Healthier Communities — we look at the community and determine ways we can create conditions that will lead to healthier lives for all. Some of our projects have involved the healthy snack options at the schools, bike lanes and bike rodeos and helping with a disc golf course construction. Yes, we consider ourselves pioneers in this realm. Many of us have not worked as directly with encouraging such efforts — and it is definitely a learning process — but so very worth the effort!

But we are not the only pioneers. There are so many people in this community who are looking at things a little differently and taking action.

Ross Brandt is one of those people. He is leading up the efforts to build the Oak Island Disc Golf Course at Bancroft Bay Park and make it one of the best competitive courses in the state and, arguably, the nation. His persistence in finding local support to make this a reality is inspiring! He has gathered people from across the community, from all walks of life, to see the relevance in this work and make it a safe, healthy place for our youth to spend their time.

Kirk Foley and Carol Kepple are other pioneers. They have opened a new coffee shop in downtown Albert Lea called Prairie Winds Coffee.

Kirk is living out a dream he’s had for years — he did not give up on the dream but waited patiently until the conditions were right and the opportunity presented itself. Through much hard work and persistence, Kirk and Carol have created a welcoming place for community members to gather and connect.

And then there are all of the people who have worked so hard to make the Wind Down Wednesday event a reality. There was a lot to coordinate, and there are so many variables (like the weather) that can’t be controlled, but this event definitely is bringing new energy to our downtown! And I can’t wait until August for the next one!

But there were pioneers before this time — all of the people who have continued to bring amazing plays to our community through Albert Lea Community Theatre, the people who help make our Freeborn County Fair one of the most exciting county fairs, the people who support our youth with all of the events they are involved in, and the people who continue to bring new ideas and vision into our community.

It really is all in your perspective. Yes, these efforts took hard work, many long hours and probably some sleepless nights, but they are helping to make our community a more vibrant, exciting place to live!

I wanted to share a YouTube video with all of you that our board recently viewed. We can look at the conditions we see in a negative light and decide that things will never get better, or we can look at the opposite end of the spectrum and recognize all of the opportunities. Just enter this site and please watch the whole thing.

The best part is toward the end:

If you wish to search YouTube instead, the video is called “Lost Generation.”

We enter a new world every day — and we can all be pioneers!


Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.