This community is more like a family

Published 6:59 am Sunday, August 19, 2012

Column: Live United, by Ann Austin

I was talking to a friend last week about which conditions, behaviors and beliefs must exist in order to inspire a shift in a person or a community’s perspective. He said that it must begin with truly selfless acts. Good deeds that are not tied to an expectation of gifts or money, recognition or the advancement of one’s cause; but the desire to help another human being.

I have seen many examples of this in my life and it has been encouraging and inspiring. We are so much more than creatures who spend and consume. What tends to happen when we see examples of truly selfless acts is that we are drawn to do the same. We want to be part of the greater good. It is inherent in us.

Ann Austin

Email newsletter signup

If you have ever been a fan of C.S. Lewis (I have been a life-long fan of his), you may have read one of his books titled “The Abolition of Man.” It talks about how there are values inherent in all cultures, from all periods of time. In the very back of the book, C.S. includes excerpts from all religious texts which have remarkable similarities. It is quite beautiful to see how alike we are with what we value in this life.

I must admit there are times when, though I seem to be a very optimistic person (and I do consider myself an eternal optimist), I can feel very frustrated with other people — when they allow themselves to be led by greed or fear or desire, instead of recognizing how those compulsions are hurting others. There is so much that is possible when we work together and when we can see beyond ourselves to the good of all.

This week I was very nervous — coming back from our vacation on Sunday, the very next day we started the collaboration that we call Rocking the Block. It has been an extensive process that actually began three years ago with the glimmer of what a collaboration could do in this community.

We have been so thankful to partner with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Habitat for Humanity and Shinefest/Hearts and Homes Ministry. We selected five homes in the community to fix up (I’m sure you have read the stories in Monday’s and Friday’s paper). Though we had a wonderful partnership, this project would not be possible without greater involvement from the community. This is what I was worried about — but those worries fled quickly as I have been working at the registration table this week.

Hundreds of community volunteers have stepped up from area businesses and churches and there have been so many donations of funds and materials from local businesses that we have been able to accomplish way more than we thought was possible!

People are giving of themselves without expectations — and they keep coming back! The people who have signed up for one afternoon continue to show up every afternoon because they want to finish their work. Our wonderful volunteers are not only dedicated to their work, they are making connections with each other and forming new friendships. They are connecting with the homeowners, who have been so thankful!

I truly believe this project will continue to grow and bring more neighbors together. The intent is to fix up an area of the community — and perhaps someday we’ll have fixed up all of the neighborhoods, but a lovely side-effect is that we are also building community.

Because we are all neighbors — we are all brothers and sisters — we are here to care for each other.

When I moved here eight years ago, it was hard. I had no friends and family in town and the first couple of years were difficult. Since then, I have met so many people who I consider very close friends, adopted aunts and uncles, grandparents, sisters and brothers.

We are all family here — and it is wonderful to see our family grow.

Thank you so much to everyone for making this dream a reality—you have inspired hope in the hearts of so many people!

This is truly what it means to Live United.


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