Guest Column: Improving a community starts with the individual

Published 9:01 am Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My Point of View by Brian Hensley

Brian Hensley is chairman of the Freeborn County Republican Party and local financial adviser with Intego Financial Group. Hensley also serves on the city of Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Board. All opinions are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations he is associated with.

Albert Lea has many wonderful things that are happening and many things that could be happening to improve this city, but remember improving Albert Lea means different things to different citizens. 

Brian Hensley

Brian Hensley

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To a student, it might mean creating a community where my parents both have jobs that allow them create a safe and warm home with enough food to eat.  An education system that protects my individual learning needs with those of my peers.  We must support our teachers, administrators and school board. We must realize that the school environment is radically different than when we sat in those small chairs. The challenges are vastly different. We must volunteer our time and dollars when asked.

To a single person or a new family, an improved community might mean recreational opportunities and the ability to be welcomed to groups wherever one else knows each other. A community that reaches out and invites them to participate in activities where they can meet new people and make connections.  Locations like a coffee shop, a church, a grocery store or a local park that new conversations get started and connections get made. It might mean friendly smiles of support or an explanation of how some process works in Albert Lea.

To a middle-aged couple, it might mean reasonable property taxes so they can afford to save for college for the children or for their own retirement.  Having children prepared for higher education or jobs when they leave high school is of critical importance. Having roads that don’t destroy their car on their trip to the grocery store is important.

To a retired couple, having the best medical facilities, doctors and therapists may become very important. Safe community activities with alternative transportation methods may become necessary. The ability to afford to continue to live in their own home, or have recreational opportunities that match their skill levels have become priorities.

The simple fact is Albert Lea is different to different people who live here. What people want and what people need from Albert Lea changes as they change and age. From a new immigrant, to a small child, to a returning college student, to business owner, to an elderly patient in a long-term care facility — Albert Lea must continue to grow, change and evolve to meet the needs of a changing community.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is how.

My point of view is this:

Albert Lea Area Schools are not what you experienced 30 years ago. The needs of the students have evolved. The expectations from the parents range from the drone-hovering, always-questioning parent to the parent a teacher can never reach and is not involved. The responsibility of the teachers to teach life skills and not just the fundamentals have also changed the classroom environment. Get involved. Find a teacher or classroom to adopt. Thank the teachers. Find a way that you can help the kids. Support the difficult task the administration and school board have. Listen to what they have to say before thinking you have the best answer. They are the experts. Respect them, encourage them, thank them.

Taxes in Albert Lea are in line with the services provided. Is there area for improvements? Of course, and Mayor Vern Rasmussen, City Manager Chad Adams, City Council and city staff are all working to make things better with the resources they have. Are they always right — of course not, but they are experimenting, learning from other cities. Get involved. Attend public workshops. Ask to be placed on a board that you have interest in or a service you use. Talk and ask questions. Be friendly and realize that the person you are addressing your questions to might know more about that topic than you do.

Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.  Every successful community requires jobs. Some high paying very technical jobs. Some entry level jobs. Some manufacturing jobs. Some retail jobs. It is not the responsibility of the government to find Albert Lea jobs. It is our responsibility. It is the government’s job to make it easy for businesses to do business in Albert Lea. Buy local when you can. Let business owners know when they are doing well or poorly. Tell them how they could improve. Be loyal, but also try new places and new things. Work hard for your employer, so the business you work for can be successful and hire your neighbor or maybe your kids.

Improving Albert Lea is everyone’s desire. Some people will put forth the effort and action, and some people will just talk. To reach our potential, our community needs you to be involved. 

Thank you for the past two years of allowing me to share my point of view with you, and best wishes to the next Freeborn County Republican chairman.

Quick reminder: The Freeborn County Republican Convention is set for Saturday at the American Legion with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m. New county party leadership will be elected, and guest speakers will be presented. Delegates and alternates from the 2016 caucus will be seated and  people will vote on new leadership. All Republicans are welcome, and we hope you will take this opportunity to become involved.