When I first arrived in Hettinger nearly a year ago, I was blown away by the number of people who stepped up for their community, volunteering their time on boards, their skills to projects, and their resources to make the events in this community a success.
Helping Hettinger Day truly exemplified the character of the community— collectively concerned for its well-being and inspired to act for its future. Based on the 2016 population estimate for Hettinger, over 12% of the population stepped up on that day. City officials and business men and women raked, shoveled and painted alongside students of all ages. Volunteers and donors young and old came together to shine up our little corner of the world. Inspiring is an understatement.
Throughout the last eight months, I’ve continued to be inspired by the volunteers who keep this community vibrant and healthy. It is clear that Adams County prioritizes volunteerism and community. Our community engagement tends to end when important meetings begin, however. It is not uncommon for City Council and County Commission meetings to consist of only council members and presenters, and the annual meeting for the Adams County Development Corporation welcomed only two guests this year, despite exciting updates and improvements to the structure of the organization.
Thoughtful questions and genuine interest from community members at the annual Chamber of Commerce meeting in early January reminded me why being engaged at these meetings is so important.
First, these organizations exist solely to serve our community. Without consistent and sincere community engagement, it can be challenging for these organizations to understand what is in the best interest of the community. Without feedback, it’s hard to know how we’re doing. It is, of course, our responsibility to seek out input from the community, but communication is a two-way street that must be walked by the entire community.
Second, community engagement with organizations like ours, as well as elected groups, is vital because it ensures accountability. As groups committed to serving the community, having community members in engaged in our work, providing feedback, and attending our meetings ensures we’re doing our best to serve.
Finally, for most public servants and volunteers on the boards and committees in town, passion for the well-being of the community is at the forefront of our motivation to serve. This work extends far beyond conversations amongst board members in the confines of a meeting room; in fact, it’s the conversations with community members that make our work meaningful, that spark innovative ideas, and that ensure our missions are being served.
Whether you’re involved in these boards or you’re a community member looking to better engage, I invite you to join me. You’re always welcome in our meetings, and I’ll save you a seat at the upcoming City Council and County Commission meetings. As committed citizens of this community, it is our right, joy, and responsibility to engage our leaders. And if you doubt your engagement can make a difference, I leave you with this: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead