On The Neighborly Community
“Help put away the chairs.”
This was one of the first pieces of advice I remember on how to forge relationships as a newcomer to a community.
I have worked in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, but most of my working life has been in higher education. My first full-time work in higher education was as an AmeriCorps Vista member, at a small private liberal arts institution, Emory & Henry College. I helped grow and lead the College’s service-related programming and went on to spend several years there as a full-time staff and faculty member.
I was incredibly fortunate as the College was at the forefront of thinking about what it meant to be an engaged institution. I worked with two colleagues and mentors who were good people but also influential thinkers in the emerging field of place-based scholarship, Tal Stanley and Steve Fisher.
They both championed the significance of small, simple acts of helping out, not simply as service, but as a way to forge connection with people, to join in the shared life of a community. Indeed, they both would reject the belief that service, in itself, was a good. Instead, engagement was about learning a place, its history and rhythms, its cares and concerns.