(Deb is someone who believes strongly in the power of community. While many Americans may not know the names of the people who live next door to them, Deb knows every single family within a four block radius and has the keys to many of their houses, too! In this personal post Deb shares how her community is helping her through a difficult time in her life. While professionals in higher education may not feel the need to connect to a larger community given their often transient nature Deb makes the case for how staying in one community can provide a tremendous amount of support.)
I had to rewrite the blog post this week. Like Ann Marie, I tend to get things done early-ish. I don’t like the “down to the wire” approach to much of anything, but particularly when there is a deadline for writing. However, after the events of the last week I really had no choice.
I live in Maywood, IL. Maywood is a town of about 27,000 people, a suburb of Chicago. I moved to Maywood in November 1965, at age 7, when my father began teaching at Concordia Teachers College. I was 7. I met my best friend in Maywood, got my first job in Maywood, went to school and learned to love basketball in Maywood, spent my summers swimming at the pool in Maywood, visited the library in Maywood weekly and biked almost all streets in Maywood frequently. Maywood was known as a community that welcomed diversity long before other nearby communities did. I went off to college and traveled back to Maywood frequently (until my parents told me I could not come home anymore and needed to build a new community on campus)
My parents always said they chose Maywood because they did not want us to grow up in a homogenous community. They wanted us to experience difference and to celebrate it. Currently my community is plagued with property foreclosure, high gang activity, poor village management, poor schools, declining city services, one of the highest tax rates in the state of IL and virtually no parks and recreation options for youth. Does not sound like a place for community well-being does it?
Ah, but that is where you are wrong. Community is what Maywood does best. I love living in Maywood. When my husband and I moved back from Washington, DC after our son was born he asked me where I wanted to live. I said, “Maywood, of course.” He was skeptical, having read all the negative press and believing it. I persisted, telling him that what he read was only part of the story. The other part is the most important part.
My Maywood librarians pull books for me and call me to say they are ready for pick up. Over the years they know my favorite authors and genre. When my daughter Maddie was small and loved horses, they would call to say they ordered a new book for her! (For real they do all of this!) Cheryl (lives two doors away) has provided child care for us since Maddie was 18 months old. Now she homeschools Maddie in her junior year of high school. My son Nate learned to play basketball in our driveway and played all day and all night with the boys who are closer to him than family. Maddie learned to dance and tumble at the Maywood Fine Arts Association. (a studio 4 blocks away that serves over 1300 children a week, many without the means to pay for lessons but are not turned away). My garden is made up of perennials I received from neighbors. When a tree fell on our house in the middle of the night, at least a dozen neighbors were there to assist – at 3am!
When our family grew larger, we had to decide to move or stay in Maywood. We stayed, tearing off the roof of our home and building a second floor. Ken the architect was from our church community. Nate the carpenter was good friends of our neighbor’s two doors away. Julian our neighbor helped my husband install the plumbing and electric work. Fredo, also across the street did the masonry, and his cousins did all the roof work. Expanding our home was a labor of community love. And we are so glad we stayed.
My father died last week. It was the hardest week of my life. But living in Maywood helped. Many of my parents friends still live on nearby blocks and attend the same church we do. They prayed for us and with us. Our restaurant owning neighbors provided all the food for the family at the funeral home. Other neighbors baked, sent cards, dropped off food or just slowed their cars or walks to check on us. The librarians (where I still go every week) called to make sure I was okay. Nothing is going to really make me okay, but to walk outside of my home, and know by name all of the neighbors on 4 square blocks certainly helps. We all give back to one another. We are committed to the community, but more importantly we are committed to the people in the community. I cannot imagine living anywhere else.
Deb Schmidt-Rogers is the Director of Residential Education at DePaul University