Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Celebrate the Clio Community" by Superintendent James Tenbusch

Celebrate Living in the Clio Area Community

    A wise man once said: “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”  Although this quote is meant to apply to the individual, it is not much of a stretch to relate it to a whole community.  Just about every community in Michigan is facing adversity.  The Clio Area Community is no exception.  Currently, over 100 homes are in foreclosure, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children who qualify for free and reduced price lunches in our schools, unemployment continues to rise, and there have been drastic cutbacks in funding for vital public services.  In spite of these difficulties, it is how Clio is responding to these adversities that reveals the true character of our extended community.  From what I have seen, Clio’s Character has always has been, and will continue to be, to vigorously support the common good.
      Since arriving here in July, I must say that I have seen a truly inspiring level of collaboration, cooperation, and outright kinship among the people of Clio, Vienna, and Thetford Township when it comes to taking care of its own.  This is a community that knows how to pull together to get things done.  It is always willing to find a way to make sure that its residents’ basic needs are being met.  This sense of community spirit is what drew me to the Clio area to begin with, and it is what will sustain its people through difficult times.  We should all take a moment during the holiday season to be grateful to our community leaders, teachers, church and service organization elders, and the police and fire officials who help make Clio a great place to live and work.

      The most recent example of this positive community spirit and commitment to action occurred just a few weeks ago.  On December 5th, the Hamilton Community Health Network officially opened the Clio Health Center located at 4154 W. Vienna Road, Clio.  The Center is open Monday through Friday 8:30am-5:30pm, (810) 406-4246, and accepts walk-in patients for primary care on a sliding scale basis.  No patients are turned away due to inability to pay for services.

      I view the opening of this important health facility as further evidence of a strong community.  In my opinion, there are four elements that must be present for a community to thrive--even in the face of adversity.  These elements include public access to quality (1) public services (including schools), (2) art, recreation, and library services, (3) places of worship, and (4) health care.  Clio residents are fortunate to have access to all these services.  Further, I know of no other community in Genesee County that brings together fifty (50) public and private organizations for a monthly meeting with a single purpose in mind: serving the public good.  Common Ground is a group of social service providers interested in coordinating their efforts to provide quality services to all residents of the Clio area.  It is the most committed and noble group of public servants that I have ever encountered.  Common Ground is an example of Clio’s community capacity -- a social asset that I will define further here.

      The UN Commission on Sustainable Development (1996) describes the process of building “community capacity” as something that is totally dependent on the “value placed on the distinctive qualities of the community that make it worthwhile for a group to invest their social capital by working together to enhance the quality of life.” This precondition for a healthy community leads to the development of several other crucial elements that sustain a community through good times and bad.  These elements include: knowledge building – a community’s capacity to adopt continuous improvement processes by generating and implementing new ideas; leadership – public/private partnerships whose representatives consistently demonstrate a willingness to work together to achieve a shared vision and strategic direction for the community; open dialogue -- continuous  and  inclusive communications and decision making across sectors rather than through vertical lines of power; and network building – the active recruitment of new community leaders , sharing of information, and development of strategic alliances that support the common good.

      Social scientist, Robert Chaskin (2001), who has also weighed in on community capacity, defines it as “the interaction of human capital that can be leveraged to solve collective problems and improve or maintain the well-being of that community”.  He points out that community capacity evolves into a strong community when neighbors care about neighbors.  “It is when you care about not only your kids and grandkids, but your neighbors’ kids and grandkids as well.”   This philosophy is carried further by Nate Jonker, Clio’s well-known community organizer and director of the Healthy Community Initiative.  “What makes a community strong? It’s the work of caring, responsible people willing to get involved in something bigger than just their own personal interests -- something that serves everyone’s interests,”  he says.   “It’s really that simple.”                   

      In 1996, the Aspen Institute researched the phenomenon of community capacity building.  The Institute determined that a primary importance of living in a community is that groups of people develop the “ways and means to care for each other, to nurture the talents and leadership that enhance the quality of community life, and to tackle the problems that threaten the community and the opportunities which can help it.” The researchers concluded that when people do these things, communities become healthy; when they do not, communities deteriorate.  Communities that have the ways and means to undertake challenges demonstrate capacity.  Clearly, without capacity, a community is merely a collection of individuals acting in their own self-interest without concern for any sense of the common good.

      So, why have I cited this research on community capacity?  The answer is simple: the Clio Area Community already has everything it takes to continue to grow and prosper, but it still needs YOUR help.  Consider the list of community organizations in the Common Ground text box below, and get involved!  Every group listed can profit from your input, participation, and commitment to serve the public good.  Become part of the solution in these trying times and help build Clio’s community capacity to even greater heights. 

      Look around us.  Our cities are hurting, the economy continues to sputter, social ties are weakening, and political power to support the public good is fading.  But in places like Clio, creative local leaders are fighting back, and they are succeeding by starting with what they have.  In the face of diminished prospects for outside help, they are turning first to their neighborhood residents and to the local citizens associations and institutions that are at the heart of their community.  That’s already happening in Clio, and it is a reason to celebrate.  Please join us and find a way to do your part to keep us strong.   

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