The biggest threat to Scioto County is resistance to broadening our view of a singular community. The seemingly insurmountable problems we face in Southern Ohio have festered here for well over two decades. Many of our individual districts and municipalities have faced issues that contributed to our decline and have made modest strides; however, most of the positive improvements that have been made remain isolated and generally unrelated. Some might call this a "shotgun" approach to our ills.
We have bought into the myth that in order to survive, we must remain clannish and resistant to change. And, true, history is ripe with instances in which the government and private enterprise have reaped huge profits by exploiting Appalachia's greatest treasures – our natural resources and our strong, faithful inhabitants. As a result of being duped and used, many residents no longer associate with people in our own many neighborhoods because they have lost confidence in even the most simple alliance. As disassociation and distrust gained prominence, so did rumor and belief in isolation.
Who now has a positive sense of living in Scioto County? Who encourages their family and friends to help build a new image of the county that motivates others to believe that fashioning a brighter future is an attainable mission? Most have locked themselves into a mindset of despair because the area cannot regain its past. Many young people see (and have been taught) that no viable future remains here.
Since it's nonproductive to live in the past and impossible to return to it, residents feel helpless in a changing environment. Many now choose to complain about their "terrible" state and scapegoat out of frustration. They see themselves as victims of fate, and they accept what they consider to be inevitable – economic decline, joblessness, strong reliance on the welfare state, severe addiction, and lawlessness.
We, in Scioto County, should strive to build belonging, not belonging in a sense of habitation or simple inclusion in small neighborhoods, but belonging that encourages “drive-by” and “lip service” contributors to become regular, active community members who understand belonging entails providing significant and sustained contributions that strengthen a larger community comprised of the entire county. To put it bluntly, we continue to belong in depression because we must learn to trust in our own initiative.
Great teams are comprised of players with great initiative and drive. Contributors must be intent on growing new, stronger teams. If we build stronger teams, infuse these teams with a sense of personal connection to new members, and welcome our new contributors with open arms, we will likely build belonging and thus grow a strong and scalable county community that can grow beyond the current membership base and produce new generations of competent contributors in the future.
Every neighborhood has groups of working, positive relationships already in place – workplaces, schools, churches, clubs, trustees, social groups. These are the structural foundations of Scioto County comprised of people with different perspectives, personalities and attitudes that can significantly influence positive morale and facilitate problem solving. They are not just people in positions of authority; a wise and effective contributor on the bottom rung of the ladder can sometimes have more influence (if not power) in a group than a senior position of authority. Even critics open to workable compromise empower group integrity.
I believe it is time these foundational people widen their concerns from a community level to a county level and create bold, new interfaces within the larger group that can be complex and unearth other subtle foundational members. Then, the “old boy” members can help embrace change, encourage total participation, and forge new, vital understandings that build a brighter Scioto County.
Jono Bacon, author of The Art of Community, says, “In other words, where confidence exists in the structural integrity of a group, it unlocks a fantastic world in which anything is possible, where all problems are solvable, and where the unity of the group builds a strength that is beyond the capabilities of any individual; this is the true opportunity of community.”
And, importantly, a new Scioto community must learn to solve potential structural weaknesses. These breakdowns will certainly occur because team members represent a diverse range of people working on different problems that affect the county. At these points of conflict, the group must surrender and operate within the spirit, ethos, and best interests of the community in order to maintain structural integrity.
This brings me to a few very important questions that seem to confound the distrustful and depressed populace of the area. These questions must be answered in order to form a coalition of Scioto neighborhoods:
1. What spirit will guide the Scioto community?
2. What ethos (principles and ideology) will underlie the foundation of the Scioto community?
3. What are the achievable best interests that will most benefit the Scioto community?
In times of trouble and dire need, people can choose to form strong alliances to fight against staggering odds. Our county, Scioto County, is most definitely in need of help from its inhabitants. Ranking as the most unhealthy county in the State of Ohio and in the top ten of the most unhealthy counties in America, it is time for us to reorganize, regroup, and re-strategize our efforts to improve ourselves.
No politician, no spiritual leader, no office holder, no single movement is going to “save” the county. The job rests squarely on the backs of the citizens, and each person must realize failure to contribute to progress drives another nail into the coffin of total collapse. Many separate efforts have already begun to create mass change, yet the community of Scioto County must now join together in singular spirit, ethos, and interests. To do otherwise is to remain inundated with inefficiency and to remain hopeless while struggling with overwhelming problems.
It's not only what benefits the West Side or Lucasville or Sciotoville or Portsmouth or Wheelersburg or Minford or McDermott or any of the many other small neighborhoods in our county that counts. What counts is building a strong Scioto community that features spirited teamwork, a new vision of hope, and active participation that forwards integrity and the benefits of hard work. It means the dawn of a new Scioto Community.
“I am of the opinion that my life
belongs to the whole community
and as long as I live,
it is my privilege to do for it
whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die,
for the harder I work the more I live.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Many thanks for inspiration from Jono Bacon, “Building Strong Community Structural Integrity,” Community, July 25 2012. Article: http://www.jonobacon.org/2012/07/25/building-strong-community-structural-integrity/