Friday, June 18, 2010

Eureka: Not Your Ordinary Community

As published in the Woodford County Journal June 17, 2010
Frankly Speaking
Eureka: Not your ordinary community
By Arlene Franks

Let me introduce you to some remarkable young women—Jean, Rebecca, April and Shalon. But, then again, you may already know them. They all grew up here in Eureka.

On Saturday, May 8, I attended Eureka College’s graduation and Don Littlejohn’s memorial service.

I was privileged to observe them at some of life’s pivotal moments and was struck by just how extraordinary these young women are—poised, accomplished, kind, generous, creative, talented, gracious and appreciative.

As I sat misty-eyed, remembering their childhoods, I watched in awe and wonder as they participated in the events of the day.

• Shalon Woolridge graduated with honors from EC.

• April McClure-Stewart spoke at the graduation as the president of the alumni association and gave a solo vocal performance at the funeral.

• Jean and Rebecca Littlejohn participated in their grandfather’s service. Jean played the piano and talked of Don’s love of music. Rebecca talked about Don’s devotion to peace and justice issues and served as a worship leader.

I mention these young women, not to single them out as unique in this community, but rather to express just how ordinary their extraordinariness is for people brought up in Eureka, Illinois.

All these young woman—and many young men and women much like them—grew up in our midst. They blossomed under the influence of great parents, a nurturing church and a supportive community. They had lots of opportunities for involvement and achievement, in academics, sports, art, music, plus plenty of opportunities to give back to the community themselves.

Young people from grade school through college get their pictures and write-ups in the Woodford County Journal. They are the stars of local parades, sporting events and local productions. They organize mission trips and local outreach.

They get to see early on that their lives make a difference. They get to feel good about themselves. Even the ordinary becomes extraordinary when surrounded by positive encouragement and celebration.

And a lot of that is on us, folks. Each one of us has an impact on our children—all the young ones in our community—whether we intend to or not.

It’s up to us to develop and maintain an encouraging environment, not just for children and youth, but for parents, grandparents, teachers, school administrators, counselors, those in positions of advocacy, and ministers—all of those directly involved with children and youth.

We do this not just for those who reach beyond the ordinary to grasp the extraordinary, but those who fall short, too. Some, a few, seem to have everything going for them, but for no apparent reason, just stop reaching.

There are kids who don’t have a good family, or whose families are doing the best they can, but are limited by financial, spiritual, or other issues. There are those who don’t have a religious community or something that feeds their spirit. Then there are those who are different, who don’t fit in, who are isolated and don’t feel the love of this community.

I know some of these young people, too. I’ll bet you do, as well.

Eureka needs to be a place where ordinariness, even failure, is OK. There should be an atmosphere where mistakes are allowed. It must be the land of second chances, third chances…a million new chances if necessary.

Think of it this way: As a child is learning to walk, she falls down often. Don’t you encourage her to get back up and try again every time she falls? You don’t just throw up your hands and walk away, do you? Or worse, do you berate her for her clumsiness? It’s no different for growing and grown children.

I invite all of us to be more thoughtful about our place in their lives, to be appreciative of their presence here, and to look for ways to encourage them as they grow into the adults they are to be. Through our involvement, we share the honor of watching our children bloom into teenagers and teens to young adults…and beyond. It’s our gift to the young ones; it’s their gift to us.

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