When Communities Care

Gary WolskyBy Gary Wolsky, President/CEO
The Village Family Service Center
A while back, there was a story on the evening news about a local cop who came across a young man—a third grader, maybe—who had a passion for playing basketball but couldn’t “make the team.” He actually couldn’t even try out for the team. He couldn’t afford basketball shoes, shorts, registration fees, etc. It appeared his basketball career was over before it started.
But then the magic started. The policeman shared the story with his friends back at the station. Soon there was a kitty of $500. Then the basketball coach paid the registration cost, and our young friend became a proud basketball player. Because they raised more than they needed, the boy’s sister was able to join gymnastics. This young man didn’t look like he was of Norwegian descent, and he may have been new to our country and community. Of course this made no difference. These kids needed a bit of a boost, and they were lucky enough to have landed in a community that takes care of its people. What better symbolism can exist than to have a policeman—a man in blue—who in every way represents the values of the community as a whole, stepping in to give a hand?
When my great-grandfather, Ludwig, got to North Dakota from Russia sometime in the 1880s, there was already a German-Russian community in existence—although very basic—in rural Nome and Lucca to help him get started. Decades later, Ludwig and his son, Daniel, owned several dozen quarters of land and were growing in prosperity. They used this prosperity to sponsor many people from the “old country” by guaranteeing work, shelter, and money, so they wouldn’t become wards of the state. It took a community then, just as it does now. It was different then—very different—but it was also the same.
I think of our kids and grandkids and all the complexities of life in the fast lane and how their lives would be more complex without the support of their family. We have the incredible good fortune to have three grown kids all in the “neighborhood” and four (so far) grandkids. In a real sense, as has always been the case, we have a family-community within a community. Everyone pitches in, and it’s a wonderful and prideful thing to both watch and be a part of. In any given week you could find, besides Grandma and Grandpa, our kids sharing hockey, dance, illnesses, moving responsibilities, etc. You name it and you can find the whole family engaged in it.
Our grandkids are the sixth generation since Ludwig arrived and negotiated the purchase price of his first ox (I would have loved to have been there to see that). He quickly developed a support system from the standpoint of the family, the church, and the community that fostered his prosperity. That system apparently had not developed yet for our young basketball friend and his family. But thankfully, they had the huge benefit of an officer who knew and understood the value and importance of community spirit.
There is probably no better reflection of a healthy community under these circumstances than that special 9-year-old shooting baskets and getting ready for the big game, complete with new shoes and a warm-up suit. Hats off to our local police, and to the community, for making this a healthy place to live and raise kids.
The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of The Village Family Service Center CEO. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization, staff, or boards of directors.

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