Community leaders from time to time would do well to take the measure of the pride residents have in their town or city. Are people pleased to live here? Do they pay attention to municipal politics? To what’s going on in schools? Do they care about how the business district looks? And what about the traditions, such as parades on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, maybe a summer festival or two, and even Christmas and New Year’s celebrations?
Down East magazine reports in its November issue that the annual Christmas showing in the Penobscot Bay island community of Vinalhaven had dwindled to nearly nothing. No lights along Main Street, no Christmas tree near the harbor. Other traditions had disappeared as well. In response, some residents formed a committee to restore some of those traditions. They dubbed themselves WEGAS, which stands for We Give a Sh–. Yes, the phrase lacks the class of Citizens for Restoring Island Pride or the more serviceable Friends of Vinalhaven. But its admitted crudity connotes the gritty mettle it takes to live on that rocky island 12 miles off Rockland, so maybe it’s an apt moniker.
The group, working with the Fourth of July Committee, helped raise funds to buy American flags to display in honor of island veterans. Then it turned its attention to Christmas, with the results to be seen in a month or so.
These sorts of traditions become the glue that holds a community together and a way of revealing people to themselves. Older citizens have the time to volunteer for such undertakings, but parents with young children are often involved in the parades, festivals and celebrations, thereby linking generations and joining longtime residents with new arrivals. The younger folks learn something about those senior citizens they encounter at the grocery store and post office, and what they’ve worked to accomplish for the town.
As busy as life is — especially now that Mainers commute farther to work than they did 20 years ago and with both parents working the rule — it might be convenient to leave volunteer service to the retirees. But that abdication is a dereliction of duty. Strongly defined communities are a key component of life in New England, and especially in Maine. Yes, it has been in decline, but it can be reclaimed with vigor.
Consider volunteering at the local elementary school, public library, historical society, land trust or soup kitchen. Serve on the town’s planning board, conservation or parks and recreation committee. Join the group that plans the annual summer festival. Plant trees along Main Street. Become a volunteer firefighter. Volunteer at the Chamber of Commerce information center.
In short, give a “hoot,” shall we say, about your hometown. Your life, and that of your neighbors, will be richer.