I’ve had variations of the same discussion several times in the past year and three months that I’ve been the editor of the Christian County Headliner News. Lots of people like living here, but they don’t really engage in the community.
I had this discussion over dinner at the University of Missouri Extension’s Annual Farm Celebration at the First Baptist Church in Ozark. It was a great night celebrating Century Farm owners. Along the way, I found myself in a discussion of the way many of Christian County’s residents treat their community.
More than 80 percent of the people who live in Ozark and Nixa have jobs in Springfield. Moreover, they are involved in Springfield when it comes to their downtime, whether that’s with shopping, recreation or community involvement. While they live in Christian County, they mostly see it from Highway 65 as they travel to and from work, when they’re waiting in an endless line of cars outside their child’s school, or as the garage door is closing in the evening at the end of another long day.
I’ve been guilty of it myself. When visiting other parts of the country, or even other parts of Missouri, I often say, “Springfield” when someone asks me where I’m from. But I’m not from Springfield. I live and work in Ozark because I don’t want to live in Springfield, and it’s time that I start acting like it.
Springfield isn’t the enemy. I firmly believe that without it, there is no northern Christian County. Furthermore, what holds Ozark back from being a better, brighter and more vibrant community is not Springfield. It’s not Nixa. It’s not even Branson.
Apathy is any Christian County community’s biggest enemy.
How many of us don’t know who our neighbors are? How many of us don’t care? How often do we wish something in our town was better, brighter, cleaner, more well-attended and more fun, yet offer nothing in the way of contributions to improve the situation?
My point is best illustrated by the real-world example of a group of Missouri Stream Team volunteers who meet on the regular to clean up a small stretch of the Finley River near Lindenlure, between Sparta and Ozark. They get some help from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, but the actual picking and hauling of trash is strictly done by volunteers.
“If you want to have a pretty spot, you’ve got to keep it clean,” volunteer organizer Eleazar Soto said when summing up a cleanup event.
“You use the river so much, you’ve got to give back,” Stream Team volunteer Jeff Hensley said, moments after he tossed a bag full of trash onto a flatbed trailer.
We can take Eleazar and Jeff’s words and apply them in a broader sense to our entire community, not just the river. We can get beyond the apathy with a little bit of action.
It starts with action, some kind of move to create the inertia that will lead to the positive momentum that moves Christian County forward. Introduce yourself to a stranger. Slow down and stop to check out the restaurant, boutique, park or attraction that you have always wondered about but never visited. Learn more about the issues impacting your city or your county, not just your own neighborhood. Heck, read your local newspaper once in a while. Spend some time volunteering. If you don’t know where to start, go meet Eleazar and Jeff down at the river. By helping someone else, you help your community and you help yourself.