Rippling through the city and county, there’s an identical question I hear over and over, in tourism and business meetings, arts events, church events, and even school functions: How do we raise the children of our community, send them out into the wide, fascinating world, and then entice them to return to us?
There was once a time when many generations of the same family lived in the same community, and that sometimes still happens today, but more and more families are divided by distance, as those who leave find promising job opportunities in other places or fall in love with a person or a place and decide to stay.
The question is also more of an abstract question, as the “children” are not only those who were raised here, but any young person who may choose this area and start a life, perhaps open a business or start a career, join with the person they love, and maybe even raise children — then the cycle starts again.
This is one of the main ways to judge the success of a community.
The answer to the question seems simple: we must offer happiness and hope for the future. That’s all anyone really wants, right?
It’s not that simple though — how do you create a community that offers happiness and hope, a place where anyone feels welcome, and has enough opportunities for employment, education, cultural activities, recreation, but also is appealing to the five senses and to the heart?
Our community is asking this question over and over, and we all benefit from the answers, which are more opportunities for all of us to feel happy and fulfilled.
An important aspect of this is what we are offering for our young people.
A thriving community must provide plenty of opportunities for children and teenagers, but not just the normal activities like sports, scouting, youth groups and school activities. Children and teenagers also need to have chances to find their niche and feel like they belong somewhere, and that place may not be on the ball field or sitting at a desk in a classroom.
Adults also need this, but it is oh-so-important for those childhood and teenage years when you are trying to figure out who you are and what you will become.
Children are naturally creative, but many lose this through years of systematized educational practices and a lack of encouragement and recognition of natural talents, as well as not enough opportunities for expression.
This community has organizations, schools and businesses that are giving teenagers an outlet for self-expression, and we need to recognize this, encourage participation, and say “thank you.”
The Mount Airy Public Library, the Northwestern Regional Library System and Mount Airy City Schools gave some of those children and teenagers a chance in the past few weeks, a way to achieve that important final step that many leave out in education — production of their work, which creates an authentic real-life learning experience.
The Teen Film Festival at the library was held to a small but enthusiastic audience. If you don’t keep up with the events happening at the Mount Airy Public Library, then you are missing out on a wealth of information, education and cultural enrichment.
There should have been a room full of people, eager to see what the talented teenagers created.
Even so, those of us who were there were lucky to see the first of what I hope will become a regular event.
Angela Llewellyn made the event magical as always, with a red carpet leading into the darkened room. Some of the teenagers who created the short films were there, and it was refreshing to speak with creative young people who are interested in the arts, who want to spend their free time doing something different than the norm.
The library offers so many opportunities for children, preteens, teenagers and adults, and what they offer is free. If you haven’t been to your local library lately, it’s time to go, because it’s more than just books, although books are wonderful — and it’s also an answer to that question I asked from above. It is a vital part of what makes the culture of our community more rich and vibrant.
The Northwestern Regional Library System held its photography contest awards reception this week, and the amount of photography entered was impressive. Even more meaningful were the results — images so full of visual interest that you wish you could spend an extended amount of time staring at each one individually, searching for the story within the frame.
I was especially delighted by the photographs taken by children and teenagers, all of them exhibiting wisdom far beyond their years through their photographs, including another beautiful photograph by the lovely and talented Emily Brim, a senior at Mount Airy High School, who won several awards in last year’s contest as well as second place for a black and white photograph this year.
A group of teenagers from Mount Airy High School recently created a video for Jones Intermediate School called Bears Bulldoze Bullying. It was very well-made and delivered the message perfectly.
It wasn’t one of those boring projects you remember watching in school that made you laugh because it was so badly made/acted and the message was lost entirely — it was impressive.
One of the teenagers who made the film, Oren Bailey, also recently created a campaign video for First Presbyterian Church, which had the perfect balance of achieving the intended purpose, but in a funny and creative way. It was something to really be proud of, as well as some of the other short films the same teenagers have made.
The teenagers who made these films have a unique voice and they want to share it. Some of them have aspirations to become filmmakers, directors, screenwriters. Some just do it for fun, a way to share a good time with friends and create a memory to look back on. Many make films for self-expression, a way to reveal their internal monologue.
This is what it takes to keep our rich and vibrant community alive — create a place that plants a seed in the young people, a seed that will sprout and grow into a tree with branches spreading throughout the world, but with roots that are planted firmly in the soil of home.
Jessica Johnson is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. She can be reached at email@example.com or 719-1933.