A community can be measured using a multitude of criteria. These may include things as simple as the number of residents within a given area, or the style and type of housing those residents live in. It may be measured by the area in which it lies. Sometimes the business and employment opportunities that exist are an indicator of community.
By common sense, a community grows from a small rural outcropping of houses adding over time a few small business and office buildings and a school or two at which point it is a town. From there, more businesses spring up, possibly a hospital. Then larger businesses and manufacturing facilities add to the growing community and now it is considered a city.
Here in the Kenai-Soldotna area, you can ask any resident of 30 years or more and the common measure of the growth of our community is directly linked to the number of stop lights.
"I remember when the first stop light at the 'Y' was put in."
Now, to hear some of the earlier residents talk about our community, we are a sprawling urban wonder. We are no longer a community, but a small city where you actually see people you don't know or recognize at the local supermarket more often than you see a familiar face.
Have Kenai and Soldotna lost that sense of community? Have we grown in to a small city with lots of stoplights where the pace has gotten gradually busier and we are focused only on what touches us individually?
The answer is yes and no. Yes we have grown into a faster-paced small city. But have we lost our sense of community? The answer to that question is absolutely not.
Nearly two months ago, Dave Goggia, a member of our community, was seriously burned and required extensive hospital care at Seattle's Harborview Medical Clinic. When word of Dave's accident spread through the community, there was an instant concern and willingness to help.
The assistance and support came from all sources big and small. John Maw asked that I help him with a fund-raising raffle to help cover the costs of Dave's hospitalization and normal everyday expenses for his family, since he would either be unable to work or be limited in his earning potential for the time being.
Together, John and I visited many local merchants, such as Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware, Alaska West Air, Kenai Peninsula Harley Davidson, Creative Cuts and Welding, Alaska Industrial Hardware, Spenard Builders, WABA Outdoors, River and Sea Marine, A1 Enterprises and the Uptown Motel, all of which supported our efforts in some form or another.
But it didn't stop there.
Our corporate community members also supported our efforts in any way practical. ConocoPhillips, Kenai River Guides Association, Kenai Sportfishing Inc., Agrium employees, Tesoro Alaska, the United Steel Workers Union and many others all gave generously of the resources available to them.
Then here are those who requested no recognition, but I need you to know you are very much appreciated. Those people by first name only are Dave S. (the inspiration for this story), Lindsay, Lambert, Dave R., Evy, Lara, Karen, Chuck, Tim, Scott, Bill, Patty, Ricky, Lisa and Randy. If I missed anyone, I am truly sorry.
Not all gave the gift of money or merchandise. Some gave the gift of time and effort. There were those who helped with tickets sales and getting the word out selling tickets and putting up posters. Others helped with organizing and doing logistics work and the vast majority supported this effort simply by purchasing tickets.
The other day as I waited for the stoplight to turn green, I thought to myself, "When I moved here, there were only two stop lights. We were so small then."
That's when it dawned on me that our community has not only grown in numbers and area, but we have grown in heart and generosity. We still maintain that spirit of a small community. In that sense, we haven't outgrown our desire to support each other in times of need.
We are fortunate to live in a community such as ours. In this day and age a place such as this is entirely too rare and very unique. We all stand together to form a community of caring individuals with an ever-growing number of stoplights.
Mark Schams is a 26-year resident of Alaska and employed at Agrium.
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