Monday, January 28, 2008

community and family

I have loved Extreme Makeover: Home Edition from the first episode. I admit, it was my obsession with Trading Spaces that brought me to it in the first place. That said, I've been hooked ever since (and not just because Ty Pennington regularly unbuttons or removes his shirt!). Tonight's episode featured the Voisine family in New Hampshire, and so I was vested a bit more for a couple reasons.

First, Granite State pride! Second, a family who lives next door to my brother was nominated and was one of the final few families to be considered. Third, my niece, Caitlin, was one of the blue-shirted volunteers who helped with the project last fall.

In addition to watching the show itself, the local ABC affiliate created a one hour special called "Extreme Makeover: New Hampshire Builds a Dream." It highlighted the community angle, and was very interesting to watch. The actual EM:HE show was two hours long. All in all, it was wonderful to watch and left me needing only one thing (c'mon, click the link!).

On another note, I visited my parents earlier today. A long-time friend of theirs had mailed them some stuff she uncovered while organizing a few decades of recreation-related memorabilia. In addition to three pictures of my parents from 1974 (nice tie, Dad!), there was an editorial from my hometown newspaper. It is dated July 25, 1963. This may bore you to tears, but I am fascinated. So I shall transcribe.
"Man With a Challenge" by Dan A. O'Connell (Editor)

Gerald Cox, 29, earnest and affable, college-trained in the new but necessary skill of Recreation Director, arrived this week to take charge of our town's recreational needs on a full-time basis. It would be the understatement of the year to say merely that the job offers a tremendous challenge. The new Director undoubtedly knows all the basic theories, concepts, and techniques of this pioneer science. He has the advantage of practical experience in the field and has compiled an impressive record of accomplishment in other places. His future here looks good, but unless the people of this community are prepared to pitch in and help, the young man and his program are certain to come a-cropper.

Ours is a progressive town, aware of tremendous change in the making, and conscious of a need to adjust with the times to survive their impact. This awareness and consciousness has been evident for several years. Almost everyone agreed that "something should be done," but nothing ever was, mainly because no one seemed to know exactly what, when, where or how. The problem came to a head this year when people woke up to the fact that so-called juvenile delinquency spawns on adult neglect and community callousness. As a result, the annual Town Meeting in March faced up to the problem, created a Recreation Commission and authorized the employment of a qualified, full-time Recreation Director.

Although the Town Meeting action was unanimous, it should not be assumed that everyone in town has "seen the light" or goes along with the proposition, regardless of the recorded unanimity. Beneath the facade of Twentieth Century trappings and adornment, the town remains an old-fashioned New England community, fiercely and ruggedly individualistic, with inherent distrust of governmental intrusions of its early American way of life. Considerable "selling" of the need to bend with the times, when survival is of the essence, remains to be done. Young Mr. Cox has been given the ball and will be expected to streak down the field to a series of impressive touchdowns. He is on his own and will be required to make the runs without a protective wall of interference. We who wish him well can only shout encouragement from the sidelines and try to set in proper perspective the comment of curbstone quarter-backs.

It would be doing the young man no favor at this stage of the game to promise him clear sailing ahead and no hidden shoals to wreck his programs and shatter his dreams. The plain fact of the matter is that Directed Recreation Programs and Supervised Facilities have long been considered new-fangled hokum by many good citizens who persist in living in the past and refuse to believe that the wide open spaces of youth no longer exist, or are rapidly disappearing under the impact of expanding "metropolitanism." They belong to generations which have accepted and enjoyed the pleasures of modern living without considering the price that youngsters and generations unborn will have to pay. It is only human nature to assume that the whole world revolves about one's own axis. The selfishness is instinctive and unwitting.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding and misconception about the business of Directed Recreation, a terrible inclination to dismiss it as "coddling" or boondoggling" or "time-passing." Nothing could be farther from the truth! A dynamic and intelligent program of directed and supervised recreation for all ages is not a luxury or a convenience, but a civic necessity. There is much more to Gerald Cox's new job than supervising youthful athletics, encouraging arts and crafts, or baby-sitting while children play. He will be responsible for seeing that tragic mistakes do not recur in the future. Our generation is harassed by the spectacle of youngsters playing in the streets because a callous older generation has taken away their pasture playgrounds to turn a fast buck. Civilization is cursed by teen-agers loafing on street-corners because society gives them nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.

Young Mr. Cox has a man-sized job staring him in the face, and a good place to start is at the beginning. He should take immediate steps to prevent a bad situation from coming immeasurably worse by having a heart-to-heart talk with the Planning and Zoning authorities. It is not enough that new real estate sub-divisions be required to provide adequate road, water, and sewerage facilities: there should be sufficient land set aside for playground areas to keep the kids off the street in an age of increasing transport speed. Next, he should try to conserve and improve and expand the playground and park area still extant in our town. They certainly do not inspire civic pride at the present time. He cannot insist, but he should suggest that the uncommitted sector of the Alexander Estate be preserved, as the good Doctor wished, for recreation, not speculation.

But, enough of telling young Mr. Cox what he should do. Even more important than a good idea in a typical New England town is the psychology of convincing people to go along. The people of this town are not Hicks and Yokels, but highly intelligent and surprisingly well read, far more so than their city slicker cousins. They resent being fast-talked, high pressured, or peddled a bill of goods. They are set in their ways, but not obstinate, and like Abraham Lincoln, will do the right as God gives them to see the right. Don't try to talk above them, or at them, but to them, man-to-man. Do this, Mr. Cox, and you'll do okay! Do otherwise, and you're a dead duck!

Many bright young brains, in the course of history, have come to town with the idea of re-making it in their own image, only to fall on their faces, and crawl away into oblivion. Many of them had good ideas, but the wrong approach. We are New Englanders and New Hampshiremen; we don't want to be made over; we relish ourselves the way God made us! All we ask of Mr. Cox or anyone is to help make us better and help us better utilize the facilities and natural wealth with which Divine Providence has endowed us. If Mr. Cox dedicates himself exclusively to doing his job well, he can certainly count on the cooperation and support of the vast majority of our townspeople. Nice to have you aboard, "Gerry"... and Good Luck!

My Dad was the town's Parks and Recreation Director for 28 years until his retirement. In that time, he created, implemented, and oversaw countless recreational and athletic programs, led the conversion of an old school into a community center, built a permanent staff of full-time, part-time, and volunteer recreation staff, and lobbied long and hard (and usually successfully) to save and create parks. It was he who protected the Alexander Estate mentioned in this article. That land is the ski hill I mentioned last week. My Dad rocks.

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