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Getting to know your Osceola County community

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of community, and I’m not talking about your idyllically-named, gated subdivision. I mean “community” in the sense of how people communicate and connect with each other and the places they live, play and work, how they impact those places, and even each other, how they solve problems, and take care of what they care about. I think that creating quality communities starts with creating connections.

Ways to connect with your community

Join an organization, social group, or team – The photographers, book clubs, home brewers, native plant people, fossil hunters, kickballers, bluegrass players, and writers want YOU! Search Facebook events, Meetup.com, and Eventbrite.com for ways to connect with local groups.

Take a community class – Learn something new in the new year: Take dance lessons, learn a new language, learn to garden, SCUBA dive, or cook something new, get in shape with yoga, Zumba, or tennis, become a beekeeper! Check out community classes at your local UF IFAS Extension, fitness studios, arts centers and studios, YMCA’s, libraries, senior centers, technical schools, and St. Cloud and Kissimmee Parks and Recreation programs.

Join a board or working group – City and county governments, schools, non-profit organizations, community health centers, and others are always seeking community members to serve on advisory committees or boards of directors. You may be reviewing or creating projects and policies that impact your community, planning community events, or simply providing your perspective as a community member. Local policy makers and organizations need your input to create quality communities that meet your needs.

Explore your community – Cycle, hike or paddle a park you’ve never visited (County, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, State, independent). Try new cuisines; visit local groceries and restaurants. If you haven’t tried pupusas, shawarma, a BBQ sundae, or mofongo, you have a world of delicious discovery ahead. Walk somewhere; you’ll see things you never noticed before. Use your phone to go geocaching (kind of like treasure hunting!). It’s difficult to have a sense of place, a feeling like we belong somewhere, if we don’t understand or connect with the place or the people there. To paraphrase Proust, “The true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands but to see the world through the eyes of others.”

Share your passion – What are your talents and skills? What do you love doing? Use it to teach, entertain, or help someone. Traditional volunteer opportunities are everywhere (find some on VolunteerMatch.org). Or, try out the “sharing economy” with “time banking”, a model where you invest your time in exchange for other local people’s time (research TimeBanks.org or HourWorld.org).

Let your voice be heard – Show up at public meetings; speak up at public meetings. Decisions are being made without your input every day, but you matter, because you are the community. If you are eligible, register to vote locally, and then actually vote. Don’t wait until the next election when restrictive deadlines could disqualify you. Taking the time to research candidates and issues is worth it when deciding on officials and issues that will impact your community and state.

I look around and I am concerned about my community. I see people that don’t see each other. I see people so busy that they can’t take care of themselves. I see places I love being degraded or even disappearing. All of this is happening at a frantic pace. I believe that if you don’t know your community, you can’t truly appreciate it, and if you don’t appreciate it, you probably won’t do much to make it better.  For more information about classes or volunteer opportunities contact UF IFAS Extension: 321-697-3000.

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members” -Coretta Scott King

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