Spring is here, and it's time to fall in love with our hometowns again. Everything is lush and green, Easter is days away, and those who've moved away are coming home to visit loved ones and celebrate the holidays. With family and spring rituals in the spotlight, it's the time of year that people really appreciate their communities the most, says Quint Studer. But even so, there are plenty of things we take for granted.
"Each small and mid-size city is unique," says Studer, author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America (Be the Bulb Publishing, 2018, ISBN: 978-0-9981311-1-5, $24.95) and founder of Pensacola, Florida's Studer Community Institute (SCI). "Each has its own history and traditions. But when we live there, it's easy to forget how many gifts we really have.
"Over the next few weeks, take some time to notice and honor those things that make your community special," he suggests. "To make it fun, think of them as 'Easter eggs'—those bright spots that we might miss if we aren't paying attention."
Every community has Easter eggs, says Studer. They're those monuments, natural features, old buildings, or quirky businesses that create a sense of place. When we celebrate them, we can help ignite the kind of community spirit that helps places bloom and become more vibrant.
"An Easter egg might be something you're used to and rarely notice, like a 200-year-old church or a beautiful riverfront park or a restaurant hidden away on a country road that serves award-winning barbecue and plays great bluegrass music," says Studer. "The point is that it's 'hidden in plain sight' but as you go about your busy life, you kind of don't notice it."
Finding and celebrating your town's Easter eggs is just a matter of getting in the right mindset, he says. A few tips:
Stay positive. Spread the good news about your community. All too often, we tend to look at our communities with an eye for what is going wrong, says Studer. Focus on what is going right instead. Talk up your community to friends and family. If you're on social media, post a picture of a beautiful spot or the crowd at the local fish fry or flower festival. By staying positive, you can inspire others to feel good about where they live also. More people will get out and about, and others will be attracted to the community as well.
Notice what you normally take for granted. What features does your town have that you've gotten used to, but that are truly unique and special? Is there something you drive by every day on your way to work that's commonplace to you but might be delightful or charming to a visitor? "When you've lived somewhere for a while, you quit noticing what's great," says Studer. "Open your eyes and look around. Maybe there's a country store that sells homemade jams you could serve at Easter dinner, or a park you could take the grandkids to for a picnic."
Try to find one Easter egg a day for the next week. Each day, walk through a historic site, pop into a boutique or museum, or take the family to a locally owned restaurant. Everyone is busy but even spending 30 minutes appreciating an "Easter egg" will brighten up your day.
Make your "egg hunt" public. For example, if you belong to a local Facebook page or other social media group, make a post asking others to share their favorite local "Easter eggs." See how many responses you can get. (Even better if you make it a contest with a small giveaway to motivate people to contribute.) Or extend a blanket invitation for the community to join you for a short day hike at a local nature preserve or a meet-up at a local landmark—this is a good way to help other citizens appreciate local hidden gems too.
Arrange to make a neglected bright spot a bit brighter. Is there a city landmark that's looking a little dilapidated and could use a little TLC? Consider hosting a clean-up day. People can volunteer to mulch and plant flowers or maybe even apply a fresh coat of paint. If you volunteer to spearhead the event (and of course get the proper permissions or permits), you can always recruit help from local youth groups or school Beta clubs.
Ask visitors what they like most about your town. This can be newcomers, visitors, or former residents just returning for a visit. Very often a new viewpoint can help us see the familiar in a new light.
Look out for new things that could become Easter eggs of the future. "For example, you might have a large blank wall that could be turned into a mural that celebrates your town," says Studer. "Or there might be an old warehouse or factory with great bones that could be repurposed as a local art gallery or a cool restaurant."
When you decide to look at your community with fresh eyes, it changes everything, says Studer.
"Practice makes perfect," he says. "The more you think about your town's bright spots, the easier it will be to notice and take advantage of them. Before you know it, you'll find your attitude has shifted. You'll be more appreciative and grateful for all your town has to offer."
About the Author: Quint Studer is author of Building a Vibrant Community and founder of Pensacola's Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community's quality of life and moving Escambia and Santa Rosa counties forward. He is a businessman, a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to many. He currently serves as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida. For more information, visit www.vibrantcommunityblueprint.com and www.studeri.org.
About the Book: Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America (Be the Bulb Publishing, 2018, ISBN: 978-0-9981311-1-5, $24.95) is available at Amazon.com.