Friday, March 30, 2012

98,707 Pages: Community Proud!

This week's guest blogger is Lydia Hurst, dedicated community volunteer and a champion of county-wide connections and events such as Batttle of the Books, a fantastic annual event where kids from across the county gather in the same room for an afternoon of friendly (and serious!) competition. We are thankful for Lydia, librarians, teachers and parents who work so hard to make these kinds of things happen. ~MMB

There have been many moments when I find myself loving our amazing little corner of this wonderful world and when I think of it, I am positively ‘Community Proud.’ Last Friday, I had the privilege of helping a fantastic group of volunteers as we prepared and facilitated the county wide competition of 4th – 6th graders in the 6th Annual Battle of the Books at the Tarkio Resource Center. This is one of my favorite annual events in Atchison County and for those of you who do not know about it, I will give you a quick synopsis. For the rest of you that do know, you may skip a little in your reading.

The Battle of the Books began 6 years ago, inspired by a similar competition in Omaha. This was a time in our nation when schools were finding themselves even more accountable to ensure that each child enrolled was getting the education he or she needed. State testing was a “buzz word,” whether you liked it or not. During this time, a core group of old school educators, parents, and grandparents agreed with research data that showed the need for children to simply read more books. Opportunities at home and outside the classroom fought for the attention of our schoolchildren, such as video games, competitive sports practice, TV, computers. While children have always had distractions (or found them), many were home alone or were spending an enormous amount of time in the car being driven to and from activities. Somehow the focus had to get back to reading. Picking up a book and challenging yourself to finish that book and the sense of accomplishment from completing it on your own seemed to be lost for many young people. How do you get that back? The answer is not to sit and complain; the answer is to get involved. By being involved the rewards are endless but ‘Community Proud’ is one that I usually feel.

During the meetings to develop this idea, it became evident that we would need sponsors. We wanted to be able to reward and entice the children to go above and beyond the classroom to participate in this event. The future is so bright for them if they strive to do their best and are dedicated with determination to set aside time to read to ultimately better their reading levels. Northwest Missouri State University coach, Mel Tjeerdsma, believed so firmly in the goals of this group, he donated signed footballs each year and the coaches after him followed this path. Atchison County Development Corporation strongly endorsed this project to encourage our children to learn, prosper, and achieve success now and in their future. This act verified to the children that not only do teachers and parents want them to set and achieve academic goals but coaches, businesses, and random volunteers care deeply also. The Battle of the Books would not be possible without our sponsors and we greatly appreciate those who year in and year out believe this is worthy of their support. We are so fortunate to live in a county that deeply believes and cares about the lives of future generations.

A group of people gathered together and decided to incorporate the Omaha model into Atchison County as an opportunity to promote reading for our youth. At this time, it was decided to use the Mark Twain Award Nominees that are picked annually in our state by the Missouri Association of School Librarians. Soon after, we solicited the support of our three school librarians, teachers, and administration. ‘Community Proud,’ once again. We are so fortunate to have great schools in our county that are filled with professionals who DO all they can to help in any way and with a smile on their face. Needless to say, the schools have been over the top in helping and have been our cheerleaders to keep the children motivated each and every year. To live in an area where you do not have to ask but instead have an abundance of volunteers is indeed a blessing.

We have teams of no more than four participants who then pick a name which varies greatly, from “The Twains” to “Fluffy Readers” to “Reading Masters” and the unity of the team begins. We have seen different strategies utilized through the years to try to pull out a Champion Team. For instance, some teams ‘split the books evenly,’ some ‘read them all twice,’ some ‘read and take notes,’ some ‘just keep reading!’ All seem to have their advantages and have worked one year or another! Some get very nervous, some thoughtfully consider each response, and occasionally you have such excitement build that one may blurt out an answer and then realize they did not even consult with their fellow teammates!

No matter what- it is a joy to watch and once again, I always find myself…..yes, ‘Community Proud!’ Why, you may ask? This question seems simple but I must say there are MULTIPLE reasons. For one, I am so proud of the students who have taken LOTS of time to prepare for this spring afternoon. It quickly becomes evident when we ask each participant to please mark the books (out of 13 this year) they read and, if they read each book more than once, how many times. Can you believe that we had 35 children read over 1,000 pages just for this competition? Hold on, it gets better…each year the total amount of pages read has grown and this year 52 participants read a total of 98,707 PAGES!!! Now, you know why I am ‘community proud!’

The entire reason the competition is held is to help children fall in love with reading, increase their vocabulary, educate them on a variety of topics, familiarize themselves with authors, have fun, and push themsevles to reach higher learning levels in all subjects. We all know that most learning begins with reading and comprehending. It is a wonderful moment to see a building full of county children who are proud of learning and are ready to compete in the Battle of the Books. Kurt Sloop, Tarkio Art teacher, was kind enough many years ago to illustrate our logo with our very own Mark Twain look alike. Twain is refereeing two books boxing it out. We have so enjoyed the artwork through the years. Many students come dressed with t-shirts in various colors with the now county famous logo. Community Proud.

The competition this year was clearly competitive and definitely did not disappoint those in attendance looking forward to the annual Battle. Three teams did not miss ANY questions over the 13 books and four teams only missed one question. Before we could go to the championship round, we needed a fourth team. So we had a tie breaker round between the 4 teams that had missed only one question. The championship was 10 rounds of questions- ‘Big Book Theory’ came in first not missing any, ‘The Bookettes’ were second with one miss, ‘Reading Masters’ were third with 2 misses, and ‘Readables’ had 3 misses. The afternoon was wonderful, the crowd cheered, the children pushed hard to the end, and our community was united with volunteers everywhere and prideful smiles that will last a lifetime. Thank you, Atchison County. I am Community Proud.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Moving In

This week's guest blogger is Brandy Myers, recent transplant to Atchison County and employee at Midwest Data. If you are a native, I hope this makes you proud of how we can be to newcomers to our fantastic county! Either way - I know you'll enjoy Brandy's story and outlook on life. ~MMB

Just about a year ago Justin and I were living and working in Mexico. No, not the country! Mexico is a town of about 12,000 in Audrain County, about half an hour from Columbia, Missouri. We’d never heard of Rock Port, nor had any idea where Atchison County was.

Justin was working with a contracting company as an apprentice lineman, but really wanted to find a steady, reliable job at an electric cooperative. So, the hunt began! We looked online at jobs close to home, within the state of Missouri, and surrounding states. Both of us are very close to our families and we knew we wanted to be able to take trips home when we could, so finding something reasonably close to home was a top requirement. One day, Justin tells me that he was asked to interview in Rock Port at Atchison-Holt
Electric Cooperative. I asked, “Where is Rock Port?” Thinking of Rocheport, Missouri just 20 minutes outside of Columbia, I was like, “That’s not far at all!” Justin tells me no, Brandy…Rock Port, Missouri…in the very North West corner of the state. Hmmmm….well, let’s see how this turns out! If this is where the opportunity lies, maybe this is where our life will take us.

Fast forward a few weeks and Justin has been offered a position at Atchison-Holt. Now, for everything else… I owned a house in Mexico, had a job that I had been at for several years and loved…not to mention breaking the news to family and countless friends…all while planning our wedding! I found a renter for my house, shared the news with work, who didn’t want to see me go, but wished us well on the adventure! Our family understood that we wanted to start our married life off and running in a new town, the chance to strike out on our own and blaze a path together. But, I needed to find a job! By trade I am a graphic designer, but have retail management experience, and customer service skills coming out of my ears. How do I find a job in a town of 1,200 people with my skills? A friend in Mexico, Paula, tells me that there is a phone company in Rock Port, and maybe they would have something. She makes a few phone calls, and that very weekend Justin & I happened to be coming to Rock Port to look at a house. In steps: Raymond and Connie Henagan. Raymond and his wife met Justin & I, showed us the phone company, took us on a little tour of Rock Port telling us all about the town and all the good things Rock Port had to offer, and introduced us to the Black Iron Grill and the yummy food they had! Three words come to mind, “Hook, line and sinker!”

Never have either of us been welcomed into a town like we have experienced when we were just considering moving here. Our realtor, Hardin Cox, and Lloyd & Sharley Branson who we ended up purchasing our home from, treated us like old family friends. They didn’t know us, and yet, it didn’t matter. They took us under their wing, and truly made Justin and I feel welcome. Arrangements were made for Justin to move to Rock Port so that he could begin his job. So our dads, Grandpas and other family members helped us load up the U-Haul, trucks, cars and a van…and here we came with all our things. I stayed in Mexico to finish out a few weeks on my job, and would then move to Rock Port, not knowing what my future held.

Little did I know that my meeting with Raymond would turn into interviews and a job offer. Officially, I work for Midwest Data Center, the IT and data company that serves Rock Port and companies across the country! Who would have thought that Rock Port, Missouri would have such a company right in its little town of 1,200? Boy was I shocked to find how just how much this company does for its customers and people in the Rock Port and surrounding communities! This job has been such an opportunity to expand my professional knowledge. I am now developing websites, something that I’ve had an “itch” to get into for several years. I also coordinate our outside plant technician’s schedules, so if you’ve had services installed in the last year, I’ve probably talked to you! Since I’ve started working at Midwest Data I’ve been involved with the marketing and ad development for several projects that Rock Port Telephone, Rock Port Cablevision and Midwest Data have taken on. We’ve expanded our cable television services into the towns of Hamburg, Sidney, Tabor and Malvern. We’re now the local choice for internet and cable services in Mound City. Not forgetting to mention, our current transition to HD Cable TV in the Rock Port, Watson, Tarkio and Fairfax areas. We’ve now set the date for TiVo installations to begin. All of this in ONE year’s time, even with the flood of 2011 knocking on our door. I am proud to work for a company that stays up to date with an ever-changing technology world that offers “city” quality services in our small town. I also have to say, the people both Justin and I work with, are some of the best people we’ve ever encountered.

For a small town, we sure have kept busy! Justin’s discovered that he’s quite the handy man, and has done project after project on our home. He says I am a “social butterfly”, and in order to meet more people, I also waitress at Black Iron Grill. This gives me an opportunity to visit with people stopping in Rock Port for a bite to eat, and to work with a lot of young adults that are in high schools in Rock Port and Fairfax and well as college students from local schools (not to mention keeping me on my toes). If the people I work with at BIG are any example of our future generation, I’d have to say the parents are doing a fantastic job! There is such a strong, ingrained sense of family and work ethic in this town that it is without a doubt being passed on to the next generation. I also am a Pampered Chef consultant, and have met lots of wonderful women in Rock Port and surrounding towns, that share my passion for cooking and being in the kitchen. After all, Pampered Chef was started by a mom to cook better meals faster, so that she had more time to spend with her family. With that being said, family is definitely a major part of the way things are done in Rock Port. This community pulls together for families in times of need unlike anything I’ve experienced. The way families get together for school functions and fundraisers; this town is a shining example of teamwork and a “will do” attitude, for other towns to follow.

Moving to a new town and leaving behind all family and friends is no easy task. If it wasn’t for the people in Rock Port, I don’t know where we would be today. Our neighbors, peers at work, and our new friends…have all been so wonderful to us! It is obvious to see that all the pieces of the puzzle fell together for Justin and I, and for some reason, it is our shared belief that we are supposed to be here. This town has found a place in our hearts, and we are so thankful that we’ve been given the opportunity to live in such a wonderful community. No, it may not have a Taco Bell or a Wal-Mart in its city limits but what it does have is its people. The people in this community, with their strong sense of family, commitment to hard work, and acceptance of new faces, makes Rock Port one of the best places to live in our book!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Lesson from Robin Hood

Last week, ACDC Board & Staff had a retreat, an afternoon set aside to focus on who we are, where we’ve been, and in what directions we should be headed. My board is a great group of volunteers, and each of them brings something unique to our organization. In that set of 9 individuals, I have quick-thinkers and ruminators, realists and eternal optimists, problem-analyzers and problem-solvers, historians and dreamers. Depending on the day or issue, I can fall into any of those categories, so having a board comprised of such mixed dispositions is a tremendous asset. During our retreat, it was interesting to observe where we really shine as a group (clarifying our purpose, considering the possibilities, learning from past efforts) and where we sometimes struggle (determining exactly how to get from here to there). One important thing came through loud and clear, regardless of who was speaking or where we were in the conversation: every one of us affiliated with ACDC cares about this place. We call Atchison County Home. We are here on purpose.

I’ve been thinking a lot about not only my board, but all the boards that support and guide the organizations in our county. Whether an organization is about education or healthcare or agriculture or development or community betterment, it has a board very much like mine. (In fact, it’s highly likely that members of my board serve on that board as well!) A handful of individuals seem to be everywhere, involved in everything, but that’s ok. That’s how it goes in any community, big or small. Leaders here may not be mighty in number but are mighty in the things that count – heart and commitment and dedication to the future of Atchison County.

Although I wish I could spout brilliance from my years in college and grad school, the things that (unfortunately) seem to stick with me are pure fiction from movies, tv shows and books. One of those permanently imbedded into my psyche is “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” As I’ve been reflecting on the commitment of our volunteer boards, a scene keeps coming to mind when Robin was trying to convince the band of outlaws to come together: “One free man defending his home is more powerful than ten hired soldiers.” In Atchison County, we may not be defending our home from attack, but every day we are defending our home from the death of our way of life, our future. We are not the same people, culture or composition as we were 25, 30, 50 years ago. We will never be that again. But we CAN defend our home from those (internal and external) who are ready to write us off as past-tense. We CAN fight for a great future for our children.

You see, there is power in one who considers Atchison County Home. You couldn’t hire enough publicists or marketing gurus or developers or recruiters to turn our county into a thriving metropolis. The answers do not lie in expertise or in outside salvation – the answer lies in all of us who are here on purpose, who choose this place every day. In those moments, community leaders and volunteers, when you can’t bear to go to yet another meeting, when something your group has worked on tirelessly doesn’t happen, when you feel like you’ve been knocked down by negativity or circumstance, know that what you do matters. Take heart and listen to the oh-so-wise words of Azeem the Great One, Robin’s trusted Crusades pal: “Get up. Move faster!”


Thursday, March 1, 2012

No Taco Bell or Target but....

This blog got a huge thumbs up from our talented and charming ACDC Director. I think you'll find that she is right. I was so pleased when Ginny Smith agreed to write. I am just getting to know Ginny. From what I've observed so far, she has the highest admiration from her husband and children and is cherished by her friends. I am thrilled that she makes Atchison County her home and look forward to spending many an evening in gyms and at ball fields as we watch our children grow together.

The Blessings of Raising a Family in Atchison County

When I think about all the benefits of living in Atchison County, it is easy to count my blessings. I grew up in Columbia, Missouri, which is a major metropolitan area compared to here. It seemed that every minute was soaked up with some hectic, hurry-up activity. There were always more than enough things to do and places to go. Ironically, one of the best things about Atchison County is the noticeably finite number of things to do and places to go. In one respect, a lack of a prolific number of eateries and events is a blessing: without a million things to do, I find myself spending more quality time at home with my family, instead of running here or there. A noticeable characteristic of the people here in Atchison County is the solid foundation of family, which undoubtedly is the product of increased amount of time spent together as a family.

The pace of life is certainly slower here, quite a blessing in itself. Although the pace is slower, it is amazing how much gets accomplished. Everything gets taken care of in due course, from the crops to the cows to school to sports. Hard work is engrained in the landscape and lines on the men and women’s faces; passed down from generation to generation. We are a shining example that a strong work ethic makes up for an over-revved pace. While Atchison County may not have all the bells and whistles, I have come to realize that nearly everything we need is right here. We have a couple of nice grocery stores and general stores. The lumber yards and hardware stores seem to have almost everything we need. We are blessed with local utility providers and home-town pharmacies and professional services. Nowhere have I experienced better health care than Atchison County. The reason is quite simple: our medical care providers care about us; a concept that seems to be missing elsewhere. It is such a blessing to have doctors and nurses who know us personally, know and love our children, and want the best for us.

Speaking of the tradition of hard work, it is an impressive testimony to Atchison County that families can traces their roots back generations here. I first thought that it was a joke when Dan, my husband, said he was related to half the people in Fairfax, but he was not exaggerating too much. I have come to find out that the people here have incredible ties to this place, and families seem to grow and grow. It sometimes seems as if Atchison County is an integral part of the families here. I know that Dan truly believes this is God’s country, he complains any time he has to leave the county. Many others are the same way, dedicating their lives to Atchison County. I respect everyone who supports the efforts in this county through money, time and prayers.

Folks around here are friendly, almost to a fault. I have felt at home here from the first time I visited. The first time I went to town with Dan, it seemed that everyone knew him, had a funny story about him and generally cared for him. Living here I have found that I was right, the people of Atchison County care for their own, and everyone is our neighbor. Whether they know you well or not the people here are looking out for the best interests of others. Surely, tight-knit churches and small class sizes at school yield solid relationships. The community of Atchison County is like one big family. We all love each other although we do not always get along. This county and its people never fail to come together when needed. It seems there are no strangers living in Atchison County; I can be comfortable with my children playing in the park or in the yard. We all keep a watchful eye on each other’s children, in reality they are all our children.

Growing up in Columbia, I never would have dreamed of living on a farm in the middle of the country; no Taco Bell, no Target. It is funny to look back on my life in the past and compare it with my life today. I know that God has led me here; he has blessed me with my life here. We encourage our children to use the skills and blessings that God has given them to give back to their community. It is my hope that after they have explored and fine-tuned the gifts that God has given them that they may bring those gifts back home. Atchison County is my husband’s home, it is my home, it is my children’s home; Atchison County is our family’s home.

-Ginny Smith, Stay-at-home mom of four (Oliver 8, Charlie 5, Mack 2, and Henry 2)