For Release February 15, 2004

Community Perception Starts With You and Me

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I happened to be in a neighboring state last weekend. I stopped at a convenience store and as I got out I noticed some trash in the parking lot. A half empty soda can, an empty Styrofoam coffee cup and a small paper bag from a fast food restaurant were scattered about in the empty parking space next to me. I glanced at these items, headed on inside and thought, "what a trashy place this is."

A few days later I was back home and on my way to work, stopping at a local convenience store for a cup of coffee. As I got out of my car I once again noticed trash in the parking space next to me. I started into the store but was immediately jolted to a stop with the thought that I had called the same site in another town trashy, but was willing to accept the same thing in my own town. I went back, picked up the trash and placed it in a trash can.

How many times have you seen trash somewhere and thought yourself, or heard someone else say, "I'd pick that up, but somebody's getting paid to do that." My response is, so what! What if that person paid to pick it up doesn't get there before the next potential resident to our community stops by and thinks, "what a trashy community, I don't think I want to live here."

Community perception is not only how we perceive our own community, but it is how others perceive our community. A community isn't just a collection of streets, structures and landscaping, it is also a collection of people. Often the inanimate parts of a community reflect the living and breathing part of the community. If I see people throwing trash on the ground or walking by trash that would be easily picked up, I have a lower opinion of them and where they live. It's human nature.

As a society, we seem to be ready, willing and able to expect someone else to do things for us. We're going to hire a person to do this. We're going to hire a person to do that. We're going to hire a person to make our community look better. But it's a lot like going to the doctor. If you don't want to do your fair share of becoming healthy, the doctor can't do it for you! We have to take the responsibility of having a positive, healthy community perception.

Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, we have a lot going for our community. We have a new hotel and convention center under construction. We have some very desirable natural attractions with the Flint Hills and Milford Lake. There seems to be a very good chance that troop strength at Ft. Riley could be getting ready to increase. There are a lot of reasons that people would want to come here to visit or come here to live. But are we helping that perception or hurting it.

Are you the kind that walks away from the trash and says that it is someone else's job? Or are you willing to take the few seconds that requires to bend over, pick it up and throw it away to help improve and maintain the community image? That's what it comes down to because in the end if we don't do it, there isn't enough money out there to hire others to do it.

This country, this state, this community were all made great by people willing to roll up their sleeves, take responsibility and tackle the jobs, sometimes unpleasant, that had to be done. Are we, are you, cut out of the same cloth? Or are you one that wants to sit there, point fingers and complain about what isn't happening? The community is a reflection of the people that live there. Let's all take a long hard look in the mirror and see what it looks like!


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