I grew up in Southbridge, a small New England town. Its motto was “Eye of the Commonwealth” because at one time in its history Southbridge was the largest manufacturer of optical lenses in the world.
I grew up in Southbridge, a small New England town. Its motto was “Eye of the Commonwealth” because at one time in its history Southbridge was the largest manufacturer of optical lenses in the world. It was a close-knit place – active downtown, caring schools, involved neighborhoods. I remember Ag Casey, our 85 year-old neighbor, chasing down two boys who tried to steal my bike out of the backyard. People knew each other and looked out for each other. There was a real sense of community. It was a good place to grow up. In my teen years the optical factory was bought and sold a couple of times, downsized, and then eventually closed putting a large portion of the town out of work. As the town declined, so did the sense of community: the downtown buildings became vacant, the crime rate increased, people moved away, and tensions grew between different ethnic groups. Instead of one community, it became fractured – economically, socially and politically. Now, when I return to visit family, it breaks my heart to see what has become of my hometown. The “Eye of the Commonwealth” is now blinded by the shards of a fractured community. Because of this experience, I decided that I wanted to help build whole communities. I studied public administration and am now the assistant city manager in Savannah, GA. I do this work because I believe that local leaders, by fostering understanding and relationships across ethnic, economic, and political lines, can heal fractured communities. I have hope that healing at the local level will build strong communities that can serve as the foundation to a nation committed to creating a better life for all its citizens.