Learning about Summit and its sense of community
It’s been a year-and-a-half since I started coming up to Summit County for several days each month to serve as a minister for the High Country Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Each time I am here, I develop a little better sense of the wider community in Summit County. I don’t know Summit County as well as the people who live here all the time, of course, but sometimes an outside perspective can be helpful, so here’s mine.Summit County is truly one of the most beautiful parts of Colorado, and its identity is defined by the mountains, the ski slopes, and the people who are drawn to its beauty and its recreational opportunities. I have been impressed by how healthy a community this is – apart from a couple of ski accidents, there have been fewer health-related concerns requiring pastoral care that what I expected. (And may it remain that way.) My only visit to the new hospital so far was a tour.Like much of Colorado, Summit County is politically divided, but it appears to be trending in a progressive direction. There is environmental awareness, interest in protecting small businesses from big-box retailers and concern about the need for affordable housing. There is an openness to outsiders and even an international flavor at times. The Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) is correct in saying that “The Face of Summit County is Global.”Summit County has its challenges, from transportation to pine beetles to high housing prices. As a resort community, there is also the challenge of how to build a sense of community itself. With such a high number of seasonal residents and tourists, relationships are not always as deep or stable. As expensive as they are, a good number of residences sit empty for much of the year, and many next-door neighbors do not know each other well.Also, for a community its size, Summit County is broken into a surprising number of towns or jurisdictions. It’s not uncommon for me to stay with someone in Silverthorne, go to a meeting in Dillon, and then head to services in Frisco. I don’t know how consistently these jurisdictions coordinate their efforts.And with natural beauty and recreational opportunities like those in Summit County, who wants to go to religious services, community meetings, or other indoor events anyway? Many Summit County residents are independent and relatively self-sufficient, but there are times that all of us need community relationships and support. Strong community relationships cannot be created overnight, so there is reason to invest in community even when we think we do not need it.There are certainly signs of broad community efforts, from the FIRC to Chamber of Commerce programs to the existence of a senior and community center. The Summit Daily News is a good newspaper for a community of this size, and its wide readership helps connect people across Summit County. I have gotten to know several dedicated community members who participate in multiple community programs and organizations in Summit County.My challenge to Summit County is to do even more to build a sense of community that works for everyone here, from part-time residents with second and third homes to low-wage service workers who have a hard time making it in Summit County. Get to know your neighbors, join in causes that matter, reach out with acts of kindness and helpfulness, and build the institutions that build community and provide support for all of us when we need it. Summit County is a wonderful place, and with a stronger sense of community it can be even better.The Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley is the part-time minister for the High Country Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, which meets in Frisco and has offices in Dillon at (970) 262-0539. He is also the part-time Minister of Social Responsibility for Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden.
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