I attend a lot of community meetings. It comes with the territory of being RCA president. I attend meetings held by a variety of different organizations, on a variety of different subjects, for a variety of different purposes. Unfortunately, there's one common thread that runs through all of these meetings: very few members of my generation show up at any of them.
I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for all the Restonians who put in time and effort to make their community better. Many of my fellow community leaders have put in decades of service to Reston. I am inspired by their dedication; their love for this place shines through. I am disheartened, however, to see how few members of my generation are following their example.
One of the greatest challenges facing RCA and all of Reston's other community organizations is finding new blood, developing a new class of community leaders to step forward as our older leaders move on or retire. To address this issue, several Reston organizations worked together on a project called "Generation Next," which was designed to encourage and develop young community leaders.
I attended the kickoff event for Generation Next in March 2010. It was a wonderful event; representatives from a wide variety of community organizations came out to talk about how people can get involved. Unfortunately, very few actual members of Generation Next showed up. I probably could have counted them on both hands. The community organization representatives far outnumbered the young people. Generation Next has not, to my knowledge, held any events since 2010, likely due to the low turnout. I find this to be a disturbing sign for the future of our community.
I grew up in Reston. When I was a kid, I took this place for granted; I didn't realize how special a community it really was. It wasn't until I went away to college and came back that I could see Reston with new eyes, and realize just how many wonderful institutions, activities, and opportunities that we have. I realized what a strong community we are. And I realized that it took a whole lot of dedicated volunteers to create and preserve those institutions and activities. And I realized that I needed to step up and do my part, because it's my community too, and someone needs to carry the torch.
I understand that there are reasons why you might not be participating. The biggest reason, for a lot of us, is time. A lot of people have long commutes to jobs where they work long hours. When they arrive home, there are household responsibilities to deal with. Many of us have kids to raise as well. With all these demands on everyone's time, the thought of signing up for another commitment, or taking an evenng to go to a meeting, can be a tough sell.
But it's a commitment worth making. These are the meetings where key decisions are made. These are the organizations advocating on the issues that affect you. These are the places where the future of our community is being shaped. Important decisions are being made - right now - that will determine the kind of community your kids grow up in, and you grow older in.
The Master Plan Special Study is setting the ground rules for the development and redevelopment of our community; their decisions will affect density, traffic, open space, and the livability of Reston for generations to come. (RCA's Reston 2020 Committee is working hard to ensure that those decisions are the right ones.) Reston for a Lifetime is striving to ensure that people can continue to live in Reston as they age and face mobility challenges. (RCA's Reston Accessibility Committee is working on a similar mission.) These are just a couple of examples; there are dozens more.
You know the old saying, "Decisions are made by those who show up?" Well, it's true. And if younger Restonians are underrepresented at community meetings and in community organizations, it's a lot less likely that those decisions will be made with our interests in mind. Our needs and priorities may be different that those of the older generations. But if we don't show up and state what those needs and priorities are, the decision-makers won't take them into account. It's easy to be cyncial and think that the system will always stick it to us, but if we don't show up, how can we expect a different result?
And besides, there are reasons to get involved other than just looking out for our own interests. It's only through committed volunteers that Reston will retain its sense of community as the founding generation steps down.
A community doesn't just happen. You can have a collection of houses and shops and business and call it a town, or a city, or a place, but that doesn't make a community. Community lives in the hearts and minds of its people, when they decide that their town isn't just a place to live, but something larger.
Community is what you make it. Residents don't make a community; citizens do. Reston is a very strong and special community because it was settled by a group of devoted, passionate, hard-working citizens who committed themselves to the idea of community. They've been building it for 45 years now. They're ready to pass the torch; they've certainly earned a rest. But how can they pass the torch unless we younger Restonians are willing to pick it up?
If you're ready to step up, there's an opportunity right around the corner: the Reston Association is currently seeking candidates for their Board of Directors. We could use more young voices on RA, so this would be a great opportunity. The RCA and RCC Board elections will occur later in 2012.
If you don't have the time for a Board position, or if you don't feel ready for it, you can serve on a committee or a volunteer organization. There are organizations for just about any issue that you might care about. And if you don't have time for that, you can at least attend a couple meetings, to stay informed and add your voice to the crucial community discussions that are underway. We can make a difference if we're willing to show up and participate.
So please, my fellow younger Restonians: Don't take this community for granted. It won't last unless you make it last. It's your community too. Time to pick up the torch. I really hope to see you all at the next meeting.