United Way of Southwest Oklahoma hosted a “community conversation” recently regarding school readiness for children from birth through 5 years old. The group included about 20 individuals. As a part of introducing ourselves, we went around the room and answered the question, “What is one strength of our community?”
Although the individuals within the group ranged from military wives new to our community to local folks who have lived in Lawton Fort Sill their whole lives, many people responded basically the same way.
They said, “Our strength comes from the friendliness of the people, along with their willingness to help and desire to make our community better. We want to collaborate.”
The people in the room represented that spirit — and I see this spirit everywhere I go. I share in this spirit.
I have a passion for community engagement and want to be an agent for social change. I started working at United Way a little over a month ago, and now it’s my job to be an agent for social change. I am living the dream. My passion is my job, and my job is my passion.
Lawton is a place that “loves to hate itself.” I grew up here. I have heard the criticisms. My first job out of college was as a recruiter for Cameron University. My responsibility was to convince people to continue their education at Cameron University. I saw a goldmine in recruiting students from some of our surrounding communities. All these students would be coming to Cameron if they just knew what a great place it was. Little did I know some of the hurdles I would face.
I had my eyes opened on one of my first high school visits, in which I talked to a room full of seniors. I started in on my speech. When I began talking to them about Cameron, a student chimed in and said, “Hey, Cameron sounds fine and all, but no way am I moving to Lawton. I’m not getting hurt by gangs over there!”
I was stunned. Growing up here, I had no idea of the perception from the outside. I started to listen to the way we, Lawtonians, present ourselves. I read an article based in a state publication based on an interview the authoring reporter conducted with one of Lawton’s own. The article painted a picture of a community that goes into hiding every night. When the sun goes down, citizens lock their doors as gangs take to the street. Families hold their breath and wait until morning when it is safe to leave their homes again. They fear the next crime-filled evening.
The article was absurd.
Yes, Lawton has crime, but the article was like something out of a movie. I have never “lived in fear” in my hometown — and this is the outside perception we have to address; it is not the reality in which we live.
I serve on boards with volunteers who work tirelessly at making Lawton better today than it was yesterday. I visit United Way Partner agencies and meet professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping those in need. With our fundraising campaign ongoing, I’m meeting business owners who sign up to provide volunteers and funding to all of these agencies. These agencies work to create opportunities for independent living, as well as cultivate healthy citizens, successful kids, and strong families.
I live in a community striving to better itself and working to change the culture of low expectations. I couldn’t ask for anything more. We all have a role to play, be it a service provider, a volunteer, or a donor. We are working as a collective, and our numbers are growing. The people here and the spirit of community we share are what make me Lawton Proud.