Village Matters

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Lessons in Kindness

By Ann Christoph.
By Ann Christoph.

Cultivating kindness is a goal of Anaheim’s Mayor Tom Tait. We may not think of this urbanized town in that light, but as a way of improving their community from the inside out, the city embraced his initiative to promote kindness and encourage volunteers to share their time and talent as a priority this year. Here in Laguna we think of ourselves as kind and generous and we certainly have a lot of volunteers, but could we benefit from a kindness evaluation?

We have so many community projects with hundreds of volunteers working to fulfill various community needs—for youth, seniors, teens, bicyclists, walkers, surfers, people in need, historians, patriots, veterans, sports, open space preservation, marine life protection. There are so many that it’s difficult to fit an organization’s activity on the community calendar without conflicting with another worthy cause.

Last Sunday—after the festivals and Labor Day and before the Beach Boys concert that radio station KX 93.5 is sponsoring—there was a little window and an invitation from The Ranch. It has been five years since the South Laguna Community Garden Park was begun and we decided to celebrate. Three musical groups volunteered their delightful performances—The Haddys, Kalina Justice, and Moon Police. Red-checked table runners, amaranthus, flowers and fruit from the garden graced the tables laid in the shadow of the mighty Aliso cliffs. Deer grazed below, balmy breezes wafted, and colorful cloud-patterned skies canopied us. Most of all there was kindness and more; there was warmth, support, and appreciation for the accomplishment of the garden.

It’s not only the garden’s physical presence, but we thought about its role as catalyst for friendship and community building. We reminisced about who we now have as friends—treasuring the relationships that would never have existed if we hadn’t taken on the garden project.

Why could we enjoy these wonderful musical groups for example? A few years ago we had one of our potluck festivals and a neighbor who had never been to the garden before stopped by on her way back from a hike. She was Ida Mae, who has a bluegrass show, “Radio Neighboring” on KX 93.5 every Saturday morning. Amazed at the beauty and liveliness at the garden, she scheduled an interview of garden kids and adults on her show the next week. Tom Joliet was one of those at that interview session. Ida Mae invited him to be more involved in the show, eventually on a regular basis, and finally to join the show as co-host Tommy J. Through that show he has met local musical groups, invited them to play on the show, and finally encouraged some to play at the anniversary celebration.

All volunteer, all supportive, all positive. Linkages and kindness are key.

Let’s think about how we can transfer that approach to other relationships in our city.

When I read the town newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s there is a very different feel. The citizens then were in the process of forming the Chamber of Commerce, incorporating the city, creating the school district. The Garden Club was working on beautification. Many of these nascent organizations had the same members. They formed these entities in order to accomplish the goals they had in common for the city as a whole. They weren’t separate and competing. They see what is still true today, that the community as a whole should be the focus, not the protection of each organization’s separate interests.

Who should pay for the pool and tennis courts? Who should use them? Who should use the theater, the playhouse, the parks, festival grounds, city meeting spaces, the hospital, water district facilities? These are all community resources that the public has paid for in one form or another over long periods of time. But now many of these venues are highly regulated and limited. This not only restricts their use, but makes community members feel the opposite of included and appreciated.

Who should be able to speak at meetings, when and for how long? There is a difference between guiding discussion and being efficient with time, and restricting public participation to the point of being disrespectful to the people trying to contribute.

Often our council meetings are not so kind. At the last one, a team of volunteers presented a well thought-out multi-use plan for the village entrance. Far from being encouraging and fostering these volunteers, the mayor made it difficult for them to present their plan. The rest of the council didn’t acknowledge their efforts, and one councilmember shouted hostile comments.

We all are working for the betterment of the community and sometimes it takes many suggestions and ideas to make the best decision. Let’s keep it kind and positive.

Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former council member who helped draft the alternative village entrance plan.

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