Publication Note: This column was first published in the September 27, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format. It is the 21st installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.
There is a lot to be thankful for when you live in a small town like Lonoke. Of those many things, the opportunity to be closely connected with one another and share our place, ideas, and experiences is a true privilege.
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote a book called The Great Good Place, in which he expounds on the concept of the “third space.” It is understood that our daily lives are generally framed by primary places: first, our home (the domestic space), and second, our place of work (the productive space). The idea of a “third space” describes a location of choice and neutrality, where a person may go and be among others to share ideas, refreshment, and time together. A Third Space is welcoming and relaxing, and allows individuals to interact in an uplifting environment, while enriching one another’s lives with the blessing of fellowship and knowledge. Important to the idea of the Third Space is the necessity of accessibility. The Third Space is not exclusive, but rather inclusive and open for participation by the entire community.
By now, you may be thinking of a place in which you recently experienced community and enjoyed a meaningful conversation. If you are a regular at the donut shop in Downtown Lonoke, you know that when you stop in, Becky knows your name, and you will see friends, neighbors, and others that you recognize. It’s certainly a place that you may pause your morning for a moment to enjoy the blessing of another’s smile and encouragement.
Or perhaps, for you, a unique coffee shop comes to mind? Whether the space you are thinking of is right here in our hometown, or a location you have visited while traveling, the idea that a place has been created specifically to provide conversation and connection can easily be appreciated as a cornerstone of cultivating community.
When I think of an accessible place of interaction here in Lonoke, I think of our local library. Cassie Abbott and Ashlee Minson work hard to create an experience at the Marjorie Walker McCrary Public Library that is meaningful to patrons of all generations and backgrounds. They have created programming for our library with a dedication and focus on leveraging every resource to engage multiple age-groups with customized activities. Preschool children, Elementary, Jr. High, and High School students, adults, and Senior Adults are all accommodated at different times throughout the week with a unique point of engagement that is accessible and relevant to current events or trends.
The Lonoke library has done an especially good job of partnering with community stakeholders to offer the use of the facility and grounds to others. Lonoke Lions Club regularly volunteers to plant and maintain the Children’s Garden on the east side of the library. This is both a learning tool for the children of the community and a service project for Lions Club. My sons have enjoyed digging in the dirt with their friends and the instructors at the garden. It is a blessing that our library is located in an accessible neighborhood and is a convenient walk to county and city services and downtown merchants in Lonoke.
The Lonoke Library has found a way to do many things well. While the basic traditional and necessary services of book and media-lending are certainly done with excellence, the Lonoke Library’s focus on innovative applications of their available resources is exemplary. It is refreshing to see the dedicated hearts of our local librarians, staff, and volunteers. Their endless imagination is a tremendous benefit to the kids of the Lonoke, including my own. In a small town of 4,287 people, the stable and reliable presence of a creative hub such as our library matters greatly.
You may have also heard that a group of volunteer leaders has begun assembling to creatively implement strategies for the revitalization of Historic Downtown Lonoke. One of the ideas that has been promoted is the creation of a “maker space” where co-working, idea-sharing and entrepreneurship is encouraged among our students and young leaders. Such a place may be a laboratory for exploring robotics technologies, operating 3D printers, or accessing large-format plotters. It has been reinforced to me in conversations with students at Lonoke High School that there is a tremendous desire for a place to which they can go in the evenings to meet together, have safe conversations, demonstrate their talents, and interact with people from all over the community of Lonoke.
The idea of reclaiming an empty storefront space in Downtown Lonoke to create a place for our older generations to invest their time and wisdom in the skills of our next generation is well within our reach. Women and men who are grandparents are a true treasure to our town. Having a place in which they may meet and share their time and wisdom with our students will further stabilize the fabric of our community, and create a destination of consistency and familiarity in a world that is otherwise fast-moving and at times neglectful.
Could we partner with our school district, or library, or an institution of higher education to create such a Third Space?
It has been said that the “best question ever” is this: what is the wise thing to do? I have heard it taught that this question is most powerful when considered in light of our past experience, our current circumstance, and our future hopes and dreams.
What is the wise thing to do?
What happens when a community asks this question? What happens when an entire town seeks wisdom and begins to expect volunteers and leaders to conduct their work with the benefit of wise counsel? What happens when instead of overlooking our older generations, we invite them into spaces in which we may learn from their life stories?
Whether you find wisdom at our local library or over a cup of coffee with someone who has intentionally invested their time in you, recognize that the more we support the creation of environments sharing, the greater our position for personal and community growth.
We must be willing to share experiences with one another, receive wisdom from those who have encountered the challenges of life before us, and require a greater exercise of wisdom of those who wish to lead our community. Lonoke deserves visionary, discerning leadership for our bright future ahead. A small town like ours needs an inviting, neutral place to exchange ideas with inclusion and respect. Let’s make space to talk about that.
Ryan Biles is a thirteen-year resident of Lonoke and a member of the Lonoke Lions Club. View past editions of this column at www.lookatlonoke.com .