By Tara Ward / OC Monitor Community Contributor
I went off to law school in 2005 with the intention of never returning to boring, backwoods Ohio County. After graduating in the spring of 2008, I begrudgingly moved back in with Mom and Dad to ride out the worst economic depression to hit America in my lifetime.
I was not happy to be back here. There was nothing to do and no one I had anything in common with. Any semblance of a social life was out of the question. I often complained and whined about our podunk town around the dinner table until my father had enough.
This was his home. He built a business, a family, and a life here. So we had a somewhat explosive conversation and at the end he made a profound announcement: “You get out of something what you put into it.”
That comment really hit a mark for me. I had done nothing but complain about all the deficiencies I found in Ohio County since I moved back home, but I had done nothing to try to make it better.
So I started to pay attention at Hartford City Council meetings to all the challenges facing our small town and began to realize how those challenges personally affected me as a resident.
I enjoyed driving on paved roads when I went to work. I liked having street lights come on at night when I walked the trail next to Wayland Alexander. On that note, I really enjoyed having a trail to walk on. Despite all my education and worldly experience, I had never stopped to think about the people who make the decisions to fund those projects and turn them into realities.
When the opportunity came for the City of Hartford to take back control of the struggling Octoberfest, I was thrust back into memories from childhood of running up and down Main Street and eating at the food vendors and watching soap box derby races. And that nostalgia made me want to bring that opportunity back for our community.
I got involved with the newly coined Harvest Festival committee and started making plans. We struggled at first, but every year since the first year the festival has grown.This past year it was almost like the glory days — Dave McBride himself was out on the street corner cooking chickens. And suddenly, Hartford felt like home again.
Dad was right. Instead of focusing on the negative, I found a way to get involved in my community and transform it into something I was proud of.
And it was addictive.
Suddenly, I had ideas and ambitions and saw no reason why Ohio County couldn’t be the best place on Earth. I continued going to council meetings; I regularly followed local news; and I jumped at the opportunity to get involved with the Trail Town Task Force.
Today, I’m on so many committees and boards I actually have to remind myself I can’t do everything at once.
There are various ways to make changes happen in Ohio County. The easiest way to identify and champion a need you think should be addressed is go to a meeting.
Local government meetings like fiscal court meetings and city council meetings are great ways to understand the challenges facing our county and towns. Listen and ask questions. Magistrates and council members love it when community members try to understand the issues or offer suggestions.
Maybe budgets and ordinances aren’t your cup of tea. That’s perfectly fine. Find a meeting or group matching your interests. Go say hello and introduce yourself. Ask them what their goals are and how you can help. Pitch your ideas and what you would like to see in Ohio County.
You might learn there is already a committee focused on making that happen, or you may gain insight on how that group can build on your idea and work it into their plans.
And stop complaining.
“Ohio County will always be a podunk town.”
“There’s nothing for the kids!”
“We’ll never get anything good here.”
“That amphitheater will never work – it’s just a waste of money!”
Have you heard this before? Have you said this before? We all have.
It’s so easy to be negative and point out the flaws in any plan or action taken by our local leaders. And now, with the power of social media, we can jump on the bandwagon and cheer each other on as we bash each new idea or venture popping up.
The most important step in making a change in Ohio County is to stop tearing down every new idea and project. Try supporting them instead.
That doesn’t mean you have to give money to a cause, or go to a meeting, or even personally volunteer (though all those are great and help move things along to quicker and greater success).
It can be as simple as commenting on a news story and saying, “Hey, that’s a great idea! Good luck!” Constructive criticism is fine, but recognize people have worked hard to make these projects happen. Acknowledge their efforts. Help them and encourage them.
Routinely on social media I see people excited any time Ohio County or one of our towns or locals are featured in news or events. The “History of Ohio County” Facebook group loves to share old photos and stories of local landmarks and people who helped shape the community we live in.
We get excited when new stores open. We are proud when our Eagles compete in state and national competitions. Ohio County is home. It’s where we work. It’s where our kids go to school. It’s where we’ve invested our time, our sweat, our tears, and our energy to create a community where we can raise our families.
But, over time, we let ourselves forget why we love it so much and we start to complain.
Don’t let negativity keep good things from happening in our county. Maybe you don’t entirely agree with a specific project, or you can’t see a direct benefit from the proposed plan. But it doesn’t mean it’s bad or should never happen.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Instead of focusing on why something can’t happen here, be the reason it can
And, if you can’t say anything nice. . . well, my mother loves to remind me to just keep my mouth shut.
Looking for a meeting or group to kick-off your community engagement project? Start with the few listed here.
Fiscal court meetings
City council and commission meetings
Ohio Co. Republican Party
Ohio Co. Democratic Party
Tara N. Ward is a Hartford native and 2001 graduate of Ohio County High School. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Western Kentucky University and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. Tara has a private law practice in Hartford and volunteers for many boards, committees, and community service oriented projects in the county. She is a devoted dog mom and lacks much free time due to various commitments and projects, including building a house and planning a wedding. When she can grab a spare minute, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and getting together with friends.