The key is to follow your passion. That’s a lesson that I was reminded of recently after sitting down for coffee with two phenomenal ACE Community leaders named Tony and Michele Geistlinger from Longview, Alberta.
I first had the pleasure of working with Tony and Michele as part of the ACE ARTS Tour when I spent four days in their town doing a series of dance and music workshops as well as a series of concerts. It was during the ACE ARTS tour that I realized that Longview was a mini-Mecca of musical talent and home already to great cultural events like Longstock – an annual music festival organized by acclaimed musician Eva Levesque.
For a town of about 300 people, Longview had the heart of a city of a million but faced obstacles that many rural towns do – generational in-fighting, loss of amenities like a grocery story, and a disconnect between the needs of newcomers and those who have lived in the town for their entire lives.
As luck would have it for me, I soon became Longview’s ACE coach and had the opportunity to assist their local leaders as the community progressed through their time as an ACE community. I saw this little town of 300 people face their obstacles and accomplish amazing things… from the tangible extreme makeover of their town that raised nearly $400,000 (yes – you read that correctly - $400,000!) to the more subtle unification of a community that had slowly become fractured over the generations.
To read in more detail about Longview’s accomplishments, click here!
But back to Tony and Michele! For those who know the couple, they know two people driven by their passions to, as volunteers, truly improve the quality of life in their community. They don’t look for monetary rewards or acclaim – just for naysayers to get out of their way and for others to join them in their passion for community building.
When you ask Michele why she spends so much time volunteering in Longview, she will tell you that it is to create the quintessential small town life that she always dreamed of living. This is the life where you not only know your neighbours but, more importantly, you know that you can depend on them during good times and bad.
In my recent meeting with Tony and Michele, they were updating me about plans for the building of a possible museum/interpretive centre for the village. This construction slotted tentatively for the town’s 50th birthday in 2014. Expanding on the community’s pioneering spirit and artistic leanings, it would be yet another coup for the ranching community.
“It was all I could do to keep my hand down so I wouldn’t volunteer to help with the project,” Michele said with a twinkle in her eye, referring to a recent presentation that she attended that outlined the museum’s potential. “It was so cool! I still might have to check in now and then, though, and see how things are going.”
What was Michele’s main reason, this queen of volunteering, for the hesitation? Michele has decided to follow another passion, her love for music, and help fellow ACE leader Eva Levesque with Longstock. This event, run by Levesque (who recently won the 2011 Association of Country Music in Alberta (CCMA) Best Group award for her band The Travelling Mabels) has been a growing event in Longview for a few years now and would benefit from Michele’s dedicated touch.
So now, with the 2 years of heavy lifting that has represented her steady community building with ACE Communities under her belt, Michele has decided that it is prime time to combine her love of community with her love of music and the arts. Her guitar and her saxaphone have gone neglected for far too long!
Because like I said before, the key to true community building is to follow where your passions may lead you. Like with Tony and Michele, you never know where that adventure may take you.