Oct 24th, 2016 @ 10:34 am | Author: Tisa Mason, Ed.D., CAE
Do you remember the show “Northern Exposure?” It was a television series about a doctor who graduated from Columbia University Medical School assigned to work in a small town in Alaska. I have a strong memory of one particular episode, an episode I find myself thinking a lot about lately. In this episode Maggie is very excited to finally get a washing machine and dryer in her home. Up to this point she has had to go to the community laundromat. She talks with excitement about how convenient home laundry will be and how much time and money it will save her. But soon after the excitement of convenience wears off, she realizes there is an unanticipated cost. You see, she never realized how much she relied on the community laundromat to connect with people. The laundromat was a hub of friendship, support, and human connection.

As we opened the Gaukler Family Wellness Center earlier this month, I found myself thinking about this episode as I transition from my in-home workouts to working out at the Wellness Center. And what a joy it has been—not because of the all the newness and magnificence of the facility—but because of the people. I smiled a lot more than I would have home alone. I had a lot of fun walking through the beautiful Wellness Center and connecting with people: a prospective student touring with her family, a church friend on the elliptical machine next to mine, a student waving from the basketball court as I walked the track, and a colleague helping to answer some of the questions I had and “comparing notes” on wellness classes we might enjoy. Social connection and interdependence are important elements of our lives as human beings. We are profoundly shaped by our social environment. Community matters.

Every day, living here in Valley City, I experience community: people coming together to help others. A community in which the university freshman class experiences a day of fun and joy as they pick more than 60,000 pounds of squash for the Great Plains Food Bank thanks to local farmer, pastor, and humanitarian Dan Faust—a man who not only helps provide a solution to the fact that one in nine North Dakotans do not know where their next meal will come from, but in the process helps our students think more about their role in being engaged leaders in their community now and in the future.

And then there is VCSU professor Katie Woehl, who co-chaired the local “Out of the Darkness” walk to raise awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Suicide, a national health problem, takes an enormous toll on family, friends, and communities. Because I have worked on campuses where students have committed suicide, this is an extremely personal issue for me. It is hard to understand that in the United States a person dies by suicide approximately every 13 minutes and that it is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States among adults ages 18 to 65. October 8, the day of the walk, was a visible reminder for me of hope and faith.

That sense of hope and faith was also strongly amplified for me at a recent reception of the Sheyenne Valley Community Foundation, a celebration of a two-year journey profoundly making lives better and our community stronger. Some impact examples include a generous gift from the John Deere Foundation to make sure the Gaukler Family Wellness Center is accessible to everyone through the Community Wellness for All program, and the partnership with the Education Foundation for Valley City Public Schools to provide funding for the Access for All and Critical Needs Fund to ensure K-12 students and their families have access to counseling services regardless of their ability to pay. During this event I learned about the many ways in which this vehicle, the Sheyenne Valley Community Foundation, is being put to work creating an environment where people’s ideas and generosity are making a difference for our neighbors. Amazing!

What an honor it is to live here and be part of a community that cares. Too many to mention, the good deeds of local individuals and organizations in the Sheyenne Valley are significant evidence that the human experience matters and that our community excels in stewarding and nurturing kindness. From our university to our churches, nonprofit organizations, and our neighbors, a helping hand and loving heart is readily available to lift up others, to make human connections, and to open numerous doors of opportunities. And so today I sign off declaring it is a great day to be a Viking and a member of the Valley City and Sheyenne Valley community!