The Advantages of a Better Community: Strong institutional foundations: schools, churches, organizations

Advantages Explored!

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, On Self-Reliance

I’ve always found comfort in those words.  Hasn’t each of us realized that we probably have more in common with each other than we first thought? I’m not saying that our likes and tastes are all the same (that would be boring), but that our basic hopes and desires look – in the end – very similar.  

Over the next few months, I want to explore in more detail the Advantages of a Better Community, one at a time, in no specific order. These are, to me, the “common denominators” of good community. In some ways, they are reflective of the foundations that already exist here in Coraopolis; in other ways, they are aspirational. Some will resonate with you more than others, but I think you’ll agree they all are advantages we seek. They are the advantages I am working for each day.   I look forward to your own thoughtful comments!



I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the Coraopolis Train Station over the years, many of them underneath the floorboards as volunteers like me work to lay the basic structural groundwork for the skilled labor that follows. I’ve had the singularly-rare moments that most will never have: lying next to the stone foundation at the base of 120+ year old station as thousands of tons of metal and cargo roll past. What always amazes me is the perfect sense of calm in that moment. That building will not be shaken, because the foundations are strong.

Most historians agree that the fabric of any society is stronger when the institutions in that society are healthy and vibrant.  I personally believe that as the institutions go, so goes the whole community.  Our schools, churches and organizations must serve as our foundations, and here in Coraopolis as in other cities and towns, that has always been the case.  We have both history and opportunity here today.

Lately I have been spending a lot of time talking with our residents, from those in their teens to those in their nineties. One common theme I hear is that every group desires a place to belong.  I’ve been asked about youth centers and senior centers, more parking, more shopping, more dining, and more engagement.  All of these are good goals, and they reflect the outcomes of strong institutions: intentional purpose and service.   

The role of our schools has changed over the generations, from community centerpiece to educational necessity. One neighbor told me recently of the depth of engagement Coraopolis High School had in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. The school was never locked (as he remembers) and many of the social activities on weekends took place in or around the school. It was foundational in both formal and informal education, providing a secure environment and guidance from leaders and parents.  Some of that remains, of course, but fewer students and families see the schools as lynchpins to development.

We have churches that are historic, beautiful, and grand, yet on Sundays many are not as full as they could be. Nearly all are empty the other days of the week.  I’m not suggesting that we thoughtlessly fill them, but I am suggesting we consider them. We would do well to remember our sense of right and wrong come not only from our use of common sense and reason, but from the lessons taught in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. That your treatment of others should reflect what you hope of treatment of you, or the Golden Rule, is present in nearly every religion, and perhaps the most basic tenant in good community.

The number of service clubs in America is dwindling fast, and we’re seeing here in our town too.  In his 2000 book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” Robert Putnam sites that attendance at meetings, such as those held by Lions, Rotary and Kiwanis groups, has “declined by 58 percent in the period 1975-2000.  This trend continued and even accelerated in the 21st century.” Older members are dying off, and younger ones are harder to recruit because of the increased demands of career and family.  This is understandable, perhaps inevitable, but nonetheless unfortunate.

So, where do we go from here? How do we strengthen the institutions that have been so critical to the foundation and fabric of this town we love, or any town?  Greater involvement and commitment must be a consideration, for all of us. If not in a school, church, or club, then in some other way. The increase in community good and measurable progress rarely happens from a single person, but in groups of people – and groups with common goals and values.  

Fortunately, the work of our foundations is still evident in who we are; it’s in our DNA. What else can be done depends on each of us, and our willingness to both participate and lead.

What’s your good word this week about our foundations? What do you remember, what do you value, and what can you commit to in the schools, churches, and/or organizations that call Coraopolis home? As always, your thoughtful commentary is valued!

Shawn P. Reed
The Candidate for Mayor