The true meaning of community

Since returning to this area last year, Iíve done some reflecting on what it means to be part of a community. I thought I had a pretty good idea of the concept as a whole, until this past weekend, when I had a chance to truly see what a community can accomplish when they come together. And I have to say that Iíve never been more proud to call this or any community my home.

At its heart, a community is defined by what brings people together. No matter how diverse the group, itís how we are brought together by shared interests or a shared history, or even a common geographic location. As we look back through history, it is evident that few things can unite us all better than a common cause.

This weekend, in Oxford, that cause was supporting Todd Harvey and his family.

For those of you who donít know Todd Ė and I didnít before Friday night Ė he is a 23-year old Greene graduate in the midst of a knock-out, drag-out fight with an aggressive form of cancer. Scratch that. Itís not just a fight, or even a battle Ė what heís really fighting is a war against these insidious cancer cells.

Heís got allies, of course Ė his family and friends have been with him every step of the way. Not to mention teams of doctors and medical professionals at each of the cancer treatment facilities where he has been treated. But heís got a few other people in his corner as well. OK, maybe more than a few. Based on the turnout this weekend, Iíd say heís got the entire communities of Oxford and Greene on his side, as well as every volunteer fire department in Chenango County.

You might be wondering why these groups in particular are involved with this effort to provide both financial and emotional support for this young man. Let me explain.

Todd grew up in Oxford, and graduated from Greene. While he has never himself been a volunteer, the Oxford Fire Department considers him one of their own, by virtue of the service of both his father, Bill, and his grandfather, Bill Sr.

And, as evidenced by the efforts they put into this weekend, when the Oxford Fire Department says they take care of their own, they mean it. In less than two months, they planned, organized and executed a three-day fundraising effort incorporating at least 10 different events. They had help, of course, from other groups also interested in helping Todd, including the Red Knights Motorcycle Club, the American Legion, fire departments from across the county and Bill Harveyís co-workers at Preferred Mutual Insurance, just to name a few.

Over the three days, hundreds (and hundreds) of people attended the benefit. Whether they were there for the Cruise In, the auction, the golf tournament, the live music, the food, the sumo wrestling, the poker run, the breakfast (426 people served during that alone!), they were all there for one reason: to support Todd and his family.

There hasnít been an official statement released regarding how much money was raised throughout the weekend, but based on what I observed, itís safe to say that thousands and thousands were banked on Toddís behalf. Iím sure the money raised will be put to good use to cover medical and travel expenses.

But it isnít just the money that has meaning; something far more profound was offered up to this young man and his family as a result of this three-day effort. The participation of so many people and so many organizations coming together for one cause, was a clear message that Todd and his family are not alone in this battle. They have a community behind them. A community willing to provide whatever support needed when one of their members is struggling.

I was introduced to Todd for the first time on Friday night, but of course by that time Iíd already written not one, but two articles about him and his battle against cancer.

Itís a strange feeling, to say the least, to meet someone but to already know so much about their personal life. As I shook his hand, I had to fight back tears. Not because of sadness, per se (although there is that as well), but because I could already see how uplifting this outpouring of community support was for him. The hand I shook wasnít that of someone who was defined by cancer. This was a young man with hope and energy, who was far from giving up.

This weekend gave me hope as well, for it reinforced my belief in our community. It made me realize how much we can achieve when we come together, when we offer our support to one another. I want to personally thank the Oxford Fire Department, the Red Knights and all those who came together for this cause, for reminding me what it means to be a part of a community.

I also want to thank Todd, and his father Bill, for allowing me to tell their story and for being so gracious when we finally met.

Todd, I wish you strength and hope as you continue your battle. Keep up the good fight, and know that no matter how dark the hour, you have the support, the love, the respect, the hope and the strength of an entire community behind you.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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