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Literature in a Hurry: Stories for the Refrigerator

The neighborhood I lived in when I was a kid was in a new, suburban development, one without any amenities like parks or walking paths because much of the neighborhood was still under construction. A couple of years after we moved in, when I was around eight, the neighborhood joined together and decide to build a community park.

I don't know all the details about how it was paid for or what the agreement with the city was, but I do remember that the entire neighborhood pitched in to help assemble the playground one rainy Saturday in the fall.

Although we'd lived in the neighborhood for awhile, this is one of the first times I recall all of our neighbors getting together for any extended period of time. My brother, sister, and I - ages three, six and eight, respectively - were obviously too young to help, but that didn't stop us from heading to the site of the new playground with my parents during construction.

While my parents were busy helping lift slides and secure posts for the monkey bars, Kevin, Jenny and I raced around with the other neighborhood kids, crawling around in the leaves, jumping in the mud, and playing endless games of Red Rover. It was a messy day, and I can't imagine my mom was too pleased at how much of a disaster our clothes and shoes were when we finally headed home.

The next weekend, when our edition of our local newspaper, The Quad Community Press, arrived, right on the second page was a huge picture of my little brother. While he hates to be reminded now, Kevin was a truly adorable toddler. He had bright red-blonde hair, chubby cheeks, blue eyes and this infectious grin that even today makes me laugh.

In the photo, Kevin was staring straight at the camera, completely covered in mud. It's one of the best and most accurate pictures of the kid that anyone has ever taken. My mom clipped it out of the paper and stuck it on our fridge - a shrine to awesome report cards and macaroni art - where it was inevitably noticed by anyone who stopped by our house for years.

I got to thinking about that picture this week while I was looking through back issues of this newspaper to get a sense of the things that have been going on around here. As I skimmed through the pages, pausing on engagements and dean's list announcements, I remembered what a thrill it was to see people I knew mentioned in the newspaper.

At its best, a community newspaper reflects and challenges the community it serves. It's a place for people to feel like they have a voice in the community and a place for readers to learn what is going on when they can't be every place at once.

One reader called this week and told me sometimes the newspaper feels like a "community Christmas card" where we just pat ourselves on the back for the good things.

Certainly, a newspaper should do more than that, but those pieces can't be forgotten either. It's easy to get pulled into writing the "hard news" types of stories - meth rings and city meetings - while losing track of some of the human stories that explain what a community is really about.

It's important to challenge both the people in power and average citizens to take on the problems the community faces, but it's also important to give space to stories and photos that reflect the spirit of what the community is about.

That is a tall order, but it's something I'm trying to do with each paper each week so we'll all have a few pieces to clip out and stick on the shrine of the refrigerator.