Wayne County is full of community advocates. They can be anyone from local board members, business owners, nonprofit organizations, and regular citizens. Community advocates help provide guidance and leadership in various local sectors.

This December, Forward Wayne County is talking about Our Community and the people that are part of it. We asked Gary Schutte, President of The Heart of Hagerstown, to talk about community advocacy and how he does it in his position.

Defining Community

Community is not just about the physical address that we have in life. Community can be defined in many different shapes and forms. Every individual gets to decide what community means to them and how they will contribute. As a resident and a business owner in Hagerstown, this is the community I want to see succeed and prosper.

For that to happen, you have to become involved. Everyone in today’s world is busy and feels that they don’t have time to become involved, but all it takes is some time to help your community. You do not have to commit to multiple hours every day, week, or month; just do what you can.

My Role as a Community Advocate

When I returned to Hagerstown in 1996 and opened my business, I was one of those who “didn’t have the time.” I was young and just trying to survive with a new retail business, which consumed my life. As the years went on, I was asked to serve on various boards and committees, which I began doing; some required little time, while others were significant.

But they all worked towards the goal of making a “community” better. Everything that makes our community happen takes participation to make it happen, whether that be belonging to a group that puts on an event, serving on your local library board, or serving on your local Planning Commission. These groups need not only members but also the support for their events to continue.

As president of The Heart of Hagerstown, our merchant and business association and Main Street organization, I represent the other business owners and group members and am their advocate daily.

I am fortunate that I get to talk to many individuals every day and to tell the story of Hagerstown, whether that be about what Hagerstown has to offer or the fact that our Little League team went to the Little League World Series last year.

We should always be excited to talk about our community and highlight the fact that you are a part of it. The size of your audience doesn’t matter; it could be the new neighbor across the street or speaking in front of 200 people at a meeting.

Championing Community

Be the champion and the voice of your community. Use every opportunity and chance to tell others what makes up your community and why they should become involved.

I was recently at an event in Indianapolis and was talking with the organizers about Hagerstown. They have since visited Hagerstown and expressed interest in bringing an event that they organize to Hagerstown. This all came from my conversation about my community and what makes it special to me.

We are told all the time that life is what you make of it; your community is no different. You need your community, and your community needs you.

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