Guest editorial / Cobie S. Graber
Type A commuters fleeing the city and beyond in search of superior public schools and the elusive small-town lifestyle flock to New Canaan. Our suburban outpost has everything they dream about from well-manicured yards to family events to a walkable downtown. Yet, even in New Canaan, we hear about bullying, domestic violence, prescription and illegal drug abuse, alcoholism, cutting, anorexia and misuse of guns. As a community, we have to stop coasting on our "Next Station to Heaven" reputation and deal with the issues threatening our village -- and many other towns.
The stakes have never been higher. And, yet, we sit idly by reading about neighbors in crisis. We tell our children "If you see something, say something," but we ourselves choose not to get involved. It is not fair (or effective) to rely on the same small group of people to write all of the letters, attend all of the meetings and sign up for all of the volunteer opportunities. This is our one chance to teach by example the value of being an active and informed citizen; to break the apathy that threatens our very quality of life.
Now, more than ever, it takes a village to raise a child. Our village. It is up to us to deal with these problems at the root cause by helping our youth to find and use their unique gifts. Isolation is dangerous. And so is the failure to make each individual feel important in his own right.
Our children are growing up in an age in which every choice is recorded for posterity. Mistakes and all. True friends are hard to come by. The intensity of school, sports and work has reached an all-time high. In this fifth-wealthiest town in the nation (according to CNN Money's 2013 list), time has become more valuable than money.
If we don't take care of our health, learn how to relax and take time out for family, how will our children learn to prioritize better than we do? If we stop patronizing local restaurants and stores, lose our post office and our teen center and cut public school funding, can we truly claim to love our town?
In spite of the serious issues we face, I hold First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, our Town Council, Superintendent Dr. Mary Kolek, our Board of Education and our Board of Finance in the highest esteem. Having volunteered to work alongside these leaders, I understand that many of us expect too much. We demand lower taxes along with higher test scores, sports standings and property values. In the comfort of our family rooms, we criticize our leaders without getting close enough to understand the challenges they are facing. Then, we leave them in the lurch to make tough financial decisions while many of us do not even vote.
We are at the precipice of a tipping point as we approach yet another tight budget season. Do we allow our schools to crumble and our quality of education to falter as we put off necessary maintenance and crowd in more students? Do we maintain one-and-a-half school resource officers at a time when other towns are increasing the cooperative efforts between police, teachers and school administrators?
Do we give up on our investment in our teen center because of its previous shortcomings? Or double down our efforts to canvas the town and surrounding areas for the best practices, court investors and appeal to volunteers? What does it say to our teens if our town does not invest in a place for them at a time when so many of them need support?
Let's get back to the basics and remember what made us fall in love with New Canaan in the first place. We make tremendous sacrifices to live here. After all, there are cheaper places and easier places, but not better places. Not if we direct the tremendous power of our collective smarts, connections and caring inward and collaborate to effect fiscally responsible change.
For example, Westport holds an annual contest in which they challenge teams of high school students to spend one day tackling a real issue affecting the town. Area businesses and families donate scholarship money to the team offering the most well-researched viable solution. What do you think of using a similar model to help our town leverage limited budgets, resolve parking shortages downtown, improve the health of our community and more?
New Canaanites, if not for you and me, then for our children and grandchildren, use your expertise to make a difference. The action you choose can be as small as writing a letter or as big as saving our public schools, post office, teen center and even our village. I challenge all of you to publicly pledge your involvement by responding to this letter with a promise to get involved. Thank you, in advance.
Cobie S. Graber is a New Canaan resident.