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Sara Grier is External Relations Manager for ShickshinnyForward.
Natural disasters bring a level of destruction to communities that is difficult to understand for those who have never experienced it.
While the physical ruination of shops, schools, homes and businesses takes an enormous toll, it is often the devastation of the emotional “soul” of a community that makes re-building such an uphill effort.
For the cities and towns along the Susquehanna River, the flood of September 2011 surpassed anything experienced in over 100 years. Shickshinny, PA, population 800, was one of the hardest hit communities. Since the flood, the town has not only drained basements and repaired roads; it has taken this opportunity to make itself “home” once again.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Long Term Recovery Program selected Shickshinny as one of its recovery communities shortly after the flood. Over a three-month intensive effort, the residents, officials, business owners and friends of Shickshinny created a plan that resulted in a strategic set of actions to fuel the town’s recovery. They customized this plan by incorporating aspects of Heart & Soul Community Planning to ensure that the residents’ love of Shickshinny was reflected in the recovery planning process.
The creation of ShickshinnyForward was one of the key outcomes of this effort. The all-volunteer organization has taken many steps towards recovery, including riverbank clean-ups, organizing fundraising events, and planning for a “better” Shickshinny. Another role of the organization has been to rally support for those businesses determined to open their doors once again. Local business owners not only lost their income as a result of the flood, but they also faced the tremendous financial and emotional burden of attempting to rebuild. Many may decide to pull up stakes and move their wagon elsewhere. But for those deciding to stay, community support is of paramount importance from beginning to end.
Social media has played an important role. The ShickshinnyForward website, www.shickshinnyforward.com, has become a place for the community to keep up to date with the re-building progress. It has also become a forum for businesses to take pride in the results of their hard work and spirit. As shops re-open throughout the community, ShickshinnyForward spreads the word and then memorializes these events by photographing the “Opening Day” and recording statements of pride and inspiration from the owners and employees for all to read.
Good news can sometimes be missed amongst all the heart-wrenching stories of loss and anger in the wake of a disaster. Community-wide support and publicity for re-opening businesses has helped Shickshinny heal its wounds, while reinforcing the importance of a resilient local economy.
The excitement on the faces of residents when word gets out about a favorite restaurant, pizza place or pool and spa store re-opening... Well, the good feeling is simply contagious.