Ever since our election season, I have been thinking about the term “community organizer”. The job seems similar to “cat herder”, but on second thought, it is probably harder. In the world of cats, a good fight can establish order quicker than a town hall meeting.
Nevertheless, in our community, residents have a long history of peaceful negotiation with the forces that shape Lake Highlands.
On the micro-level, Tom Scott maintains his corner of the world with admirable stewardship. Scott and his wife, Toni, have lived in their Moss Farm home for 30 years. When they moved in, their view was a grove of pecan trees. As development marched north, Scott helped his neighborhood fend off various ambitious projects, such as a 24-hour Walgreens. He gives most of the credit to his homeowner’s association, Moss Farm Alliance.
“Every time I knew what was about to happen, I tried to jump in and work with everyone on it,” he says. “All the neighbors down here were intensely interested. It was a combination of everyone going together.”
Ultimately, the land was developed into a complex of office condos. Since then, Scott has kept residents’ side of the creek beautiful by planting screens of bamboo, colorful nandina and flowers. When some trees fell into the creek, he went in with a power saw and cut them up, then used his own truck to drag them out of the creek bed. He called the city to haul the debris, but he doesn’t call the city often.
“If too much attention is given to the city about the creek,” he says, “they might come over here and fill it with concrete.”
Another force in our community is Carol Toler, who has lived in the Pebble Creek area for 23 years. She is a regular contributor to the Advocate blog, Back Talk Lake Highlands.
“In a perfect world, we would all talk face to face, but we don’t,” Toler says. “The blog helps draw the community together, and creates a dialogue.”
Does she think of herself as a community organizer?
“I’ve never thought of myself that way, but I might have to say yes, because I think my biggest success comes when I equip other people to do things in the community. They get excited and become more involved.”
She helped found the Lake Highlands chapter of Genesis STAR (Students Tackling Abusive Relationships), which is affiliated with Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas. High school girls participate in service projects like collecting flip-flops for women who have escaped domestic violence. Each year a representative from the shelter makes a presentation to the girls about dating violence awareness.
“It surprises me every year how many of the girls stay afterward to talk about their own experiences,” Toler says. “You wouldn’t think in our neighborhood it would be an issue for them, but it is.”
Another of her causes is the Lake Highlands Women’s League, whose main fundraiser is the home tour each holiday season. The league raises roughly $140,000 a year for scholarships given to graduating seniors at Lake Highlands High School, and to projects like the summer reading program at Audelia Library, and dental equipment for Healing Hands Ministry.
“Most of our recruiting happens at the home tour,” she says. “At the end of the day, some of the ladies decide to join and get involved.”
Other organizations include Chi Omega Christmas Market, which benefits Make a Wish Foundation and Austin Street Center; and Wild for Cats, a booster club for academics (instead of sports).
Toler’s youngest (of four) will graduate from Lake Highlands High School in 2010. But that won’t end her involvement in our schools.
“I am taking a class called ‘Inside RISD’ to learn ways to be a more productive volunteer,” she told me.
A more productive volunteer would be hard to imagine. What motivates her?
“It always starts out for my own family. Somebody calls me to help, and I think, ‘My kids could benefit from that.’ And then once I get involved, I get hooked.”
Tom Scott and Carol Toler are two examples of how much can be achieved when someone devotes his energy toward positive results for his community.