I’ve been for­tu­nate to be part of a num­ber of close com­mu­ni­ties — Winchester most recent­ly. In child­hood, in Lexington, I found a com­mu­ni­ty of friends at a horse barn; in col­lege, one of my biol­o­gy class­es includ­ed field trips, and our friend­ships grew while hik­ing through forests and cran­ber­ry bogs. In upstate New York, dur­ing grad­u­ate school, my friend group grew togeth­er with potluck thanks­giv­ings, sled­ding, pub crawls, and camping. 

Nancy Gift
Nancy Gift

When my chil­dren were small, in Chicago, my com­mu­ni­ty of par­ents and kids extend­ed from our apart­ment court­yard to a range of near­by play­grounds, where my eldest learned to jump rope and where my youngest learned to walk by push­ing wheeled toys with neigh­bors from Belgium, Iraq, Alaska, Chicago, and Utah. 

I moved back to Kentucky 10 years ago, and found com­mu­ni­ty at Berea College and soc­cer side­lines, at hap­py hours and Native Bagel break­fasts. When I met my hus­band Jim, I began to get to know some of Winchester’s com­mu­ni­ty spaces: Abettor Brewing, Loma’s, Engine House Pizza, In and Out Bar-b-que, and Jim’s work­place with Emmanuel Episcopal’s congregation. 

In March of 2020, Jim and I mar­ried qui­et­ly (thanks Judge Julia!), hop­ing for a cel­e­bra­to­ry church bless­ing in sum­mer.  Within hours of our cer­e­mo­ny, we found that COVID was clos­ing all kinds of com­mu­ni­ty spaces, just as we began plan­ning our house­hold by the Kentucky River. When the riv­er flood­ed that home, less than a year lat­er, friends from Berea and Winchester came to help us rinse the mud, laun­der our clothes, and get back on our feet, still months before we got to invite them to our bless­ing of marriage. 

As the COVID threat shift­ed and our rebuild­ing at the riv­er con­clud­ed, we real­ized how much the Winchester com­mu­ni­ty mat­ters to us, and we moved from the riv­er into town. We now live with­in walk­ing dis­tance from friends and restau­rants and parks. 

I’m final­ly back in the class­room at Berea, teach­ing two cours­es this term about sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties.  We’re read­ing Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. I see how we need, here in Winchester, a pub­lic pool and pub­lic trans­porta­tion, bet­ter side­walks and walk­ing con­nec­tions, and stronger pro­tec­tions for renters and low-income mort­gage buy­ers.  I see where we need more trees and bet­ter com­pre­hen­sive health­care, espe­cial­ly for women, stronger pub­lic schools, and afford­able, high-qual­i­ty childcare. 

I also see here what we have: strong com­mu­ni­ty the­ater at Leed’s, a Farmer’s Market with new infra­struc­ture invest­ment, Legacy Grove park link­ing neigh­bor­hoods across town, Abettor Brewing offer­ing space and adver­tis­ing to local crafts­peo­ple at Night Market. 

We have friends and neigh­bors with food trucks includ­ing Bell on Wheels and Tacos Luna Y Mas, and oth­ers with brick and mor­tar busi­ness­es, like Tokyo and Taj Bistro, which offer fla­vors to delight and expand our expe­ri­ences beyond the tra­di­tion­al fla­vors of cen­tral Kentucky. 

We have Mason, whose cura­tion brings beau­ty to our homes and tables; we have Eklectic Alchemy, where we find whim­sy and his­to­ry and art, com­bined.  We have local car detail­ers and framers, Dirty South Pottery, and a post office whose work­ers might stay late to let you pick up your mailed baby chicks at the end of a long day’s work. 

I went yes­ter­day to a Habitat for Humanity home ded­i­ca­tion and recog­ni­tion of months of team­work and effort, a dozen church­es and even more dona­tions, mak­ing a home for one fam­i­ly dear to Winchester, but also invest­ing in a neigh­bor­hood.  We have so much here, and I’m glad to call this city home.

We need each oth­er.  We are, togeth­er, work­ers and artists, plumbers and painters, ath­letes and elder­ly, stu­dents and teach­ers, nurs­es and patients, elect­ed and elec­tor, black and white, straight and gay. 

What we have learned with COVID — I’d hope — is that we must val­ue labor­ers, and if we need people’s ser­vices we must pay what they need to live on.  While COVID has made the rich­est rich­er, and the poor even more vul­ner­a­ble, we have also seen sup­ply chains break under the loss of those who make things move.  We haven’t fig­ured out the logis­tics of labor and health­care and child­care and hous­ing, for every­one, but we know we rely on this com­mu­ni­ty to make it all work, even those here who we don’t know yet. 

I’m glad to have got­ten to live in a range of com­mu­ni­ties, and I’m glad of all the friend­ships and expe­ri­ences that have shown me what good com­mu­ni­ties can be.   I’m real­ly glad to live in Winchester.  We have great restau­rants, a down­town with healthy anchor busi­ness­es, good parks, and a vari­ety of peo­ple try­ing to work togeth­er and inclu­sive­ly.  And if we work togeth­er and help each oth­er, not just through our church­es and groups but across our divi­sions, Winchester can keep get­ting Better, Together.

  • Nancy Gift, a mem­ber of Better Together, Winchester, orig­i­nal­ly from Lexington, is a pro­fes­sor of Sustainability and Environmental Studies at Berea College, and spouse of Father Jim Trimble. She and Jim have three col­lege-age chil­dren and a menagerie of pets.