Felt by many, ‘community’ exists in Black Mountain

Margaret Hurt
Special to BMN

Three years ago, Chris and Ellen Gaffney became part-time residents in Black Mountain, spending much of the summer and weekends throughout the year here. In the short time they have lived here, they have made more friends than living in Atlanta for 20 years.

Living in an Atlanta subdivision where folks commute to work leaves little time to connect in the neighborhood. “We sought this area for the long ties with summer camps here, and our strong desire for a small-town feel,” Chris Gaffney said.

“Community” is a buzzword heard frequently around Black Mountain. “This is a great community” and “ I appreciate the sense of community here” - words to that effect, anyway - come easily to residents of varied ages and backgrounds. Feelings of community seem strong here, whether they stem from experiences related to school, church, sports or conversations at a coffee shop, on the sidewalk or at the gym.

“A sense of community, like community spirit or community pride, is characterized by a feeling of emotional connection to a place and its residents,” the Orton Family Foundation website states. “Where there is a sense of community, residents value their relationships to others in the area, care about the community’s well-being and are interested in its future. A sense of community is anchored by a culture of good will that cuts across political or cultural differences and even embraces them.”

A strong sense of community is often illustrated by the ways people work together or are friendly with each other. But it also can be seen around town. In Black Mountain, busy parks and sidewalks, packed bleachers at Owen High games, celebrated historic buildings, popular street fairs and parades are all physical evidence of a sense of community.

Jenn and Chris Eller and their three young children have been Black Mountain residents for less than a year. To Jenn, community means a “sense of belonging, feeling welcomed, feeling like having an extended family, familiarity with friends and service providers. To me, it is a closeness achieved by living close to others with similar but unique or different values,” she said. She believes she has found that senseof community in Black Mountain.

“It’s a magical little town. The people are very welcoming and friendly,” she said. “We love that we can walk to so many places; the restaurants and entertainment have been impressive. The pool, sprinklers, Halloween activities, town parades, music at the lake have all been a blast. We are so happy here.”

As anyone who has had it, then lost it, knows, a strong sense of community really matters. Strong community builds social wealth, or social capital, the Orton Family Foundation website notes. “Quality of life is often high in a community of plenty of social wealth, regardless of more tangible factors such as financial wealth or scarcity,” it states. “Volunteerism, participation in civic groups and governance are all products of social wealth.”

Myra Schoen, who is fairly new here, said “in the past, I found a sense of community where a common goal or interest prevailed, either at work, or for a shared cause or belief, or regarding a passion or a particular interest.” A religious institution, a spiritual study group, a book group - all those come to mind for her.

For Chris Gaffney, the ease of walking to downtown restaurants on neighborhood sidewalks, visiting with other dog-walkers, has added to his sense of community here. “Regular community events here draw folks out and allow for easy conversations and connections.” He appreciates the spirit of giving he has noticed here often.

“We were so impressed with the community support, on so many levels, around the spring Ridgecrest fire,” he said.

Twenty-year resident Nancy Poole finds rich community here. She instructs fitness classes at Lakeview Center and Highland Farms, for 30 adults ranging in age from 40s to 80s.

“I am thankful to be part of such a healthy group that supports one another so well,” she said. “The people in my classes have a wonderful community and care so much about one another. When one person misses class, others will quickly check on her.”

Not only do they enjoy exercising together, but they also join together for other activities, like dining. “It’s like an extended family for each of us,” Poole said. “When my parents were at the end of their lives, they (those in her class) offered me such support and care.”

John DeWitt believes many people feel connected in Black Mountain because it’s a town they sought out and moved to, either to raise a family or to retire. “Each of these families brings with them a willingness to be part of the broader community, as they generally have left family or friends from another community,” he said via email. “(They) have a need to fill that void, which brings people together, either socially or through volunteer work.”

An informal survey of what residents believe creates community in Black Mountain indicates that festivals and volunteer opportunities rank high. Among events mentioned were the town square and farmers market, church dinners and projects, Swannanoa Valley Museum exhibits and school workdays and town litter sweeps.

“This community is so caring and giving,” longtime resident Jean Gettys said. “Sometimes when I am shopping at local stores, a store manager will give me things to donate to the ministry since they know my connection there as a volunteer. This sort of thing happens all the time around this community.”