This spring break, many of my friends were leaving Kansas to go to Colorado, Mexico, or Florida. I, however, was headed to Cuba. Yes, Cuba—Cuba, Kansas. Growing up in my hometown is definitely much more of a blessing than a curse. Ironically enough, Cuba is only about 20 miles away from Washington and is in the Republic (County, that is). I do live a mile away from Cuba, but there will never be a community that is closer to my heart. Cuba was founded by predominantly Czech immigrants. Cuba, Kansas is a small community of only 150 people. We may be small, but we are mighty. A sign reading "Czech Us Out" greets the travelers of 36 highway as they pass. Cuba has been featured twice in National Geographic and once on CBS Sunday Morning. I stole my first piece of bubble gum from The Cuba Cash Store, and I shortly after learned that thievery was wrong (after my mother found out, I personally paid the store owner and admitted my fault). I established a faith in God at the Cuba Presbyterian Church. I was developed into a man in Cuba, Kansas.
Every year the community of Cuba, comes together to celebrate the Cuba Rock-a-thon. Despite the name, the Rock-a-thon is not the largest Rock and Roll festival in North Central Kansas. Forty year ago, the Rock-a-thon began in the local laundry mat with a single rocking chair. The Rock-a-thon has raised over $547,000 for community improvements for Cuba. For a week, the Rock-a-thon provides meals, informational and comical entertainment, community cooperation, and 318 hours of continuous chair rocking. Whether one is five years old or 105, members of the community always look forward to rocking in those sacred chairs. Although, it’s not the rocking in the chairs that everybody gets so excited about annually. The rocking is just a symbol and a small part of the tradition of devotion and love for the community.
During this year’s Rock-a-thon, I definitely gained a greater appreciation for my community. The thing about Cuba, though, is that we aren't anything special. Much like any great community, it’s not the buildings, great streets, or job opportunity that make Cuba amazing, but it’s the people. We are just a community who cares. If it wasn't for the support through the community, I can firmly say that I would have never even considered running for state office. Rural communities provide valuable experiences that are unique from urban areas.
During my travel to South Africa, one of the most valuable pieces of information I took away occurred while visiting the Kliptown Youth Project. Kliptown is a small village outside of Johannesburg and is one of the most poverty stricken areas of South Africa. Even though they may not have a lot and even struggle to obtain the bare essentials, they urged the 75 American State FFA Officers to not feel sorry for them. They have each other, and that is stronger than any monetary or gift donation that can be given. Finally, they insisted that instead of returning to Kliptown to assist their development that we should return home and impact our communities first.
We all come from a community—a community that cares about us and has molded us into who we are today. Take time to identify those individuals in your life. If you want to see what your future holds, look at your five closest friends—your community. If those individuals have high integrity, are successful, and caring, then you are more likely to have those qualities. However, if those people are unmotivated, inconsiderate, and selfish, I encourage you to consider some challenging decisions in your life. More than anything, provide that community for others. I will never be able to have the impact on Cuba that it’s had on me, but I will sure give it my best effort. Whether your community is in rural Kansas, New York City, or just your closest friends, identify those individuals and thank them. Finally, spend purposeful time strengthening and "Czeching out" your community.