It seems like every other weekend brings a new road closure to Harrisburg. Predictable weekend maneuvers down 2nd Street can no longer be taken for granted.
And, more often than not, you’re forced to find an alternate route because the city is making way for community events at an unprecedented frequency and scale.
For decades, Artsfest and Kipona have served as the bookends of summer for the greater Harrisburg area. For two holiday weekends, these cornerstones of community celebration draw the focus to our region and showcase the city’s architectural and natural beauty.
More recently, winter events have taken center stage. Christmas at Italian Lake hosted by the Bethesda Mission brought a Christmas market and carriage rides to Uptown. The city’s Ice and Fire Festival transformed a downtown block of 2nd Street into an ice skating rink.
Runners and walkers regularly lace up and take to the pavement through the YMCA race series and a packed schedule of walks and runs, raising funds for a diverse set of worthwhile causes.
Not to mention the HBG Flea, SoMa block parties, home tours, local theater events, music festivals, 3rd in the Burg, Gallery Walk and a host of others too numerous to list.
Harrisburg is not without its challenges, but we can confidently strike boredom from the list. If you allow it, the city will easily fill your calendar.
If you have shied away from attending these events in the city, perhaps it’s for practical reasons. Parking may not be ideal—you might have to walk a block or two farther than you’d like. The weather isn’t 75 degrees and sunny. You don’t know who else will be there.
Now, think about the last time a vacation or weekend trip took you to another city with time to explore. If there were similar opportunities to engage with an unfamiliar community, did you allow the same apprehension to stop you? Or did you approach the new place with a tourist’s sense of curiosity and spontaneity?
When you have the opportunity, look at Harrisburg through the eyes of a tourist. Allow curiosity to lead you into the city. And welcome the detours that divert automobiles in favor of foot traffic.
If you’re open to it, you’ll feel the same energy and excitement at Harrisburg’s events as you would in your travels anywhere else. You can engage your senses, taking in visual beauty, fresh flavors and local chatter. We allow ourselves to romanticize these notions when strolling in a favorite vacation spot, but to escape into our own community may not always come as naturally. And we might not be as willing to forgive minor inconveniences in order to have these experiences in our hometown.
Temporarily viewing our community from the perspective of a visitor allows us to shrug off our typical assumptions about Harrisburg and leaves us open to the steady stream of opportunities to gather within it. Simply attending a community event is a contribution in itself, requiring an investment of time and attention. Organizers vie for your attendance because the success of these events depends on it.
When you’re finished reading, flip to the events calendar in the back of this issue, and you’re guaranteed to find an occasion that will pique your interest. Sharpen the focus of your tourist lens, get energized by the potential of the experience and attend. Feel the sublime energy of enjoying together, reconnect with a facet of the arts that you’ve always loved, be inspired by stampedes of runners and walkers, or contribute to a cause that moves you.
Becoming involved in the planning and execution of these events adds another dimension of meaning to them. Assuming a volunteer role quickly lends an appreciation for the logistics, forethought and coordination required to produce the sense of community that attendees seek. The few hours spent at a registration table, a water stand or an information booth generate a connection to people who care about the community and who give their time to serve it. These are the unexpected places where lifelong friendships are formed and nurtured.
If you already engage with the organizations that present events for the community, you probably can’t imagine the city without the richness they bring to your life. The relationships you’ve built through your work, the growth you’ve witnessed in those who have recently discovered service, and the life these events bring to our community drive you to continue.
There are some for whom service and leadership appear to come naturally—maybe they’re born extroverts, or it has been ingrained in them from the time they were in grade school. For those who feel like they’re on the outside looking in, it may seem like there isn’t a need to participate. “They already have enough people.” “I have nothing novel to contribute.”
Ask any of the organizers of these events if they need volunteers, and the overwhelming majority will tell you they can always use more help.
A rich tapestry of diverse and meaningful experiences in service awaits you in Harrisburg. The first step is simply to choose an event and attend.
From there, who knows? What you begin as a tourist, you just might finish as a tour guide.
Sydney L. Kyler is chief operating officer for Enders, a community publisher for TheBurg.