Real meaning: When a community rallies...

By Sheila Booth

“It takes a village...” comes to mind when searching for a phrase to describe the essence of community. But if anyone really wanted to see these words in action, to know the meaning of community, then one had only to be in Earlysville one recent weekend. Friends organized a benefit yard sale for Carolyn Noteman, a former Albemarle police officer who was severely injured in the line of duty and is now battling cancer.

The plan began as a small idea among friends. Before long, it had taken on a life of its own.

The Earlysville Volunteer Fire Department granted the use of its community hall. Donations were accepted Friday afternoon for the Saturday, February 25, sale. Within two hours, no more clothing could be accepted. Residents of the surrounding communities delivered beautiful, valuable furniture pieces– some antique and some solid oak. Well before 4pm, the cut-off time for donations, the room was full, the tables overflowing and floor space at a premium.

Carolyn's close friend, Lynn Sigman, spearheaded the drive; and as early as Wednesday her phone literally rang non-stop, all day. Someone called to donate expensive bird cages– never used.

In the neighboring town, the women known as the Free Union Homemakers began moving. Though this group be small, she can be mighty. In the past five years, we members have successfully rallied against state and federal governments to prevent the closing, first of the nearby VDOT depot, and later our funky and popular U.S. Post Office.

For Carolyn, the Homemakers boosted the effort to collect merchandise, joined by a sister group, the Earlysville Homemakers (who like to call themselves the E'villes ), and by Chandler's Bakery, which brought one of their popular cakes. T-shirts were designed and sold as fundraisers.

The community expands as villages link, friends join hands, and more towns join in. Fueled by compassion, the cause sparks a sense of community that ignites like a bonfire of goodwill.

On Friday evening, the Charlottesville Newsplex aired a live shot from the now full-to-bursting room at the firehouse. Carolyn's dog did a few polite tricks.

More than a dozen of Carolyn's friends, and friends of friends, were on hand all day Friday to organize and price the endless stream of incoming items. And since Carolyn is a dog lover, there were welcome moments to schmooze with visiting dogs, often out in the parking lot under a blustery, changeable sky and occasional rain.

Many groups and individuals contributed and spread the word for Carolyn; and by Saturday night, their efforts had raised close to $8,000 to help with expenses, since Carolyn is unable to work during her difficult months of treatment.

By now, Carolyn's story is known to many, thanks in part to the February 19th Daily Progress column by Bryan McKenzie. Back in 1990, Police Officer Noteman was breaking up a fight in a bar when an assailant smashed her head against a glass door. The attacker, McKenzie noted, “received a three-month sentence for assaulting an officer and disorderly conduct" while Carolyn "received a life of epileptic-like seizures from the head injuries, was forced to medically retire from the department, and was advised by doctors never to have children.”

As her T-shirt so aptly reads, she's determined to “fight like a girl” and steel herself through the rigors of debilitating chemotherapy (now more than half done– whew!) and then weeks of daily radiation. Her seizure disorder limits the meds that doctors can prescribe, so it's a delicate balancing act for Carolyn to remain functional through the treatment.

So fight she does– determined to get back to her passion– the fun of running agility courses with her wonderful young dog, Riley, who starred with her in one TV interview.

Getting-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends reached a new peak of meaning that weekend. And now we not only know what “community” means, we know what it looks like– and how it acts.
Sheila Booth is a former newspaper editor and author of the dog book Purely Positive Training. She lives in Free Union.

Read more on: carolyn noteman