Editor’s Note (Spring 2014)

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edited3DSC0067Sociology holds that when individuals or groups of people come together, they will do one of two things: cooperate or compete. at different times, different societies have placed varying values on cooperation and competition. while the merits of both can be – and often are – debated, I find myself increasingly impressed and fascinated by what is accomplished when people and organizations cooperate for the greater good. amazing things can happen.

I saw this while working for the University of Alabama Service Learning department, which fosters partnerships between college students and community organizations. Through service-learning courses, students gain real-world experience in their chosen fields while contributing to society in countless ways, from providing health-care services to under-served populations and leading programs in K-12 schools to assisting small business owners.

I also saw the results of cooperation after tornadoes devastated many parts of Alabama in April 2011. Twelve percent of the city of Tuscaloosa, where I lived at the time, was destroyed, and in the storm’s immediate aftermath, many people were left without food, water, shelter and medical supplies needed for survival. The atmosphere was surreal and hectic, but i look back in awe with the realization i witnessed an entire city pull together to help those in need. Makeshift medical centers were erected in parking lots, people pushed buggies filled with food and bottled water through neighborhoods where residents tried to salvage  belongings, warehouses overflowed with donations and a clearinghouse for organizing volunteers was quickly established. we were all in shock, but using our talents and skills to pitch in where we could was an instinctive reaction. and this is a big part of what makes me think the natural proclivity of human nature is to cooperate rather than compete.

here in the lookout Mountain region, i’ve seen cooperation as well. downtown businesses band together to market their entire districts. and the scenic beauty and natural wonders of the area are enhanced by a unique and innovative partnership among a state park, a national preserve and a university. Here you can read about deSoto State Park, which turns 75 in May. in addition to being one of the oldest state parks in alabama, it boasts an enormous range of programming, giving visitors insights not only into the natural surroundings, but the history and culture of Southern appalachia. little river canyon national Preserve and  Jacksonville State university’s little river canyon Field School, highlighted in previous issues, offer the same. numerous events take place each week.

given the tiny staffs of both parks and the JSu center, the quantity and quality of these programs is astounding. Those involved with them usually sound amazed themselves when they reflect on what their organizations have achieved; and they always give credit to the partnerships they’ve formed – to cooperation. “one  person can achieve tremendous things, but a group of people can do even more,” says Ken Thomas, superintendent of deSoto State Park.

i think what he means is that when people work together, the sum of their efforts is greater than if they had all worked just as hard independently. and that’s one of the things so fascinating about cooperation. another is that, in most cases, when people and organizations put aside personal interests in order to work toward a common goal, they end up benefitting personally as well. The best cooperation creates winwin scenarios. it was in the spirit of this idea that President Franklin roosevelt proposed the program that led to construction of deSoto State Park and more than 800 others during the great depression.

Through the civilian conservation corps, young men earned money to support their families, and natural resources were conserved for future enjoyment. i encourage you to visit the lookout Mountain region and take advantage of the treasures crafted by cooperation here. Spend a day viewing waterfalls at deSoto State Park or hiking in little river canyon. and don’t forget to take in a program or two – there’s sure to be something that will fit your interests. united efforts
Collaboration makes the Lookout Mountain region’s stunning natural treasures even more inviting.

Olivia Grider
ogrider@lookoutalabama.com