One wonders how "civic organization" is defined anymore.

There used to be a strong and active ministerial alliance here in western St. Mary.

In fact, they were strong enough to influence political decisions and sway votes, back in the day. I wonder where they got off to. They used to be very vocal. I submit that politics aside, they can be a very powerful force in contributing to the prosperity of this parish without being political. Church-oriented events have been a mainstay of small town life for generations, and city folks just get green with envy over them.

How can a church-oriented group be true to their nature yet participate in community events where certain features – say alcohol – are involved? Offer something different, like an old-fashioned picnic with some dishes folks visiting from outside Acadiana might not be familiar with; pony rides, horseshoe pitching; heck, there’s a lot to be said for a good quilting! The possibilities are many. Not across town, mind you! In association with other events, but distinct. We have to be unified.

Certainly, the ministerial alliance showed their muscle most when it came to issues like bar closings and the like, things important to the religious community, but I’ll wager (pardon the pun) that if such an organization put their collective might behind proactive ideas they’d be a juggernaut. Churches are no different than businesses in as much as a healthy community results in healthy congregations and participation.

Here’s another note: A buncha paddlers at this year’s Bear Festival embarked in a large canoe that Sunday morning on the tour of the bear refuge. They were proudly championing awareness of breast cancer. That was a great idea.

I guess, too, the Jaycees are no more, sort of like lots of other such local civic groups. Sad.

Interestingly enough, Franklin was one of the earliest designated Main Street Programs in Louisiana, and if you go the Louisiana Main Street Program website entry for Franklin, there are five menu items at the bottom: Website, Business Directory, Walking Tour, Profile and Annual Events.

Oddly, the Franklin website link leads to that of a local business owner who has included a few pages of information and pictures of the city; the business directory link is completely blank, the walking tour menu has a map and descriptions of historic properties which may or may not be outdated, the profile link looks pretty much up to date and the annual events section lists only Mardi Gras.

By comparison, New Iberia’s entry turns up their own impressive website, an extensive business directory, a walking tour map with property descriptions, a good profile link and 12 events throughout the year.

St. Mary Parish has a website listed in the parish governments’ statewide association menu, but it’s about as bare bones as you can get. Not even a picture on the whole thing. By comparison, Lafayette’s jumps out at you like a colorful jack-in-the-box, St. Martin’s has some cool animation and a nice color scheme going on with links to all departments and Terrebonne’s, while spartan, is at least somewhat colorful and very informative.

Are we simply unaware of the World Wide Web in western St. Mary Parish? Morgan City’s website kicks serious behind, I can tell you.

Like I mentioned last week, not only does the City of Waxahachie, Texas have a website, but so does the downtown district of Waxahachie have its own website.

A quick search for "Natchitoches" online reveals a tourism website (quote: "That quaint and perky town in the movie Steel Magnolias is real!"), city website, Christmas festival website, Chamber website, parish website and historic Natchitoches website.

Our own merchant’s association does a great job with a handful of annual events and hopefully with an upcoming extension of our Christmas lighting, but seems to spend three-quarters of the year idling at the curb.

Our federal bear refuge, which is essentially unfunded (while we send billions of dollars in aid overseas, you understand) doesn’t get much general public interest in attending various meetings of the support groups for the refuge and associated events. On the other hand, I once offered to do a photo essay in this newspaper of the refuge and its various occupants and features, with no takers.

Bucket tosses are about all groups can do to raise money most of the time around here. But I submit firmly that no community group, fire department, police reserve or anyone else would need to stand at intersections to raise money if we had events and activities and a plethora of ways for them to participate, thereby contributing to the overall quality of the occasion and raising money for their own uses.

There was once a popular saying, "The world will be perfect when our schools have all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."

I’ll paraphrase it to say, "This community will be a better place when our clubs, organizations, school departments and so forth can participate in some of the visionary things we’re going to enact in this community to raise money."

There are powerhouses of influence and creativity in this community: Teachers groups, for instance. Athletic clubs and boosters. Veterans organizations. Church groups.

Here’s the point:

D I V E R S I T Y.

I might not give a jolly dadgumit about Group A and their Event A, and you might not give a rip about my Group D and our Function D and Joe Blow over there might not pay a second thought to Group K’s Activity K.

But that’s diversity. And that’s paramount to success in a creative, visionary community. Something, if not for everyone, then for a pretty big chunk of ‘em.

Which begs the question again: Where are our civic groups? Where has their influence and enthusiasm gone? When did they turn merely self-sufficient, if extant at all?

Why don’t local governments spend a little time to submit information to the organizations they are trying to represent and help them?

St. Mary Landmarks does a fine job of keeping up Grevemberg House and the included museum, on as I understand it a limited budget. I would suggest that their involvement in an overall vision to grow this community would be mandatory.

The old city market is sitting there, paint-bare and weathered. You might point the finger at the city and wag it at them for not doing something with it. Well, why don’t you do something with it? I’m sure an arrangement could be made. A bit of fixing up and some creative, innovative ideas, and the old city market could again be a hub of…what? You decide, and make it happen.

We talked earlier about New Iberia’s Main Street Program entry listing 12 events. Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but they goofed. Missed the actual number by a mile.

Because New Iberia actually boasts 21 events throughout the year, according to their own website. Lo, and behold:

Mardi Gras Parades - February/March

Festival of the Arts - First weekend in March

Fifth Annual Great Gator Race - March

Downtown Art Walk - March

Festival of Live Oaks - March

Relay for Life of Iberia Parish - April

The Bunk Johnson Jazz Festival - May

Laotian New Year Celebration - Spring

The Street Fair - May

Saturday Night On The Teche - Summer

July 4th Celebration

Civil War Encampment

Downtown Art Walk - Fall

Sugar Cane Festival - Last full weekend in September

World Championship Gumbo Cook-off - 2nd weekend in October

Louisiana Crossroads - October - March

Saturday Night On The Teche - Winter

Downtown Merchants Association Christmas Parade - November 27, 2006

Yuletide on the Bayou - 2nd Saturday in December

Shadows Tour of Homes

The Farmer’s Market - Bouligny Plaza; May-November

You’ll note that their events are spread out across the year, so they nearly constantly have venues of interest to one segment of visitors or another.

It takes D I V E R S I T Y.

Will any of this be easy? By no means. It’s going to be tough for those of you – if you choose to – who try to grow this community. You’ll be shot down by negativism, kicked in the teeth with ridicule, it’ll seem hopeless many, many times. Before you even start you’ll wonder, "How in the world can we ever accomplish this?

I’ll tell you how: Try. Don’t give up. Keep at it. If nobody ever tries, nothing will get done.

We are sitting on all of that and more, right here, under our inactive behinds, friends and neighbors. Sitting on it, jealously guarding it, and complaining because nothing is happening with it.

Time for some life-saving measures, folks. A little defibrillation on this community is in order. You pump its chest, I’ll grab the paddles.

Stand back. This is gonna hurt, but it might save its life.