Growing up in the small community of Herkimer, N.Y., I have at times taken for granted the unique atmosphere that a small town has to offer. I come from a place where everybody knows everybody else. We share the same barbers, we use the same car wash and we have the same friends.
These past few months have been tragic for the Mohawk Valley and my hometown community. On Feb. 1, the community had to say goodbye to Julia Bunce, my beloved cousin, friend and classmate of Herkimer’s 2010 graduating class. After years of battling, Julia passed away from leukemia at the age of 20. When she passed, the whole community came out in support for Julia’s family to pay respects and help raise awareness and funds.
After she passed, many members of the community held a bottle drive that was planned before she had passed and turned it into one of the most inspiring moments I have ever experienced. The community turned the local Polish Community Home into a redemption center with thousands and thousands of cans and bottles piled as high as mountains, halfway to the hall’s ceiling. Waves of people were coming in with giant truckloads of bags and boxes, so much that it got to the point where we couldn’t even keep up. A few friends and I actually went door to door collecting whatever bottles and cans we could and we were greeted with bags and bags worth, as well as cash and check donations for the cause.
The other big tragedy to hit my hometown of Herkimer was a shooting on March 13 that left four dead and two injured. A local man named Kurt Myers walked into John’s Barber Shop in the neighboring village of Mohawk and opened fire. He made his way to Gaffey’s Car Wash, a place where I had just washed my car the weekend before, and opened up fire there as well. A standoff took place on Main Street, inside the same building I used to have my Pop Warner Football banquets as a child, finally ending when the FBI entered the building and shot Myers.
While my community was devastated by the events and the loss of its members, it came together and helped out the victim’s families with whatever they could. The week after the shooting there was a massive benefit for the victim’s families with a Chinese auction that took up an entire room, the largest I have ever seen in my life. So many bands and DJs wanted to donate their time that they had to turn some help away. Last weekend, at the local bar named The Silverado, located next to the field I played Little League Baseball on, they had an all-day music festival to continue raising funds for the victim’s families.
When you live in a small community, you take for granted what you are really blessed with: a large family. The great thing about Herkimer and small communities like Herkimer is that they have the ability to come together as a whole and help out when a member is in need. I’m proud to be born and raised in a small community and carry a piece of it with me wherever I go.