December 22, 2011 —
I’ve heard that expression bandied about for years, and being unclear as to its origins, did some research. Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org ) never fails me, and I learned several things pertaining to the adage, including the fact that “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us” is a book published in 1996 by First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton. In it, Clinton presents her vision for the children of America. She focuses on the impact individuals and groups outside the family have, for better or worse, on a child’s well-being.
I recall being inspired by Clinton’s zeal and ability to reach millions with her message. The book’s title is attributed to an African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The saying and its origin as an African proverb were in circulation before it was adopted by Clinton as the source for the title of her book. According to the website, “It originated from the Nigerian Igbo culture and proverb ‘Ora na azu nwa’ which means it takes the community/village to raise a child. The Igbo’s also name their children ‘Nwa ora’ which means child of the community. Long before the first lady adopted the expression, it was in existence in Africa for centuries, and the saying previously provided the source for the title of a different book, ‘It Takes a Village’ by Jane Cowen-Fletcher, published in 1994.”
Flash forward to Sullivan County, the village in which I reside. I often find myself in awe of the incredible community service that abounds in the Catskills—not just in Sullivan County, but throughout the region. At a holiday party last year, I ran into David Dunlap, who informed me about the holiday magic that he and his wife Corinne (along with scores of elves) had been putting together as a gift for the community throughout the holiday season. Having missed out last year, I was determined to put their vision of Santa’s Village, which took place on Friday and Saturday, December 16 and 17 this year, on my must-see list, and did just that this past weekend.
Now in its third year and sponsored by Hilltop Homes (www.facebook.com/pages/Hilltop-Homes ), the event is well on its way to becoming (IMHO) legendary. Dunlap and company work tirelessly to create this fantastical display, replete with well over 100,000 lights, snowmen, reindeer, a working train that runs through the village and a cocoa and cookies station. In addition, families had an opportunity to have their picture taken with the fat man inside Santa’s workshop and this year, the great team at Thunder 102 radio (www.thunder102.com ) provided a live broadcast from the event.
DJs Paul Ciliberto and Mike Sakell were kind enough to invite yours truly to stop by the Thunder 102 tent, so with Dharma (the wonder dog) in tow, I made my way, guided by the zillion lights illuminating the display and met up with the guys and special guests, musical brothers Ken and Barry Somerville (www.somerville  brothers.com), who performed holiday classics for the continual stream of visitors who had heard that Santa was in town.
It may take a village, but I have to give Dunlap and family their props. Although the first to acknowledge that he “couldn’t possibly do it alone,” (and the assistance is considerable), it’s Dunlaps’ vision that has become a testament to what a community can accomplish when banded together in the name of “good will toward men.” Having stopped by earlier in the day before the magic began, I spoke with Dunlap, who gave me a little “back stage” tour before the crowd began to swell. “We figure that by this time [the last weekend before Christmas] people are worn out from the hustle and bustle, and this is our way of giving something back. After running around, stuffing stockings and spending their hard-earned dollars, this two-day event (which is free of charge) is our way of giving to the community-at-large.”
Families were encouraged to drop off gifts for those in need (Toys for Tots) and several other sponsors have now hopped on board to assist. As I chatted on-air with the Thunder team, I was awestruck by the mountain of toys that appeared, the cozy fire that kids could warm their hands around as they stood on line, patiently waiting for their turn to see Santa and Mrs. Claus and the countless volunteers (many of whom were students from the area), all giving of their time and considerable effort in helping Dunlaps’ dream come to life.
I am often overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of spirit that I find in the Upper Delaware region, and Santa’s Village is just one example of how entire communities rally for the greater good. Just observing this event makes me want to be a better person and if I can be even a small part of this brand of “village,” I am on board.