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Don't become a victim of "The Mayberry Syndrome"

Published April 16. 2013 05:02PM

I believe that most people enjoy fond memories of some time in their past. We often refer to them as "the good ol' days." Personally, I have wonderful memories of growing up in the "B.C. Era" - "Before Computers."

Now, of course, that's not exactly true. I vividly recall that our family was the first in our neighborhood with our very own personal computer - a Commodore VIC-20 (remember those?) We had a great time playing with that computer. Pac Man was our favorite game, but the computer and joystick weren't glued to the end of our fingers - well, maybe, except for Mom.

Although we had fun with our computer, all of our time was not consumed by constantly checking our Facebook page while at the same time texting our "friends" about the barking cat video that we just uploaded on YouTube - all while blogging about what we did Saturday night.

It was a time when we weren't living virtual lives with virtual friends who tell the whole world (thanks to the world-wide web) what they are having for supper or in which doctor's office they are currently trying to sit because they have hemorrhoids.

When I was growing up, we actually had real, live friends. After supper (provided, of course, that we finished everything on our plates), we would all ride our bikes (remember those too?) to the "ballpark" in our neighborhood to play baseball, football, or anything else we came up with - until it got so dark that we couldn't see the ball anymore. Then we'd ride our bikes home (exhausting, huh?). And we did all of that without wearing a helmet.

Our parents didn't worry about us too much - because they didn't have to. Neighbors kept an eye on us from their windows or when they were walking or driving by. Neighbors helped neighbors - what a novel concept. It was a simpler time.

I'm sure that most people have their own fond memories of "the good ol' days" - so much so that many of us wish that things were still like they used to be, or may even think that they still are the same. You know, it's the idea of "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

Growing up and living in a rural area such as Carbon County, we often times see the same people over and over again. We see them in church, at the post office, and at the store. We know each other's names. They ask us, "How's Aunt Bee's gall bladder?" or "Where did you get that pink flamingo in your front yard? I'd sure like to get me one of those."

Unfortunately, the combined notions of "things around here never change" and "everybody knows everyone" can often times lull us into what I have scientifically termed "The Mayberry Syndrome."

What IS "The Mayberry Syndrome" you ask? Well, after leaving our house unlocked (because why should we lock it?), we hop in our car and drive down to Wally's Filling Station and have Gomer or Goober fill up our gas tank and check the oil - all while enjoying some good conversation and a "pop." Then, we drive downtown, park our car on an unmetered Main Street and take a leisurely walk to Floyd's Barbershop for a haircut and some more good conversation - finally ending our grueling day by stopping in to say "Hey" to Andy and Barney in the Sheriff's Office.

Now, I'm not necessarily saying that it's a bad thing to walk around wearing rose-colored glasses. After all, optimism is all too often a "lost art." However, it's important to remember that the only two places that Mayberry has ever really existed are in the fond North Carolina childhood memories of television icon Andy Griffith and on a lot at Desilu Studios in Los Angeles, California.

The downside of "The Mayberry Syndrome" is that it can often lead us to believe that, "Yes, bad things DO happen … to other people … in other places - NOT to me … NOT to my family and friends … and NOT here!" Many times, we put on blinders so that we don't have to admit that there are problems "right here in our own backyard."

A few years ago, the Lehighton community witnessed first-hand the senseless loss of lives - in different incidents - due to substance abuse. Lehighton Area School District and the Borough of Lehighton did something about it. Inviting all municipalities that comprise LASD to join in the effort - East Penn, Franklin, and Mahoning Townships and the Borough of Weissport - they formed Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force.

This committee brings together schools, community, and local law enforcement in an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of substance abuse. LASD Director of Curriculum, Instructions, and Grants Tim Tkach describes it as "a committee with representation from all parties addressing 'The Big Picture.'"

Rare are those families whose lives have NOT been touched in some way by substance abuse. Hey, even in Mayberry, there were alcohol problems - Otis and others occasionally "hittin' the moonshine."

It's easy for us to put on blinders and dismiss the possibility that our children may abuse drugs and alcohol. "That doesn't happen to people like us. Our children are good kids from a good home." Well, guess what? It can happen to anyone … any family … anywhere … at any time!

Attendance at these meetings started out high. (Maybe, that's not the best term to use here … ) There were a lot of people who attended these meetings - at first. However, as too often happens, we simply begin to forget and find "better things to do." Fluctuating - depending on the exact subject matter - attendance at these meetings has lapsed.

During these meetings, the group realized that substance abuse spawns other related problems - including crime and other forms of abuse. Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch was born!

This group is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the area by helping to prevent or reduce crime by educating the community how to detect suspicious activities and properly report them to the police.

Now, let me make it clear here that this group is NOT looking to form militant or vigilante groups. It's simply "neighbor helping neighbor."

At almost every meeting, I have heard Lehighton Mayor Donald Rehrig say, "You know your own neighborhood. If you see something out of the ordinary, call the police immediately. NEVER approach a possible criminal!"

Unfortunately, attendance at these meetings has also dwindled over the past year. Perhaps, too many of us think, "Let somebody else do it. I'm way too busy for that!" Too busy? Too busy to potentially save lives?

I have been fortunate to be able to attend the meetings of both of these important organizations - and I've learned a lot!

This week, we all have two wonderful opportunities to "help make the world a better place" - by starting "right here in our own backyard."

On Wednesday, April 17, Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch will be the special guests of Jim Thorpe Community Watch at 7 p.m. at Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall - located at 101 East 10th Street in Jim Thorpe.

The Jim Thorpe group has enjoyed success with their program. At this meeting, they will share their knowledge and experience with their counterparts in Lehighton - again, "neighbor helping neighbor."

Those who would like to carpool to Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall are asked to meet at Lehighton Area High School parking lot at 6:30 p.m. If you want to drive directly to the meeting - do it. Just get there!

Following the lead of Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force, Pennsylvania State Representative Doyle Heffley has expanded the call throughout the entire county to become involved in this important issue.

He is hosting a FREE Carbon County Drug and Alcohol Awareness Expo on Thursday, April 18 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at LAHS. It is an effort to raise awareness about the increasing substance abuse among youth in Carbon County and across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

These meetings are not for "other people … in other places." They are for all of us … right here in Carbon County! Let's look at them as opportunities to help prevent tragedies BEFORE they happen - rather than reacting AFTER one by blaming others and asking, "Why didn't YOU do something to prevent this from happening?!"

Together, let's be proactive to prevent what drugs, alcohol abuse, and all sorts of crimes can do to our communities - NOT reactive … after it's too late! It's time that we realize that we're all in this together. Let's make our communities safer for our loved ones, other people's loved ones, and ourselves.

Then, maybe one day -

Cue The Andy Griffith Show theme song -

Whistling … whistling … whistling …

Andy and Barney will look down from "that great Sheriff's Office in the sky" and admit, "You know, … It's no Mayberry - but that's sure a great place to live, learn, work, and play!"

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