Moving back home to Chico this last month I have been surprised by some notable changes to the town over the last few years. For instance, the increased traffic really kind of bothers me. If you grew up in this town you might notice this too, especially if you took an extended vacation like I did while I was in the Marines. It seems like the city is growing, and while there is certainly room for the added population, the physical infrastructure itself is constrained. Driving across town this August I asked a friend if the students had come in early this year, and she told me this was the pre-student traffic – the students had not come in yet!
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At the same time it’s not so bad. I have been putting a lot of use on the several roundabout traffic circles near Upper Park and remember not liking these too much when they were first put in. I can’t seem to remember why. Anyone that knows me might tell you I cannot stand stopping - stop signs and stop lights are a huge annoyance to me. I guess when the roundabouts first came out, there was this awkwardness with people as they worked through the learning curve of how to use them. It’s just a bit of added friction that comes with encountering something new, but once you have navigated the familiarization phase, roundabouts actually become quite enjoyable. It’s certainly better than getting stuck behind the long stop lines that were starting to become prevalent on Manzanita.
Turns out there is a great little story about these roundabouts that a lot of locals in Chico probably have no idea about. As I was exploring some of the online activity and sites in the area I came across an old WordPress blog called Random Acts of Chico. In it there is an article by Victor Cantu about Dan Cook, (pictured above) a retired civil engineer who lived on Manzanita, and who upon learning of the city’s plans to uproot the trees and pour concrete to widen the road along that drive took it upon himself to propose a better solution. The post is really a phenomenal gem of local history and I was glad to discover it. Dan Cook “completed his assignment on earth” in 2011 so added hat-tip to Victor for getting this done in 2008.
Then I started looking around the blog and realized it was sort of a one-time project by a class of Chico State students.
Random Acts of Chico focuses on looking at daily life through an optimistic lens. We try and praise our community’s positive aspects by highlighting businesses and people who have made our local community a better place through their efforts.
Random Acts of Chico is currently an online publication produced by five Chico State students, all taking Susan Brockus’ course Magazine Writing in the fall of 2009.
Each student published a focus series on a positive aspect of Chico, and since this is something very similar to what I do, I have to say I was impressed with what I found. For ease of reference, here are the links to each of the student blog segments.
- Victor Cantu: The Man Who Saved Chico’s Oak Trees
- Kyle Yamamoto: The Face Behind Up ‘Till Dawn
- Meghan Brown: From Their Grounds to the High Heavens, Augie’s is Doing Their Part
- Amanda Hasaka: Café Culture Serves Up Food, Music and Fun
- Gillian Roberts: Healing The Community, One Sound At A Time
For the sake of brevity, I will just highlight one more of the segments here.
Like many Chicoans I have a unique perspective on the whole college Greek culture. My friends and I used to hang out at the old Woodstocks (I think it was) over by where the downtown bus station is, and just wait for the inevitable car accidents as drivers stretched their necks to catch the sorority rush activities on display. Somebody should look it up, but I think there used to be a car wreck at that intersection every year, lol! Then of course there are the party houses and it all kind of goes without saying that it’s part of having a University in our town.
There is also another side to the whole sorority/ fraternity movement which is really a positive part of the education experience and community. Some of the groups are fairly prestigious for their academic standards for instance. I remember participating in the Greek Week games with my local company doing tug-o-war. We were doing pretty good too until we went up against another local company that was Samoan owned, lol! Why are Samoans so huge?! Sometimes though it just seems anything you hear about in the local news is something one of the Greek houses did that puts a stain on the community and school.
It was really refreshing to learn about the Up ‘Til Dawn fundraising event for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital headed by Chico State’s Larry Bassow, who also happens to be the coordinator for the Greek Life student program. Apparently Chico State leads the nation as a model for fundraising for charitable causes, so he sets a great example.
Bassow believes that one of his most important responsibilities is to help students develop a greater sense of community, both on campus and in the community. The challenge, he says, is to “help them think beyond themselves” and see themselves as having the ability—and the responsibility—to make positive changes in their community.
The best part of this for me was seeing a group of journalism and PR students taking the time to develop out some media exposure for these kinds of things… acts that make a difference in the community but which otherwise might not be more than thankless voluntary sacrifices. Exposure would not appear to be the reason these people do what they do – you might say these things are more along the lines of random acts of kindness – but these are the types of stories that are essential to let people know how great things are. It provides a social balance to some of the media driven by business interests, ratings, and similar public relations initiatives. There is always a bias – even if not a conscious one, so why not balance that out with community driven journalism.
I recommend taking a look into the other articles posted by these students for more Random Acts of Chico. The only thing I might say is it is a bit unfortunate this appears to be a one-off kind of event. I was pleased to see that they are still up on WordPress and that is a kind of tribute to the Open Source philosophy for free media publishing by that platform. I wonder too where these students are today now that they have surely graduated and moved on to their professional careers.
As a footnote to this segment I should mention this all speaks very highly to Chico State’s Journalism and Public Relations program. The professor who ran the class for this project is now the Department Chair and has since changed her name to Susan Wiesinger.