Like I said yesterday, when I first heard I'd be going to Hazard, KY for work I was skeptical. All I knew was that there were only 2 hotels in the whole town, I had to fly to Lexington then drive 2 hours southeast to get there, and I was warned of spotty reception. I realize in typing that out that it absolutely sounds like #firstworldproblems, but being a city/suburb gal my whole life these differences were just that, very different and foreign to me.
Don't get me wrong, I love a nice remote location to clear my head and be closer to nature. I just honestly had never heard of this town in my life and coworkers of mine that have traveled for Census for years had even exclaimed that this may be the most random place they've heard of employees traveling to. And you know what? I'm so grateful I visited Hazard.
As you could tell by yesterday's post about Natural Bridge State Park, I had a wonderful first impression. Driving in through the mountains and feeling that sense of 'home' I get whenever I see rolling hills and rocky ledges made me extremely happy. My hotel was right on the outskirts of town and was charming, clean, and had great service with a smile.
Thursday was my only full business day with Wednesday and Friday being dedicated to travel. I woke up early, worked out at the hotel gym, enjoyed a free breakfast of oatmeal and eggs, and got ready to hit the town. My first stop was a salon I had found online for a much needed mani/pedi. My thought process here was that it wad bound to be wayyyy cheaper than what I would pay in DC and it absolutely was. They did a great job, took their time, and both the salon employees and other people there were extremely welcoming.
Of course they could tell right off the bat that I wasn't from there. Eastern Kentuckians have a very distinct twang and drawl that my Pittsburgh/DC life has never exposed me to. When I told them I was visiting town from DC they were all extremely perplexed as to why I was there, but after explaining I was from Census and the workshop we were conducting they understand better and gave me lots of little tips for around town. They were kind, charming, and extremely wholesome... I was very delighted.
What really blew me away was the workshop I attended for work. The whole point of us traveling to Hazard and conducting a workshop was to really hear from the local people what the challenges they anticipate confronting during the 2020 Census and how we can develop solutions to solve these problems. In attendance we had the city planner, the assistant school superintendent, the former governor, the local college president, teachers, librarians, emergency personnel, and so many other great community leaders. What I saw and heard was so very inspiring that I'm almost speechless!
For 3 hours yesterday afternoon I facilitated a workshop with people that, to their core, are passionate and love their town and county. They want to see change but more than that, they want to help change it. They have ideas, they have voices, and they're using those to speak up and implement solutions for their community. I come from a smaller municipality outside of Pittsburgh and I've seen this passion before, but unfortunately being in DC has clouded my judgment with all of the negative things that go on and led me to forget just how impactful each and every individual citizens' influence can be. It was inspiring to say the very least and has further confirmed the fact that I need to get out of DC in the next 5 or so years and move to a community, just like Hazard (albeit likely not quite as rural) where the community members care. They care all day every day about their community and want to be a part of finding and implementing solutions.
So, yes this trip was out of the ordinary and I don't know how often I'll get the change to visit such a small town in Eastern Kentucky, but it was such an extraordinary experience for me. It really inspired and challenged me to think outside of my norm. It surprised me in the best way and introduced me to some of the most wholesome and amazing people this country has to offer. From that I challenge you. Never take any opportunity for granted, no matter how out-of-the-ordinary it may seem, because it likely will lead to something extraordinary.