If you've ever had the opportunity to move into a new school, new church or new town, you know there's a whole lot more to the process than it may look on surface. Putting a person into a location physically is just the very small first step toward belonging.

In order to feel comfortable and accepted by the other people at that new location, you are going to have to share some experiences. And since communication and shared experiences require more than a single individual, someone at that location is going to have to be willing to interact.

At NSU and every other university, a big part of Freshman Orientation is encouraging those new students to build connections by making friends, joining organizations and being open to new experiences. They know that a student who never feels a part of the community is at greater risk of dropping out.

Community - it's not the buildings, streets and sewer lines. Community is the connection to other people, built through shared experiences or goals. It's belonging.

Since the original announcements of the building of the new casino, the new medical clinic, and the OSU medical school expansion, the city of Tahlequah has been excited, anticipating all the new families who may be moving to town. Our schools, our churches, our civic groups all are poised for growth.

We want to encourage these as-yet unknown families to choose to live in Tahlequah. We talk about how much more Tahlequah has to offer than surrounding towns. No one else has a university, a vo-tech, tribal governments, vibrant health systems, a river, and the lakes all in one location like we do. But we need to recognize that having these things won't build our community.

What builds community is interaction with people. The people of Tahlequah make the difference between our city and those others. Sometimes it is tempting or easiest to ignore the new individual in the room. It's more comfortable to focus on your friends and people you've known for years.

I'm asking you to open that big heart of yours, the one that recognizes how awkward it is to be the new person in a group. All the little one-on-one conversations and interactions you have over the next few months will be what will make a difference in the population of Tahlequah.

If you should meet someone new to Tahlequah, please be the someone who is willing to interact. Invite the newcomer to visit your church, to go to your next club meeting, to grab a beverage and talk. Build community by building connections.

Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.

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