It’s a constant conversation: how to move our small communities forward and up.

How to fill downtown storefronts. How to keep our schools and neighborhoods vital.

How to support and grow our industrial sectors. How to safeguard our histories. How to keep our fire stations, sewer lines and streets functioning at a cost we can reasonably afford. How to care for the elderly and the poor.

There’s an unending array of opinions and ideas and consultants ready to help us brainstorm for answers.

What high-priced consultants will tell you is to aim for the kind of progress that will make a lasting difference. The things that we’ll look back on in 20 or 50 years and be glad we made the investment in.

But before you can begin to talk about investing time and dollars you need something fundamental: community members who care. Enough that they’ll put in the time and energy to help investigate solutions and to look for the funding needed to bring ideas to reality.

This week, in both Cambridge and Deerfield, caring was evident.

Local business owners and elected officials who met with Dane County Executive Joe Parisi in Cambridge voiced frustrations about empty downtown storefronts and other challenges, but it was evident that they care – deeply – about the local economy and how to build it up. They sincerely want Cambridge to have a vibrant retail sector.

And in Deerfield, a group of village residents gathered in hopes of keeping the local historical society afloat. Midway through that meeting a flurry of text messages to additional people demonstrated that others, too, actually care.

If enough people care, some of them might be spurred to act.

That the future matters to at least a few people is where the lifting up of our communities begins.

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