NELDON: Looking back on a year of togetherness

One year ago, Leader Publications published its 39th edition of Horizons. Packed with stories about progress, innovation, forward-thinking and up-and-coming leaders, we broke our tradition of recounting the past 365 days and instead focused on the coming year. We even had a clever theme: A 2020 Vision for the Future.

Following up on years of forward momentum, planning and construction in Niles, Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg and Buchanan, we predicted a booming year for businesses throughout southwest Michigan.

We didn’t know that those businesses would face one of the most challenging years they have ever faced.

We wrote about libraries, nonprofits, colleges, churches and public schools and their new, innovative ways of incorporating technology to enhance their offerings.

We didn’t know those tools would transition from being added benefits to lifelines for these organizations in a matter of days.

Two weeks after this publication printed, businesses were forced to close their doors. Schools sent students home without knowing when they would see them again. Days were filled with nervous scrolling on news sites as everyone desperately searched for answers to questions that nobody could give us.

We donned new accessories: face masks and hand sanitizer, parked our cars in the driveway and became well acquainted with takeout food, streaming services and virtual communication platforms.

Separated from everyone not in our own households, we faced isolation, loneliness, fear and frustration. Thanks to a global pandemic, racial division, political tension and an economic crisis, 2020 is one many of us would like to forget ever happened.

However, as journalists, our job is to chronicle history — to create a reference of the events, decisions, people and places that shape our communities. Often referred to as our “community yearbook,” Horizons is typically filled with stories of progress — profiles on exceptional individuals, new organizations, trends and initiatives. We focus mostly on positive stories, using the space to celebrate success.

As we pondered the best way to reflect on all that has happened, one common theme kept resurfacing: connection.

As it turns out, most of us depend on interactions with others. When faced with a challenge, we lean on others for comfort. When we experience success, we yearn to celebrate with others. When we witness others in hardship, we rally the troops to help those individuals.

In spite of rules to stay apart, we witnessed people working together time and time again this year — usually at a safe distance.

Inside your newspaper today is the 40th anniversary edition of Horizons, which celebrates all that puts the “unity” in “community.”

We may not know what the coming year has in store, but this past year has taught us that no matter the odds, our communities will get through it — together.

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