What do 9,056 Pasco people have in common with 54 dogs, 11 horses, six cats, two chickens, two calves, two penguins, two mules, a ferret, a llama, a sheep, a steer, a sandhill crane, a hermit crab, a guinea pig, and a monkey named Ashley?
The answer is — drumroll, please — they've been in one of the 1,794 pictures on the Hometown Pasco page for the central and east edition of the Pasco Times during the past 267 weeks. That's five years and five weeks to be exact.
And just WHO would keep track of all that? Well, let's just say that she's a retired Pasco County educator known by friends and family to hold great passion for reading and writing. She also enjoys tinkering with numbers and organizing things, and she loves creating the Hometown Pasco page.
More than five years ago, Times editors thought Hometown Pasco would be good for central and east Pasco readers. I heard the Times was looking for someone to organize readers' submissions for the page, and I practically begged for the job. It seemed credentials I had in news writing from undergraduate days would help, and I've long felt that good, positive news reveals the true backbone of a community.
It wasn't that I needed an extra job. I was plenty busy then in the school system as a reading specialist at Fox Hollow Elementary, and I honor my wife and mother roles. But going back to first grade, I've loved news writing, filling primary tablets with stories of mountain farm happenings, the first robin in spring or my grandma's birthday.
The only college in the country this mountain girl could afford — Berea College in Kentucky, where no tuition is charged — to my dismay, did not offer a journalism program. I begged my way onto the town newspaper staff, writing community stories solely for the love of doing them. There was no pay, just pleasure at putting good, positive people in the news.
Hometown Pasco sounded similar to that.
I was thrilled when I was hired to create Hometown Pasco. It was tough going at first, with many late nights on dark east Pasco roads, attending events, meeting people, spreading the word about this new feature and sometimes snapping pictures of people doing good things that might never make the front page but are the foundation on which a strong community survives. Those things need a place to be highlighted, and Hometown Pasco is the perfect spot.
Readers sent their submissions and pictures. They revealed intense human kindness with young and old reaching out to support others in times of need. There were touching personal stories, times of celebration, moments of achievements and sometimes just the sharing of everyday life.
Hometown became an important part of my life, and even when I slip off to my beloved North Carolina mountains, I locate the nearest Internet cafe, plug in my laptop and check my e-mail daily for Hometown news.
A couple of years back, Hometown expanded to include a page in the west Pasco edition. Working full time in the school system then, I knew it would be a stretch for me to take that job on, but I've been keenly aware of the page and how readers responded. Like those in central and east Pasco, they've found it to be a page of news and pictures that are clipped and posted on refrigerators, mailed to out-of-town family and pasted in scrapbooks.
Recently it seemed to make good sense to have one person do both pages of Hometown — not combining them, but having the same person compile the different pages that appear in the central/east and west Pasco editions.
I had more time on my hands after retiring from the school system in 2007, so when I was approached with the idea of picking up the west Hometown Pasco page, the timing was right.
Beginning June 7, I'll have the privilege of organizing the Hometown pages for both the central/east and west Pasco editions. They'll continue to be two distinct pages, highlighting the particular areas of our county where events occur. Occasionally there will be news that applies to the entire county. That'll make Hometown too.
I welcome and encourage readers to send me their news and pictures. I promise to do my best to highlight all the wonderful things happening in our Pasco communities.