As much of “small town America” is hollowed out with a resurgence of populations shifting back towards cities and their amenities, jobs, entertainment and the various other benefits that they provide, many might wonder why some resist the tidal urge and choose to remain part of their rural communities.
The dynamic is reminiscent of local news interviewing a hurricane hold-out that refuses to leave despite having every reason to pick up stakes and get out of dodge.
However, what is lost in the flash and glow of city lights are the things that people find so appealing about small-town America: cost of living, familiarity, multi-generational family businesses, low crime, good schools and perhaps most importantly, community.
In a small town, everyone is your neighbor. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the small community of Kent City, Michigan came together to support one of their own after tragedy struck a local family.
Kent City is just about as deceiving a name as they come. The small town is comprised of an estimated population of just under 1,200 and land acreage that is populated with more apple trees than people.
In a town where everyone knows your name, events that might not rise to the level of front page news in Grand Rapids, a metropolitan area of over 1 million and just 15 miles south of Kent City, a small community can be rocked by them.
Local high school senior, Alex Solorio, passed away unexpectedly on November 25, 2019, just ten days after his 18th birthday.
Solorio, an avid soccer fan, played for the Kent City Eagle varsity soccer team and earned the sportsmanship award at the conclusion of their 2019 fall season. News of his passing impacted the greater Kent City and the local soccer communities that had come to know Alex over the years.
Just a little over a week later on December 4th, local pizzeria Papa Piccione’s, owned and operated by local and Kent City graduate, Jeff Sabin and his wife, decided to use their business to raise funds for the Solorio family in their time of mourning.
Sabin first began using his small business as a means to raise money for various causes in 2012. Since then, the pizza parlor has raised money for families in need, local sports programs and non-profits, and most recently the Solorio family. Sabin did not know the Solorio family personally, but in a small town everyone is your neighbor. Everyone is like family.
We reached out to Sabin to inquire what led him to host the fundraiser:
“I’m a local Kent City graduate and have two kids of my own, so this broke my heart deeply. I have a soft spot for my community and will help them any time I can.”
In the end the fundraiser topped at just over two thousand dollars over the course of the 12-hour day.
There is never “good” that comes out of the tragedy of losing such a young and beloved member of a small community like Kent City, but there can be love and that was on full display as neighbors came to support one of their own.
If there is one thing the residents of Kent City have shown this holiday season, it is that there is still something worth protecting in small town America.
Memorial donations may be made to the Kent City High School Soccer program.