Often a maturing community is faced with an influx of new faces. With them come new thoughts, ideas, cultures and ways of doing things.
That can sometimes cause a rub for newcomers and established residents.
Kenosha is no different.
It spurred the question Ron Stevens, a lifelong resident and reader of the Kenosha News, posed to Curious Kenosha: “What challenges do new Kenoshans face fitting into the community and what do lifelong residents expect of new residents?”
Depending upon who you talk to, the challenges can be as routine from finding the best places to eat or hang out to literally knowing the city’s rich history and roots.
Stevens, retired Boys & Girls Club chief professional officer, suggests part of the challenge for folks new to the area is that they don’t know Kenosha’s past.
“I would just encourage new people to get to know the history of Kenosha. Go to the History Center. Get to know the community as it existed 20, 30 years ago, things like that,” he said. “For new Kenoshans curious about the community ... if you live west of Green Bay Road, come downtown. See what it’s like on this side as well.”
Derek Leggett, 33, a manager at Mike’s Donuts and Chicken, said that some of the challenges for him moving to the area from Grayslake, Ill., included learning the “number system roads,” or the grid upon which streets (east-west) and avenues (north-south) tend to run. It challenged him in meeting people and finding out where the best “biscuits and gravy” could be had.
Leggett found his niche in volunteering, which helped him become part of the community. Once he did, he found that even a transplant like himself could fit in.
“I do a lot of community work. I do St. Baldrick’s over at the Brat Stop, but I had to learn how to get into that. I do various food drives for the homeless shelters,” he said. “Just finding out how to get involved more in the community.
“Everyone in Kenosha is very community-oriented. Everyone helps out each other. You never see selfish people around here. And it’s just weird coming from where I was from where it was more money-driven. Kenosha’s more people-oriented than anything,” he said.
Kenosha County Board Supervisor Dayvin Hallmon, who moved to Kenosha about 12 years ago from Racine said newcomers definitely will have difficulties unless they’re accepted over time.
“This is the first community I‘ve lived in and visited that requires you to be adopted by the people here before you’re considered legitimate,” said Hallmon, who was elected to the County Board at age 23 while still a student at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
He said. depending on where you live in the city. neighbors have expectations. Closer to the lake, like Allendale, he says, there are “good progressives.” Other areas, such as, Forest Park, “they want to know whether you’re a lifer, who never left,” he said.
“If you’re in the central (city) where I live, they don’t care. In some regard, it’s irrelevant. They want to know you have a sense of history. But it’s not used as a basis for judgement,” he said. “In Strawberry Creek, they don’t even think they’re in Kenosha.”
Another challenge for new residents, Hallmon believes, is the area has yet to understand how to use technology “to its fullest capacity.
“The understanding is still not fully formed here,” said Hallmon. “Kenosha is very timid. It’s like putting the toe in the pool to check out the water, instead of swimming.”
John Hogan, 32, a native Kenoshan, digital media director at Dooley & Associates, said that it is hard sometimes for new people to fit in because the community is well-established.
“I think part of its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness,” Hogan said. “You have these long-standing generations of people who have lived here and are engaged. While that’s a great thing, sometimes that creates cliques. It makes it hard for people to break into these groups. But once they do, they’ve felt accepted and so part of the community.”
Stevens admits that, on the flip side, the challenges may also be a “generational thing.” The influx of new people, he realizes, will include many millennials.
“Sometimes we, as lifelong Kenoshans, need to embrace the potential with the new energy coming to town,” he said. “Look at things they bring and maybe it’s not always seeing it as doing it the way it’s always done just because it’s the way it’s always been done.
“It’s something that if we step back, and maybe see what benefits we can get from the (new people) it can be a plus,” he said.
Tim Mahone, president of Mahone Strategies, said from an employment standpoint he believes new Kenoshans will face and be challenged by what he described as an “entrenched level of social, cultural and economic parochialism.”
“I expect new Kenosha County companies — and the new Kenosha residents they recruit — will match and bring a continued sense of community development and political engagement, creative thought, volunteerism and major downtown investment,” he said. “(It’s all) in order to remain an attractive, viable and competitive city.”
Hogan said new residents also need to work harder to assimilate seeking volunteer opportunities, organizations — whether its the Kiwanis or in things like the Kenosha Area Business Alliance’s Y-Link program, which develops young leaders.
“There’s not any one organization in Kenosha that is a necessity. There are a lot of vibrant organizations in Kenosha about making our community better,” he said. “As millennials, and I’m one, too, at times, you need to break through, and not just be looking at your phone, to be really a part of the Kenosha community.
“It takes real, in-person interaction,” he added.
What do you wonder about the Kenosha area, its people and culture? With Curious Kenosha, we’re looking into the questions that matter to you.Visit www.kenoshanews.com/curiouskenosha to submit your question, read what others have submitted and — when voting rounds are taking place — have your say on which one we answer next.