A cheap investment in community

How do you measure community? Let us count the ways.

You could start with some brick and mortar, a physical space, like the 27,000 square-foot National Historic Landmark and former grammar school sitting at 276 East Napa Street in Sonoma.

Since the walls of that building have been consecrated by the voices of children and adults, learning and laughing, teaching and acting and singing together for coming up on 100 years, you could count the variety of activities currently organized under that building’s renovated roof. That would have to include the scores of classes in ceramics, fiber arts, music, jewelry making, culinary arts, drawing and painting, languages, movement, master gardening, acting and making music, plus all the community meetings held there every year.

Or you could count the number of annual events that bring together thousands of Sonomans in celebration, appreciation and revelry, starting with the 4th of July parade, which seems to attract more people to be in it and watch it than the total population of the town.

Then there’s the annual city party, which turns the Plaza into a mass of happy humanity; or the free Thanksgiving dinner, open to literally everyone; or the Trashion Fashion Show, quickly gaining traction as one of the town’s most innovative, quirky and popular events.

And there’s the annual Muse celebration, honoring our historic forebears, and Dia de los Muertos, which turns ancestral recognition into macabre merrymaking, and the Holliday Follies Review and the Winter Concert Series. Let’s not forget Dancing with Our Stars, the Chili Bowl Express and Beervana, an annual orgy of malt and hops.

Just under way is the eight-month season of the Sonoma Theatre Alliance, a collaboration of six theater companies presenting a non-stop playbill from April through November, beginning this Friday, April 17, with “Little Shop of Horrors.” In the notable line-up of other upcoming productions are “The Full Monty,” “Alice: The Rebellion of Wonderland,” “Dracula” and “Hearts on the Line.”

These theatrical tours de force are presented on the Rotary Stage, in the beautifully upgraded Andrews Hall, a facility that helps further define the meaning of community because its restoration was made possible through a $100,000 grant from the Rotary Club of Sonoma Valley.

That building, and all these activities and events, have their roots planted in the Sonoma Community Center, which is the host, producer and catalyst for much of the community richness we enjoy in this valley.

Remarkably, the Community Center does all this with a tiny staff and a dues-paying membership of only 400. Which is crazy wrong. The range of benefits offered by the community center would suggest an organization at least 10 times as big. The center’s membership drive, running through April, has the modest goal of reaching 800. There’s no reason that goal shouldn’t be reached. But it will take a modest shift in awareness, since many of us take the Sonoma Community Center for granted.

Always been there, always will be, but that is only true if we are always there to support it.

Memberships start at $40 ($50 for families) and that’s a bargain.

You can join at sonomacommunitycenter.org, or just drop in with a check. It’s a cheap way to invest in real community.