By Kelly Hines

If you live in Winston-Salem, chances are you’ve heard about Mike Week. In February this year, the beloved downtown restaurant Skippy’s Hot Dogs closed due to owner Mike Rothman’s diagnosis of brain cancer. This week, Skippy’s has reopened for one week only under the helm of a band of downtown chefs in a benefit for Mike. “Mike Week” became a phenomenon on day one, with patrons who knew and loved Mike and Skippy’s flocking downtown. But it wasn’t just the regulars standing in line – it was people who’ve never been to Skippy’s, and had never even met Mike.

The power of Mike Week is in part a testament to Mike Rothman, but it’s even more a testament to the power of community.

Community is a strange thing – sometimes, we don’t even know we’re part of it until we’re removed from it. I remember too well the isolation that new motherhood brought; those lonely days and sleepless nights. And while I had friends and family around me, I felt very alone. I didn’t want to express my doubts or my concerns, because it would make me seem (so I thought) like a failure. By chance, I found community one late night trolling the internet. An online community of mothers, some of whom were in the same spot I was, some who were on the other side of it, all of whom were willing to talk and let me talk. Safe behind a screen, I was able to be completely honest with ‘strangers’ in a way that I found it difficult to be with my ‘real-life’ friends. Plus, these women were funny and smart and said what they wanted to say – it was refreshing and honest and real. Today, nearly 15 years later, the online community is gone, but many of those friendships remain.

Community can built around a single commonality, and sometimes the thread is tenuous. Churches and schools bring together people of different backgrounds and beliefs and lifestyles. Neighborhoods make best friends out of polar opposites based entirely on proximity. Rarely do we choose our communities on any real criteria other than – are you there? Do we coexist in basically the same sphere? But when we build our communities, when we take time to nurture each other and deepen those relationships – communities thrive.

My husband has a favorite saying – service is often uncomfortable and inconvenient. Community is kind of like that as well. Sometimes, being part of a community is really, really inconvenient. There are days when I don’t want to do stuff like, put pants on. There are days when a friend cancels plans and I am secretly, guiltily, relieved. And sometimes, being part of a community is really, really uncomfortable. I am not a big fan of opening up and telling a friend about things that are worrying me. Yet this week I found myself doing exactly that not once, but TWICE (this is a watershed for me, friends). Both of these times, I was met by exactly what I love about my friend-community – skippysempathy, love, and no judgment. Many times I have to force myself to be part of my community, but I never, ever regret it.

Sometimes, community can change a life. Over and over at the overflow homeless shelter, I have seen people (guests and volunteers alike) transformed. I have seen people who are, by every definition, lost, find their way through community. For so many of us, the thing that keeps us going, the thing that gives us hope, the thing that brings respite in a world that is often full of trials and doubt, is community.

While I think what’s happened with Mike Week is fantastic, I am not surprised by it. There is no limit to what can be accomplished when people come together. Go out and be part of your community, even when it is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Teach your children that we are never greater as individuals than we can be as a community. While you’re at it, go get a hot dog.

*Mike Week at Skippy’s Hot Dogs runs through Saturday, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Skippy’s is located at 624 W. 4th Street in Winston-Salem. For more information, visit their Facebook page HERE.