It was four years ago, almost to the day, that I moved to Rome. Circumstances in my life had reached a point where the move from metro Atlanta to Rome made sense. I was moving in with someone who was very special to me, starting a new job and a new chapter of my life.

This move didn’t come without hesitation or reservation. I was leaving the place I had lived for over 30 years. I was transitioning from big city dweller to small town resident Sure, I knew a few people here and had a couple of friends, but this was a big change for me. Rome was the smallest city I had ever lived in. I was born and grew up in New York City. This was going to be culture shock.

Though I have a disability I have always prided myself in my independence. Of course I would ask for help from family or friends if I needed it, but I would always exhaust options of how I could manage something myself before asking. This was especially true when it came to transportation. In Atlanta there was reliable public transit, as well as ample supply of taxis and ride shares available. Walking was also a viable option to access many basic needs and entertainment.

These elements were important criteria when picking an apartment in Atlanta. The same cannot be said of Rome, especially in Armuchee. Part of the decision to move here was the understanding that I would have someone who was willing to drive me where I needed to go. Still, this meant surrendering a piece of my prized independence. The benefits still greatly outweighed the costs, and I made the move.

There was certainly an adjustment period, and to this day I still sometimes miss having many necessities so close and open late. It gets easier every day, but it’s still a work in progress.

In Atlanta I was involved in several political and civic organizations, which was important to me. Upon arriving in Rome, I wanted to do the same. Knowing a few people here helped me get my foot in the door. However, something quickly became apparent to me. In Atlanta you could get involved in activities, but they were typically very hierarchical, and it took a long time to be more than just a face in a crowd. Here in Rome, while groups have established leadership structure, they are generally much more welcoming of new people and embrace new blood.

What has also surprised me is the diversity of social, civic, and political organizations that exist here relative to the size of the community. Whatever one’s interests may be, you can find some like-minded people to pursue that interest and be welcomed.

That welcoming spirit goes beyond just individual organizations and seems to extend to the community as a whole. Like any community, Rome has its circle of community leaders – social, civic, political, and religious. What is different about Rome is that people can expand that circle by showing a commitment to the community. It’s not a “zero sum game.”

I feel like I’m an example of this very phenomenon. While I make no claims of being a “mover and shaker,” I do feel I am establishing myself as a voice in town and believe that I can reach out to the influencers of Rome and be heard. In the 33 years I lived in Sandy Springs, I never felt this connected. This helps to prevent stagnation of thought and activity.

Another pleasant difference I have discovered is when participating in the many community activities available here, it’s inevitable you will run into people you know. Whether it’s a Rome Braves game, a bar or restaurant on Broad Street, or one of the many festivals, there will be faces in the crowd you recognize.

As I reflect on my first four years in Rome, I have found myself liking it significantly more than I expected. That’s not to say Rome doesn’t have its problems. Every city does and I will likely comment on them in future columns. I just hope my next four are even better than my first four years in Rome have been.

Vinny Olsziewski has a 40-year career as a disability rights advocate, working with local, state and national organizations and encouraging participation by people with disabilities in the political process.

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