That’s typically the reaction I get when I hear folks describe their love mostly hate relationship with this city. And if I’m being honest, I’m guilty too.
That said, most military towns are known to be more of the same. A mix of low-budget strip clubs, pawn shops, cheap bars and motels, used-car lots, tacky strip malls, big box stores, and way too many fast food restaurants. Not to mention almost everything can be purchased on a lay-a-way plan.
A couple of weeks ago while eating at the Waffle House with my husband, I asked fellow diners how they felt about Jacksonville. One couple raved about how they requested to return to the area to raise their kids and expand their family. Then I ran into an old friend who shares a similar story as my own. Our parents were stationed at Camp Lejeune back in the day, and we both graduated from a local high school. Go Cardinals! We couldn’t wait to leave this place. Going away to college was our golden ticket out of here.
In my early 20s, I remember Jacksonville being claustrophobically small; a black hole with insufficient opportunities and only one Wal-Mart. Fast forward 16 years later. I returned to Jacksonville last year as a wife, Mom of three, thriving business owner and ready to make Jacksonville my “for now” home.
But…wait for it….
There are three Wal-Marts now.
Small cities can be a bit bipolar in a sense. Their charm and appeal exist, like beauty, but only in the eye of the beholder. Jacksonville is one of those unique places. Jacksonville is a southern military town that blends convenience and patriotism with small-town charm. Jacksonville is a haven for affordable, easy living for natives and newcomers alike with a nearby coastal lifestyle nestled just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean. According to Forbes, this community of 70,000+ residents is one of the fastest-growing small cities in America, due to the huge presence of Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base and New River Air Station.
Jacksonville is the quintessential military town that welcomes all. It’s a community where everyone says hello and mean it. And if you’ve ever been to Jacksonville, if only for a brief moment, you’re bound to run into a familiar face. Living here offers you the best of both worlds: the inclusiveness of a small Southern town, love of country and the vitality of a community that appreciates its past, present and future.
So how does one try and make a conscious effort to fall in love with this city, even if it’s temporary:
Find your tribe.
We’re all super busy with jobs and relationships and kids. I get it. But it only takes a few good friends to make an unfamiliar place feel like home. It all starts with looking for like-minded people in the right places. If you don’t drink, going to a bar may not be the best use of your time. If you hate running, don’t join a running club to meet people. You get where I’m going with this. Find out what interests you and seek people with similar interests. Surrounding yourself with people in the same industry/profession is also a great way to find common ground and make valuable connections.
Get out of the house.
It’s important to get outside the walls of your home. If I never left my house or base, I would despise this place too. Eat inside the restaurant instead of zipping through the drive-thru. Join a gym instead of exercising alone in your living room. Instead of binging on Netflix go to a local theater and see a live play.
Say YES to everything.
Did you get invited to learn how to salsa dance by someone who doesn’t know you have two left feet? So what, just go. If a neighbor invites you to check out a new nail salon, say yes. Maybe an invite to a new church? Yes, please! When a creepy guy asks you to go for a ride in his van, ummmm run. But seriously, saying yes creates opportunities for you to meet more people, have more experiences and create new memories.
Choose a cause that’s near and dear to your heart and commit a few hours of your time to volunteering at a local charity such as the Onslow Soup Kitchen. You’ll feel good about your efforts while helping your community and meeting other kindhearted people who feel passionate about the same things you do. Winning!
Be a localist
When you love your city, you give back to your city. Shopping small and supporting your local stores allows for more of your dollars to circulate in your community than when you shop at big-box chains.
When the boutique owner sets aside a dress, she thinks you’ll love, or the local barista prepares your favorite coffee the moment you walk in the door, you start to feel that the community knows you and appreciates you and your business. Establishing those relationships makes it a lot easier to love where you live. Now if we could just get our city officials to support our local small businesses too, I personally would be a happy camper.
It’s possible that you can do all of the above and still end up not liking Jacksonville, but it’s also possible that you’ll change your mind completely and fall madly in love with this place. You don’t always have to skip town—you just need to get to know it a little bit better.