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Community efforts prove that we are Las Vegas strong — VIDEO

Updated October 6, 2017 - 7:48 pm

Las Vegas isn’t a real community. It’s a gathering place for short-timers and transients who scurry home each night to cinder block wall-surrounded homes to hide from their neighbors, avoiding human interaction until that blessed day when they can leave and move to a real city.

We’re in mixed company, so let’s just say: Balderdash.

In fact, for all the horror the past week has brought us, Southern Nevadans’ response to Sunday’s shootings at the Route 91 Harvest festival has proved that we really are a community — and a strong, compassionate one at that — whether the metric used in gauging “community” is bottles of water donated, units of blood given, dollars contributed or number of hugs shared.

It’s a reality the rest of the world is seeing. Maybe it’s a reality that some of us who live here needed to be reminded of, too.

“I think most Las Vegans can feel this yin and yang, with people who love Las Vegas and what a fun place it is and people who say, ‘Wow, I’d never live there. That’s not a real community,’” said novelist and College of Southern Nevada professor Laura McBride.

Remember that most Las Vegans came here from someplace else and are Las Vegans by choice, not by chance. That, McBride said, may have contributed to the zeal with which Southern Nevadans have supported one another.

“One of the things about Las Vegas is, we know how to make a community,” she said. “We weren’t just born into (this) one. It isn’t just there, the way it was for our parents and our grandparents. We know how to make a community, and how to make a community across lines that we wouldn’t necessarily have to in more established places.

“So I think all of those skills and all of those experiences and all of the ways that Las Vegans are interacting with people who are different from them in a way gives us more ability to respond in the moment to something like this.”

McBride, a 30-year Las Vegan, isn’t surprised by the outpouring of support the valley has seen: “Where I live, this is what human beings are.”

Adopting a hometown

Sandra L. Romero learned of the shootings Monday morning and spent most of the day trying to find someplace to help out. She first moved to Las Vegas in 2003 and, between stints as a contract cook on oil rigs and other remote locations, always returned to the place that “I’ve always considered home.”

Romero finally posted a message on Facebook offering rides to anyone needing to travel to California’s Imperial Valley, where her family lives. Nobody took her up on the offer, but Romero said the outpouring of support she saw confirmed that she chose her adopted hometown well.

Outsiders think of Las Vegas as “Sin City,” she said, but the past week “allowed us an opportunity to shine a different light, and I like that.”

‘A small town in a big-city costume’

Community spirit also can take the form of a grass-roots fundraiser. Graham Kahr is helping to organize a charity bicycle ride Saturday that begins at the Huntridge Tavern and continues on to the Bunkhouse and ReBar. Proceeds will go to the GoFundMe.com campaign created by Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak to assist victims of the shooting.

Kahr, a lifelong Las Vegas resident, said the fundraiser came together quickly on Monday, with bar owners and bike clubs all pitching in.

“I’m constantly impressed by how much of a community Las Vegas is,” he said. “We’re a small town in a big-city costume, and you don’t have to look far to see true acts of community here all the time, and I feel this tragedy really gives us a chance to prove that thesis.”

The urge to give

Here’s a metric of community spirit: 670 donations of blood collected on Monday and 501 on Tuesday.

“On a typical day, we see in the neighborhood of 100 to 150 across the donation centers,” said Julie Scott, senior director of strategic marketing for United Blood Services.

Scott, who’s from Denver but is assisting United Blood Services with its donation efforts in Las Vegas, said lines began forming at the agency’s main collection site at about 2:30 a.m. Monday, just hours after the shooting occurred, and staff arrived at about 3:30 a.m., she said. The day’s first donation was taken around 4:15 a.m., and the last donor left between 9:30 and 10 p.m. that night.

“The people here have been just inspiring,” she said. “I don’t know what other word to use to describe the kindness and the compassion and the support to one another. It’s truly inspiring.”

Online community

Another metric of community spirit: Nearly $9.8 million raised in just five days on Sisolak’s GoFundMe page.

The response — which, a GoFundMe spokesman confirmed, had raised a GoFundMe record-setting $9.8 million in online and offline donations as of Friday — leaves, for Sisolak, “no doubt we are a community.”

Maybe some outsiders “didn’t view us as being a community,” he said. “But I sure view us as being a community.”

“It’s always been there,” Sisolak said, “and this just … shined a light on it.”

Are you OK?

Another metric of community spirit: The number of conversations over the past week that have begun with some variation of “Are you OK?”

“I have seen people just generally seem to be more caring and asking, ‘Are you OK?’ first, because they don’t know,” said Leslie Carmine, director of media and community relations for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. “A family member could have died. So people are asking that first and then going on with business.”

Carmine said Catholic Charities began seeing donors and volunteers arrive at its doorstep early Monday morning, and that so much bottled water, snack items, canned goods and baby care items were donated that another person donated the use of a trailer to hold it all.

As of Thursday morning, about 24,000 pounds of food and water had been donated, said Carmine, and “we received a lot of cash donations as well.”

“I’ve never, personally, witnessed anything like this before,” said Carmine, who has lived here 17 years. “I’m still kind of reeling from it.”

A permanent remembrance

A client entered Club Tattoo Monday asking for a tattoo featuring the words “Las Vegas” and Sunday’s date, said Joni Felix, store manager at the company’s Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood studio.

That inked-on remembrance prompted Club Tattoo to offer Las Vegas-themed tattoos for $50, all of which, Felix said, “will go straight to the families and victims.”

A sense of community? “You can feel it everywhere,” said Felix, who moved to Las Vegas 14 years ago from Los Angeles and, before that, the Philippines.

Felix always has found a strong sense of community. But, she said, “since we’ve never had something like this happen, I guess it’s a bit surprising in magnitude, the love and the support.”

Not just the Strip

Major Cheryl Kinnamon, Clark County coordinator for the Salvation Army, has been amazed that “all over the city, people have come out, trying to find ways to give back and help with this horrible situation.”

“I don’t know I’m surprised by it, though,” she said. “When something as evil as what happened on Sunday night happens, the best in people comes out to overcome that evil, and that’s what this community is doing.”

Kinnamon moved to Las Vegas in January, and she said the community’s response emphasizes the often-forgotten fact that “we’re not just the Strip.”

“We are people who work here, who have families, who have friends, and we are a community just like every other community in the world,” she said. “And we do love each other, even though the outside world may not see all that.”

Contact John Przybys at reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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