Opinion: Readers who share their lives with you

Our newsroom is made up of nearly 150 journalists.

They include reporters, editors, page designers, digital producers, our editorial cartoonist – and so many others who work hard each day to bring you the news.

We’re proud of our coverage, but as much as we try, we can’t be everywhere at once.

Earlier this year, we turned to you for help – and you answered.

More than 300 readers stepped forward and volunteered to become a community contributor – a group of informed citizens who serve as our eyes and ears in their communities, share their personal stories and help spread the word about our strong journalism.

Our network includes a former judge, heads of non-profits, retirees and high school students, to name a few.

In today’s Living & Arts section, you’ll find an inspirational story from our youngest community contributor yet – a second grader whose diary provides a unique perspective on how we’re all coping with the coronavirus. (The idea stemmed from a homework assignment from her mother.)

Our community contributors are as diverse as our newsroom – men and women; young and old, and reflect a wide range of races and ethnicities.

Each shares a common bond: They all believe in our mission.

“The AJC plays a vital role in the direction of this city, state and country,” one community contributor wrote. “I would love to add my perspective.”

Another said: “I love this idea to give more of a voice to readers. I will do my best to explain what is going on in the community that I live in.”

A third community contributor summed it up best: “I look forward to learning, being heard and supporting the First Amendment and a free press.”

Of course, our trained professional journalists are still covering the hard-hitting stories that matter.

They’re keeping a watchful eye on your elected officials.

They’re celebrating the people, places and events that define metro Atlanta and make it so special.

In short, they’re covering your community like never before.

As for our newest contributors, they’re sharing stories that might otherwise go untold. While they may not be professionals, their personal writing styles and their unique experiences have helped bring the pages of our newspaper to life.

Over the last few months, you’ve read many of their personal stories.

Perhaps you remember one woman’s tribute to the doctor who saved her life after a horrible car accident nearly 25 years ago.

“I’m amazed when I look in the mirror. To this day, I still find it unbelievable that he could repair my broken insides and put them back into my body, making me live again.”

Or the piece by the college vice president who relived the joy – and pain – of playing semi-professional football.

“A searing bolt of electricity shot through my head as I crashed into the ground. On my back, I looked into the afternoon sky and saw nothing. Literally, nothing, only blackness. I reached under the face mask of my football helmet, certain my eyes had popped out of my skull.”

Or the story written by a woman who had lived in her car after fleeing an abusive marriage and losing a job in a new city.

“I’m glad I didn’t give up. I’m grateful it didn’t last long. But I know I wouldn’t be who I am had I not experienced the struggle, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am if a few people hadn’t taken a risk to give me work and slip me a meal once in a while.”

These pieces have touched readers in a way that only a personal story can.

“I was surprised to be so moved by it,” one person wrote after reading an article about a tight-knit support group in a Johns Creek subdivision.

“What do I have in common with a gathering of outside-the-perimeter women?” the reader asked. “But I felt understanding and empathy as I got into the piece. I found what the writer did to be very inspiring.”

Earlier this year, another community contributor wrote about his transformation from a “sports dad” to the proud father of a son who’s fallen in love with the arts.

“Even though it was decades ago, and he is no longer with us,” one reader wrote, “I think my own dad could have related – and probably would have been thrilled to know he was not alone!”

An elementary school theater director found the piece particularly moving.

“I shared the article with my students’ families. I think it will help many of them understand why their son or daughter has finally found their niche.”

The stories written by community contributors have appeared in our hyperlocal newsletters and on the pages of our new community editions. Without these personal stories, we might not have been able to launch our latest feature, called Friday Diary. These contributions have also helped us expand and reimagine our Opinion pages.

But becoming a community contributor is about so much more than writing a personal story. It’s also an opportunity to share your expertise or “superpower” with our readers.

Last Sunday, for instance, one community contributor, a college counselor who has worked with more than 10,000 high school seniors and juniors, provided advice on how students can make the most of technology during these unusual times.

We’re always looking for readers who want to become part of this new network.

As a community contributor, you can have your say – and be heard – and learn more about our organization and our news-gathering processes.

To those who have already volunteered, we’re grateful.

Your work has not only enhanced our coverage, but in your own way, each of you has helped support one of the greatest causes of all.

Strong. Local. Journalism.

Mark Waligore is Managing Editor & Senior Director.