It’s a funny thing how tragedy can bring people together. Last week was a rough one in our general area. Loved ones died from various causes, and there is a certain subset of our population who stuck together through it all.

I’m talking about our emergency responders — firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement and those who support them. These folks are the gold standard of how things can be done through mutual-aid agreements. Sometimes this is mandated by law, but the rest of the time it is just regular folks doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing.

There was a fatal vehicular crash on Saturday night along Route 28 in front of Dr. Snyder’s office. The fire whistle blew, rousing me only slightly from sleep before I pulled the covers over my head. It was only yesterday, Sunday, that I found out what had happened.

Say what you will about social media, but Facebook can be a great tool for staying informed. Our area fire companies, all of whom I follow, said nothing about the victims but expressed their thanks to the departments who responded.

I have always admired those folks. I’m sure there are personal differences among them here and there, but those are set aside when a job needs to be done, lives and property saved.

And somehow that same spirit of cooperation and encouragement is waking up again in New Bethlehem’s business district. I have had the great pleasure of talking to some of our next generation of entrepreneurs, and I really like what I’m hearing.

Rather than going head-to-head in mortal competitive combat, each has his or her own special area of expertise. They appreciate one another. They say good things about one another.

My newest heroes on the Armstrong County side of the bridge are a couple of young guys who stepped up to the plate and filled a need. One noticed that our street fixer and general go-to guy needed a hand and offered to help. Another, young for the job, is filling a vacant council seat and just completed his first EMT certification, always a good thing at a time when nobody else can be bothered to do it.

I’m sure they didn’t realize what effect they were having on this somewhat jaded and world-weary potential curmudgeon. They saw a need and chose to fill it. And they tend to get along with one another.

That’s right, simply get along. Not “go along to get along” for the sake of not rocking the boat. That, gentle readers, is just another name for “stagnation.”

I returned to my hometown a little more than seven years ago and I confess to having been kind of heartsick. It appeared to me that the glue holding our communities together was losing its grip. Everybody was mad at everyone else, generations-long alliances falling apart by the minute.

Once I stopped wailing and gnashing my teeth, I sat back and merely watched for a while. I had forgotten one simple truth.

Conflict is not a bad thing. You need a little bit of that once in a while. It’s how things change for the better.

It’s all in how you handle the conflict, though. Bitterness, petty personality clashes and gossip wars can get out of hand. Nobody wins those.

This newer generation, most of whom went on to college or other training, came back, brought fresh ideas and new ways of doing things with them — the good things I have always wanted for this area. I include the outlying small towns in my embrace. I went to school with a lot of the people living in them because of that helter-skelter shuffling of elementary students in the 1960s, and I’m still one of them whether they want me or not.

Of course these new businesses and ideas meet with some resistance. People tend to like what they’re used to. This does not, as I heard not long ago at a public event, make them “dummies.”

You would never hear that turn of phrase spew forth from the lips of most of this upcoming generation. I’ve noticed that they have a lot of respect for each other and for the rest of us.

I really like these “kids,” as I call them. Heck, I’m old enough to be their mother or grandmother, so I get to say stuff like that.

The first time I met him, I told Police Chief Bob Malnofsky that he would always get a fair shake from me. I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know our new school district leader, John Mastillo, but the same thing applies to him. I feel the same way about our young entrepreneurs.

We really needed a lot of puffs of fresh air, and I think we have them now.

[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]