Daniel Austin Is Thankful for Community Connections

Thanksgiving has always been one of my most favorite holidays: the silly balloon parade on TV, the smell of cinnamon and pumpkin and lots of family and friends.

When I moved to New York City, I realized I could be at the parade in real life. Experiencing Manhattan during the holidays is nothing short of being dropped into freakishly amazing snow globe come to life.

So why did I move back to Jacksonville? I could give you a list, with crushing student loan debt coupled with stroke-inducing rent prices being at the top. But the real reason, my secret reason and the reason for which I’m most thankful: community.

I’ve always been a storyteller. My passion lies in communicating, whether that be for a business or on a stage.

While I was in New York, I watched my Facebook change from all my friends back “home;” there was a shift toward progression and positivity that I hadn’t seen before. One night, a dear friend called me: “We’re starting a new theater company here. We’re going to make change. We’re going to bring theater to the urban core.”

It was like the holidays had arrived. Jacksonville was suddenly getting the gifts that it had written Santa for after so many years of wishing.

So I moved “back.” I moved to be a part of change. I moved to be a part of a community. Not a perfect community, but one in transition. One that was taking ownership of its mistakes, finding its true voice and committing itself toward a better, brighter future.

What I’ve found since my return is a veritable Thanksgiving bounty. With JCCI and JAX2025, my work helps tell the story of our community’s quality of life, and I get firsthand experience on the front lines of moving our city forward with JAX2025. With SomewhereInTheCity.com, I’ve written about how people are changing the idea that there is “nothing to do in Jacksonville.” Our #WeLoveJax event with Outside the Den and Jesse Wilson showed there are people willing to get new things started.

And at the local playhouses, I’ve watched performers, crew members, volunteers and audiences create magic. After one particularly grueling night working through some mistakes on stage, I was approached in the lobby after the show by an adorable blonde. “I’ve never been to the theater before,” she told me with a smile. “This was amazing. I can’t wait to come back.”

That, to me, is totally priceless. When the work I do — through JCCI, Somewhere in the City or in theater — truly affects someone, I have done my job. I have created a connection and served my community.