As I drove into Leesville on February 1 for my interview at the Leesville Daily Leader, I literally said out loud to myself "Where the heck am I?"



As I drove into Leesville on February 1 for my interview at the Leesville Daily Leader, I literally said out loud to myself "Where the heck am I?"
I had never experienced hills in Louisiana, nor cattle and horses in someone's front yard. Only living in the most southern part of the state in New Orleans and Mandeville, let's just say Leesville was a bit out of my comfort zone. Leesville seemed like this foreign country to me at first glance, but it's true-you can't judge a book by its cover.
I was taking on my dream job as a reporter, something that always motivated me in college to keep learning and pushing through. I never thought I would land this role so fresh out of school, but I did, and I was determined to make a difference.
Throughout this journey as a reporter in Leesville, I have learned more than I had hoped for, and my prospective on life has broaden significantly. This has not only been a great experience career wise, but I feel like I have grown up too in a way.
I can't believe I'm sitting at my desk typing out these words today because I never thought I would ever walk away from being a reporter. And trust me, this walking away thing, is one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make.
I've been commuting from Alexandria these past six months, and recently moved there from Baton Rouge in January because my husband received a great job opportunity. At first, the commuting wasn't all that bad; never any traffic, pretty, peaceful scenery and I've been told more times than I can count on two hands how horrible 28 West used to be. But filling up three times a week, $50 to $60 each time, I was definitely feeling the pain at the pump.
It wasn't easy to make this decision, and the old Brooke would have stayed despite the $500 gas bill each month, but like I said before, during this position, I have truly grown up. But many things haven't been easy these past couple of months. Covering the Christopher Hoffpauir murder trial wasn't easy, nor having to look both families in the face and them think I'm only there for a juicy story. It wasn't easy walking into a room and everyone saying "Oh watch what you say, the media is here," or hearing the public's negative view on the media in general, which I guess I'm guilty by association.
Every time I wrote a story, I made sure it was based on facts and that it spoke for both sides. I knew it would take time to gain everyone's trust, that I wasn't out for myself and a good story, but out to find the truth and to educate the public. And I know I have made mistakes. I will be the first to admit, but every time I did, I made sure to learn from it so it wouldn't happen again. It's really hard when you have thousands of eyes reading your stories, because no matter how many times you read over it, someone else will catch something you didn't.
But despite all the experience I have gained with my writing, I have grown because of the influential people that I have met. I didn't know it at the time, but getting out there and interacting with so many different types of people have really given me a better outlook on my life and life in general. I now know things that only come with the word experience.
Alix Kunkle, the editor, picked up and moved here last summer straight out of college from Pennsylvania without any doubts. I have never met anyone as dedicated and loyal to his job. He loves what he does, and it shows in the 50-60 hour work weeks that he puts in. And Courtney Christian, Leesville city clerk, man where do I start? From day one she has been so helpful and has gone out of her way to make sure I understood everything from the city council meetings. Many talks with her when I was upset because of hurtful comments about the paper, really made me realize I could get through it. Although we come from different backgrounds, we share so much in common, and talking about real issues in the world was like a breath of fresh air.
Someone once asked me what do I like covering the most and the least, and my response was that I honestly enjoy every single thing that I had the opportunity to cover because I always learned something new that I would not have known before. For example, the Leesville School Board meetings. I had never in my life attended one, but I learned so much and saw firsthand how passionate and dedicated those 13 members are. They truly care about the well being of each and every student in Vernon Parish and all school employees who selflessly give their time.
Also, another highlight was covering the Leesville City Council meetings twice a month. If you've ever read any of my columns, then you'd know I enjoy politics and debates...okay I'm obsessed with politics! So being able to see how it works at a local level was so intriguing. They have to juggle so much on their plate, but make sure each item is treated fairly. Mayor Robert Rose gives so much of his time to improve the city, all while still running his own business. After covering meetings and seeing how frustrated residents within the city are with the worn out water and sewer systems and roadways, all I want to say is try to be a little more patient and give the mayor a little slack. He 100 percent understands everyone's frustrations and is actively working to improve and expand the city, despite inheriting an old, rundown system. It does take time, but I know he will make sure it gets done. As for the council itself, each one of them sincerely care about not only their own districts, but the city entirely. They know they are your voice and they do speak for you. I encourage more people to attend the meetings to get more involved and to know what is happening. Not voting or speaking at all is forfeiting. 
One thing that really stands out about Leesville and will forever stay with me is Fort Polk. Just going to lunch and seeing the men and women in uniform or covering stories on base, this overwhelming feeling of being proud comes over me. Actually being able to interact and understand their views on why they do what they do, is truly inspiring. I wish everyone in this great country had the opportunity to stand next to a soldier on base, both with their right hand over their heart saying the pledge of allegiance together. It's life changing.
And Sam Kincade, he desires a booming, interactive and fun downtown district, and it shows. Hard work does not go unseen, and his continuous efforts have really picked up downtown, and I see nothing but positive for the future. I really could go on and on about all the wonderful people I have met, but unfortunately this is just a column, not a novel.
Last, but certainly not least, are the wonderful people who make up the Leesville Daily Leader. Traci Bumgardner and Gary Grady, the two advertising representatives, Belinda Fondren, classified/circulation, and of course Alix Kunkle. Over the past couple of months, we have become this little family, and if it wasn't for the Leader, we would have never known each existed. Isn't it funny how life brings people together? Everything does happen for a reason, and although that reason might not be clear at first, it always seems to show itself sooner or later. Each day at work has been exciting, eventful, a bit crazy at times, but nonetheless memorable. Our close knit group is the glue to the success of this paper. We work together, not against each other. Don't get me wrong, we bicker just like a normal family does, but we also forgive like a family. I will truly miss each one of them and it will definitely take time to adjust to a new working environment, but I know that I can always count on them. I'll miss my girl talks with Traci on the sofa and curling her hair every morning. I'll miss sitting up front chit chatting with Belinda about life and where we've been. I'll miss hearing Gary blasting his music, jamming out in his office each day. And I'll miss sitting across from Alix and seeing his two liter Dr. Peppers and orange Fanta bottles on his messy desk.
I always think to myself, what will people remember about me? I can't answer that but I can say that I hope what people can take away from my editorial writings is that life is too short to worry or to be angry, bitter or mean. Enjoy life, let people in, love others for who they are, not what you want them to be. Always take the high road and put others first. Giving instead of receiving goes a long way.  
That long drive on February 1 had much more in store for me than I knew, and I hope that whoever fills this position after me feels just as welcomed as Leesville has made me feel.