One of the barometers I use to judge a community is the level of caring I feel when out and about.

While this is my first month of working here as a staff writer I've had the opportunity to get out and about on numerous occasions. That is one of the things I love most about the journalism profession and of being a reporter — you have the chance to get out, meet people from a variety of backgrounds and learn not only about the people and community you're involved in, but about life in general.

I love to keep on learning and this job provides that opportunity.

But seeing passion and caring in action makes me feel warm and fuzzy and provides hope that in spite of all the problems, issues and challenges we face as humans we can overcome and achieve.

Among the many people I've had the opportunity to meet has been Jessica Zamora. As a senior at Northeast High School Jessica already has a long list of accomplishments and a longer list of objectives and goals.

Chief among her achievements is the fact she was selected to be part of a choir of hundreds of young people from around the globe who will perform on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York City on Feb. 7.

While Jessica could probably take her singing to a higher in college or beyond, her goal is to get her master's degree, a doctorate and then go to work as a criminal profiler for the FBI.

Talk about a passion for the community and outwardly exhibiting a passion and caring attitude — how about the efforts of all of those volunteers and staffers of Via Christi Hospital  and the Mount Carmel Foundation who put on the organization's 32nd annual gala this past Saturday.

Congratulations to everyone involved. The decorations were over the top. The costumes of volunteers who helped carry out the Outrageously Alice "Alice in Wonderland" theme were a big plus in setting the tone of the event.

Those hours of work will hopefully pay off in lives saved through new equipment and services provided at the hospital to serve the region.

On the education front Pittsburg Middle School students of Virginia Darling were exposed to a musical form very few of them had heard this week when members of the barbershop quartet The F.O.G. Quartet visited their classrooms. 

While they shared their harmonies, one of the things that came across most from the quartet members of John Robb, Ed Kespohl, Harold Nentrup and Wayne Wentworth was their excitement, love and passion they have for music.

The students seemed to pick up on that level of caring and got involved in the unique learning experience.

On the hard news front there are the first responders who regularly put their lives on the line to help make our communities safer. Whether they are paid officers of the law or volunteer firefighters, these men and women are on the front lines of traffic accidents on icy, dangerous highways and at fires in freezing, windy conditions.

Thanks to all those area residents who have chosen the calling to be on the scene as emergency medical providers, law officers and firefighters. All our lives are safer and enhanced because of their passion to serve and to care about their neighbors in time of need.

The Jan. 19 edition story on Dr. Jessica Kmiec Humble was one of those heart-warming stories about a hometown kid who excelled in the classroom at Girard schools, headed off to college and medical school and probably could have landed a job anywhere.

Instead, Dr. Humble came back to Crawford County and is taking care of a new generation of local youngsters as a pediatrician.

A similar story has taken place in recent months as Dr. Tyler Riggs, a St. Mary's-Colgan High School graduate who went onto play football with the 2011 national champion Pittsburg State University Gorilla football team.

He along with his wife, Dr. Kayla Riggs, recently hung out their shingle across from the Pittsburg Walmart at 2707 N. Broadway where the two doctors practice at Riggs Chiropractic. Kayla, a native of Iowa, met Tyler at chiropractic college and they jointly decided to return to their small town roots by opening their practice in Pittsburg.

In addition to getting their own practice off the ground and promoting good health, the couple share a passion for being involved and of giving back to the community that supports them.

Again, the Riggs offer a positive and glowing example of people here who care and who share their passion.

These stories represent just the tip of those people in Pittsburg and Southeast Kansas who have positive, uplifting stories to share and hopefully inspire us.

The hard news side of this business happens whether we're ready or not. Stories of wrecks, fires, politics and crimes will keep coming our way.

But I hope we also can continue to share the positive and uplifting stories that surround us. If you know of those please do not be bashful about sharing them with us so we can share them with Morning Sun readers.

Mike Elswick is a staff writer of The Morning Sun. He can be emailed melswick@morningsun.net. or follow him on Twitter @ Mike_Elswick.