Stories that make us proud even when times are gloomy.
At times, American life can be frustrating. Why can’t members of Congress work together? Why do so few recognize what people really need? It is often said that democracy is messy. In an effort to make many opinions count, it becomes almost impossible to satisfy everyone.
All too often, nobody wins.
To Be Proud, Look Local
When you feel frustrated at the news, I always tell people, “look local.” If you just think about the good, hardworking Americans you know—probably including you– who have dedicated their lives to doing something of value, it will make you feel better.
I grew up in Pueblo, Colorado, a mid-sized town built around river and railroad transportation. The town eventually became home to a major steel mill.
My parents truly believed in the value of community and were tireless in volunteering their time and money when they could. Their efforts resulted in major progress.
My mother and a friend obtained federal and state funding for a town arts center that opened in 1972 and has been serving the community ever since. The Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center is now supported by city and county funds as well as by many citizens who found ways to make it grow bigger and more valuable to the town.
But my mother didn’t stop with an Arts Center. When town leaders asked if she would spearhead the town’s plan to ask voters to pass a bill that would fund the building of a “riverwalk” through town to revive a river trail that would beautify the community. She said yes again.
Now, 20 years later, there are restaurants, a hotel, a conference center, and many small businesses nearby. Even during the pandemic, walkers and joggers were there to enjoy being outside.
For My Father, It Was About the People
My father ran a local real estate and insurance business, and he worked hard on “people development.” The town had a large immigrant population. As young people applied for work, he made sure that any employee who wanted to attend college had the time and some help on tuition. He also encouraged employees to take paid time off for volunteer work. One staff member was on the school board (a huge volunteer commitment), another on the hospital board. Others participated in various projects that interested them.
My father was proud of the staff and saw great growth in the individuals as they took on new responsibilities. He also knew that when one of his employees was out in the community, it might make a person think of Steel City Agencies when they needed insurance.
He also believed in opportunity for all. When a high school boy was badly injured in a car crash, my father helped the family find a school where Jack could obtain the needed business education. Then he had a job waiting for him and made certain the insurance office was wheelchair-accessible so that Jack could work at the company (unusual in the late 1970s).
As an adult, I have been fortunate to live in six different communities since moving away from Colorado. While I am very proud of all my parents did, I know that there are other American citizens like them in every community who are devoting as much love and hard work to their town as my parents did.
Here are some of the people and organizations I have come across recently. Perhaps it will inspire you to develop your own list:
- Military families. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, kids, and the soldiers themselves—the soldiers are putting their lives in danger for our country.
- The rangers in our national parks. I visit some parks for research for my website; other places I visit for my board work with the American Battlefield Trust. I am continually impressed by the commitment these people make to the tasks before them. For rangers, their work is not a job; it is a career. Their nights and weekends are spent reading and learning more to enrich the stories they share with visitors.
- The people at most nonprofits. Few of these organizations can pay their staffs high salaries. Most are run on a lean budget. The employees work hard in jobs that will never make them rich. Since moving to Los Angeles, I have connected with Lupus L.A. Its staff and its volunteer board continue to impress me with their tireless dedication. And Big Sunday started out as a one Sunday each month volunteer effort. It is now a large but lean nonprofit that services all types of needs within Los Angeles County. Of course, this is just one of many organizations of this type. Hats off to them all.
- The Banning Museum holds a special place in my heart. It’s a city-owned house museum in Wilmington, California. While the city covers overhead, the museum depends on volunteers to help with maintenance and tours. Its Friends group provides financial support for special projects and events. A one-hour visit to this property provides visitors with an important story—the California story—about the Los Angeles Harbor and the Banning family. The Civil War Drum Barracks Museum is only blocks from the Banning Museum, and it, too, relies on the city as well as volunteers and voluntary donations.
- Though I moved away from Westchester County, New York, twelve years ago, I keep myself on the mailing list of Westchester for Change. I worked with this group to help pass the health care law, and their mailings continue to inspire me. The organization is grassroots volunteerism at its best. They tackle environmental and governmental issues, often just to spread knowledge. It’s truly impressive.
- If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, there are many local resources as well as national. This link takes you to Sixty + Me. The site offers great advice on volunteering, regardless of how old you are.
Volunteers and good people are everywhere. Your community has them…you are very likely one of them. When you get depressed about the latest shooting or the infighting in Congress, pull out your own list of people you admire.
In addition, click through my website. I am dedicated to telling stories of Americans of all backgrounds who have contributed to this country. I’m inspired every day when I dive into my files for research. I think you’ll be inspired reading their stories.