This word for me conjures remembrances of helping, memories of scouting, and memories of helping people in all walks of life.
For me, the most deeply conjured memory is that of filling sandbags in 1993 when the Mississippi River was seven miles wide at my hometown and threatening thousands of acres of farm ground. The crop was in, the corn was tassling and the beans were thigh-high. Literally tens of millions of dollars were on the line for farmers up and down the Mississippi, from Minnesota to Louisiana.
I was working as a staff member at Saukenauk Scout Reservation at the time. It was forbidden for staff members under the age of 21 to leave camp, except for personal emergencies. Well, our staff found an emergency. A group of 10 young men each day for 20 or so days left camp at dinner time and headed into Quincy. The drive was only about a half hour, but the mood each ride in was somber.
We showed up around 6:30, shovels in hand and commenced filling sand-bags. In a previous column I introduced a new unit of measure, a mountain. In the previous column I was describing the amount of salt and cinder Chicago uses in a typical winter for ice eradication. Well, we filled sand-bags… mountains worth.
We finished each night around 1 a.m. and headed back to camp. We were sore, tired and aching from head to toe. Our hands were blistered; our hands were cut and bleeding. We were not the only ones.
Every report I can find from towns up and down the river estimate at any given time, 1,500 persons were working to fill sandbags. As being part of this mass of humanity, I am certain this tally does not include the innumerable other volunteers working the levees, placing the sandbags at their own and very real peril.
There were and still remain some small communities in the great river’s flood plain, but many of the volunteers simply wanted to help… help their neighbors, help their town, help their fellow Americans.
Most of the efforts of the volunteers fighting the Great Flood of ‘93 realized their efforts to be futile, as up and down the river, the force of the deluge engulfed levee after levee. This fact did not deter the volunteers when once again the river raised its head in 2008. Fortunately, the Mississippi of 2008 was not as forceful as ‘93.
I do not want a pat on the back for my efforts; neither do those who volunteered in the heat and humidity of July and August. (For those who don’t know, yes, it does reach 100 degrees in Illinois – no, normally for not as long, but it darn sure does.)
I do not believe those who toil in obscurity on a daily basis through their own volunteer efforts want a pat on the back; I believe they do it to help their fellow man.
Be it through the USO, Habitat for Humanity, Boy and Girl Scouts, after natural disasters such as tornadoes and floods, or after heinous acts of terrorism committed against the American way of life, volunteers are there to help. Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary and the United Way are other organizations that have been working tirelessly for others literally for decades.
What about the literally thousands of coaches…working with children on the fundamentals of sport and sportsmanship, building better people by doing. I would like to say thank you to all the persons who have been instrumental in the development of my children and myself.
All politics are local, and I also believe most volunteering is as well. I cannot say all volunteering, just most. Shoot, Arnold Schwarzenegger sent money to the volunteers in Quincy and most certainly was not local, but he did what he could.
I had no intentions of writing this column, but am extremely grateful for the talking heads on television for bringing the subject up. I believe most of the politicians in power, on both sides of the aisle, forget about the things that make America work. The thing that makes America work, I would argue, in spite of our government, is the people of America and their ability to help each other.
The groups mentioned, and the countless others which I have not, were not, started by politicians, rather by individual Americans who believe they can help, with whatever is necessary. Many of the groups are broad in scope, many others are very pointed. They are all great.
We normally volunteer as a community and I have always been proud of Americans. Unlike many others who now believe it is in vogue, I understand the volunteers have always been there to help. I believe Americans are the most giving persons in the world and the facts bear this truth.
I believe in Americans.
Art Veneris is production manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. He writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at art.veneris@brownwood