As we celebrate Independence Day this week, we may be reminded of many different things.
We may think of the resolve and dedication it took to free the American colonies from tyranny. We may think of the fierce individuality that sets us apart from other countries in the world. We may think of the values and ideals for which so many patriots have fought and died.
We would be correct in thinking of all those things, and those are thoughts that I pray will dwell inside all Americans throughout the year. But we should take care to not overlook another lesson from Independence Day: the overwhelming power and potential of American volunteers.
The men and women who stood up against an oppressive king and the violations of basic human rights were not specially-trained military experts and policy analysts. They were ordinary people – farmers, teachers, doctors, merchants – who stood up to fight for their beliefs.
These Americans were not forming militias, sewing uniforms and healing wounded troops because they were required to; they were doing the work simply because it was important that it be done.
That idea of an American stepping away from his or her daily routine to do something for the greater good of the nation is at the foundation of everything that America should be. We are built on the tradition of individuals offering up their skills and talents to create a country that would serve as a shining light to the rest of the world.
In fact, Thomas Jefferson, who volunteered his service in so many arenas, wrote, “That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.”
Today, it is easy to become cynical about the state of our nation and to worry that our best days could be behind us. We have seen the opportunity for money trump the value of public service, and we have seen far too many examples of corruption taking precedence over what is right.
What gets lost in the chaos, though, is the reality of where we can truly make a difference: our community.
Wise County is a place that knows the importance of volunteerism. While we may not have all the luxuries of more metropolitan areas, we are rich in good people, strong work ethics and genuine love for our community.
Those qualities are what make Wise County residents such valuable volunteers, and those qualities are exactly why we need more of you. Whether it is with a local fire department, the Meals on Wheels program, a parks board, or any of the countless other civic organizations across the county, volunteers are needed.
In “By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers,” authors Susan Ellis and Katherine Campbell write, “Our position is that the individual and combined volunteer actions of thousands of unnamed citizens have had an impact on American society. These actions were of citizens who became involved, not because of coercion or profit, but because they recognized a need and were willing to take responsibility for meeting that need. But because they assumed this responsibility in addition to their everyday duties, and because they did not seek monetary reward, the volunteers themselves may have underestimated the impact of their work.”
Do not underestimate your ability to make an impact in our community.
To those of you who already volunteer, keep the faith, even when the work is challenging. You are needed, you are valued and you are important.
To those of you who have not yet made the commitment I encourage you to find an area of need where your time and talents can make a difference. Know that we are ready for you and that we will welcome you because as our county continues to grow, so too does our need for volunteers.
Volunteers have always been the backbone of this nation, and volunteers remain the ones with the potential to truly make a difference. When individual communities become stronger, so does America as a whole.
As we celebrate our independence this week, let us also celebrate those people who are at the root of our freedom: American volunteers.
J.D. Clark is mayor of Chico.