The Power of Working Together All around the country, community service is powered by such a wide variety of organizations that it almost seems like they would trip over each other to find ways to help out those in need. The spirit of giving and the desire to help others is evidenced strongly in the work done by churches, charitable organizations, youth groups and social clubs that gather to pitch in and help. But when you think of community service, one organization stands out because their work literally grabs headlines by bringing together those dozens of organizations into one coordinated effort. That group is appropriately named The United Way. More than any other effort, the United Way has made the greatest strides at mobilizing this army of volunteers into one coordinated effort to participate in ongoing community service in the communities they serve. Each fall, if is almost impossible not to be aware of the United Way as they mount their annual fund raising campaign to get their year off in a strong way. The United Way has found the resources to penetrate an area of society that has the greatest resources to make a difference in community service and that is the American business community. Through the "Fair Share" program, businesses small and large commonly make the United Way campaign a significant part of their corporate life each fall. The ethic of reaching 100% participation and the recognition that the United Way gives to businesses who can muster that level of enthusiasm from their employees goes a long way to help the United Way reach the kind of success they have achieved. But achieving "100% participation" for a business means more than just getting each employee to set aside their fair share of money to help out the many organizations that benefit from the United Way. It also means sending armies of volunteers from their corporate ranks out into the community to pitch in and paint schools, plant gardens, build playgrounds and participate in dozens of other coordinated projects that the United Way sponsors during their annual campaign. This united effort gives companies a change to raise their profile as solid members of the community and encourage their employees to give back to the community in gratitude for allowing the business to prosper in that town. It is truly amazing the number of companies that actually give every employee in their company a paid day to go and participate in United Way projects. This is called the "United Way Day of Service" and it demonstrates that even though business is about making money, the heart of business is about doing good for others as well and they too can find a way to pitching if someone gives them the opportunity. The United Way makes that opportunity and everybody benefits from their strong leadership. Without a doubt one of the big reasons the United Way is so successful is that they represent so many charitable organizations. The United Way is not in existence to benefit just one cause. The "united" part of the United Way means that yes, they are bringing together businesses, churches and every institution they can rally to work together for community service. But it also means that their work will go to benefit literally dozens of worthwhile causes from the outcome of the fund raising and coordinated volunteer work of United Way sponsors. We can be grateful that this approach to community service has been put together so each small charity does not have to struggle alone. By becoming part of the United Way, even small business can make an effort to combine with larger businesses to make a real difference in their community. The United Way has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that there really is power in working together. It Takes a Village A few years ago a book came out called "It Takes a Village" that created a stir. But the stir was probably because the author was Hillary Clinton more than the topic itself. But in this book Mrs. Clinton advanced the theory that in society, much of what we do that has value, including raising children is not just the work of individuals. It takes community action to make things of lasting value happen.' This concept may have had some political reason for being written but Mrs. Clinton did introduce into the public mind that phrase which is really an outstanding summary of why community service works so well. The key word in community service is community. When a group of people come together for a shared purpose to do something good for the community in which they live, that is a special moment. Not only does it foster tremendous good will in the team and for those who are beneficiaries of the community spirit but it inspires others who see these good things happening to get involved. If you live in a city of any large size, we have more trouble thinking of our community as a "village". And to some extent the size of the city might also have an influence over your willingness to get involved in community service projects. But there is a way to view even life in the big city in such a way that you can find good reasons to make a contribution. Even if you live in one of the large metropolitan areas of the country, the truth is, we all to some extent live in a village. You have a limited area that you travel for the most part. Most of us go to the same grocery stores, play at the same parks, attend the same church each week and use a limited number of streets even if you live in surrounded by one of the biggest cities in the country. Philadelphia, one of the largest cities in the country, is known as the "city of neighborhoods." And within those neighborhoods everybody knows each other and life is localized. In a way, those neighborhoods are right in the middle of a big city. So, you too live in a village within the large city around you. And within that village, you can see ways that you can make a contribution to the lives you touch and that touch yours. Some great community service ideas that you can look for that will affect your "village" might be: * You learn from your child that the family of one of his friends cannot afford to repair their porch. You can mobilize the parents of many of the children in that class and show up there on a Saturday with a surprise porch repair crew. That kind of spontaneous event will bring bonding to just that "village" of parents of kids in that school room that could build friendships that will last a lifetime. * You find out that a family owned business is going to have to go out of business because they cannot bring their building up to code. You can circulate a petition of the many customers who love that business like you do and organize a fund raising campaign to get that building fixed. This doesn't just have to be about money. You can get everybody into the act having yard sales, bake sales and doing other fund raising events to keep that wonderful family owned operation a part of your community for a long time to come. * A local church has all of their beautiful stained glass windows blown out by a tornado. You can use your research skills and the skills of other business people to find some replacement windows in a defunct church and get them sent to your community to make that church beautiful again. All of these things make life better in the streets and community centers of the area of town where you live. And when you pitch in and make your little area of the world a better place to live, the good feelings and friendships you build have positive effects that are beyond measure. And above all you took the time to be of help so can say even with Hilary Clinton that it really does take a village. Community Service is a Family Affair Sometimes we think our kids never listen to us. This can be a particularly difficult problem when kids become teenagers. It seems that no matter what we tell them, they just shrug and give us that obnoxious response of "whatever" and we make no impact at all. But any child or youth counselor will tell us that this is absolutely not the case. That outside show of indifference is just that, a show. Teenagers do not jump from children to sophisticated, hardened and cynical adults in few weeks or months time. The emotional growth of a human at this age moves along just as slowly as when they were children. So even though they are adult looking on the outside, on the inside you still have a very emotional little boy or girl who want nothing more than to please mom and dad and still try to figure out this new world they are living in. Children and teenagers value the time they get with their parents tremendously. It might be twenty years later when you come to realize how important it is to them but they need both quality and quantity time with their mom and their dad. It is part of how their personalities form and it has a huge impact on their self esteem and ability to go out there and conquer the world. They learn how to handle stress from their parents. They learn how to succeed and how to gracefully lose and how to take a loss and turn it into a win from the people they know the best and that is their parents. Yes, they do listen to what you say. But they listen more than you may even realize. They listen to what adults say to each other and to other adults. And they listen even more closely to what you say with your actions. We all want to instill good values in our kids. But how to do that and still have some fun times with them and do so in the limited time everybody is home. Well one outstanding way is to plan for family outings that include service projects to the community. That is one outstanding way to "talk with your actions" about your commitment to community service. Now that concept may at first seem like you are just going to add more work to your already full plate of things to do. But doing a service project as a family doesn't have to be tedious and tiring. There are tons of things you can do that provide service to your community but are lots of fun for everyone including: * Go have fun at the park but while you are there, pick up every tiny bit of litter you can find. * Be a volunteer at the family night at church and help the little kids enjoy the rides and games that are planned for them. You own little ones will love seeing you be in charge of the Jupiter Jump and it will build community. * Find an area along the river where erosion is happening and plant a tree. It will hold back the erosion and you can have fun doing a gardening project and maybe even wet a hook and catch a fish. * Go down to the shelter and read your favorite books to needy children. The kids can bring the books that were precious to them as little ones and they get to feel that joy of seeing a child laugh at the same things they laughed at when they were young. Be careful though that you don't find your kids wanting to adopt every kid at the shelter by the time you are done. Family service projects are a hidden goldmine of fun and bonding for the whole family. Once you get started doing them, you wont want to stop. You will find the whole family rushing to get ready each evening or looking forward to Saturday when they can get out there and do another one. And while you are building family unity and bonding with your kids, they are finding out that community service is a way of life and a great way to have fun at the same time. Coming Together There is something about community service that causes a sense of coming together that really is not possible in any other setting. When a community comes out either in time of crisis or when a big community project is in the works, you see a side of people that will not surface in their day to day world. This may be why community service projects that mobilize the population to get out and help others are so popular. Community service gives people a chance to do something for some one else. It also gives parents the chance to get their kids involved in something wholesome, fun and to learn the value of doing a project for a selfless motive. And it gives everyone a chance to get to know others in the community that we might never meet any other way. United Way functions are great for this because they pull volunteers from businesses all over your community. So you might be working shoulder to shoulder painting a school room with the president of the biggest bank in town or a minister of a church you never otherwise would have gotten to know. The hours working together builds bonds and friendships that are in every possible way healthy for everyone. There are plenty of historical precedents for how the bonding that occurs in times of community service pulls a community and even the nation together. During World War II, the nation was shocked into action by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. All around the country, communities mobilized in dozens of ways to conserve on precious resources needed for the war effort, to equip, train and take care of the expanding military and sending their sons off to fight this threat to the nation. To this day there is no time in our history remembered with such fondness as those days after Pearle Harbor when the nation functioned as one person to do all they could to win this battle that was before us. The songs of that era and the movies are cherished even by generations that have come later because they are reminders of a time when the people came together for what was perhaps the greatest community service project of all time, to defeat the enemy overseas by mobilizing here at home. Similar unity has happened from time to time since then and always, it seems, in response to a crisis. When President Kennedy was shot, when the towers fell on 911 or when the hurricane hit in New Orleans, the unity of purpose among all Americans was evident. If ever there was a time when we showed the world that we were one people with one heart, those were the times. If we can find ways to create a similar spirit, not as a result of crisis but built around a community need, even at just the local level, we can see a similar unity between peoples that can cause some real social bonding. In many communities there are divisions between neighborhoods based on racial or economic divisions. A strong commitment to community service can cause people to look outward and away from their resentments and prejudices and work shoulder to shoulder with a fellow citizen that they may have treated with hostility in any other setting. There are many good reasons to sponsor community service at the local level including the good it does for the recipients and the good feelings the volunteers get when they get out and help another person. But this side benefit that happens when a community service project brings people together and makes new friends out of old enemies may be one of the greatest benefits of community service of them all. What You Can Do for Your Country At one time the method for keeping the armed forces supplied with young men was done with a draft in which some form of selection process required by law that young men just out of high school to join the military to serve a term of service. But in the 1970s, the United States moved to an all volunteer army and our nation has been defended by this type of military system ever since. The truth is that for decades, the idea of volunteering to serve a stint in the armed forces was never in question in households in America. Until the problems of the draft relative to the Vietnam conflict, in most homes in America, parents taught their youth that going into the military was the natural next step after high school but before going into college. Many older Americans today can remember learning from their parents that it is a boy's civic duty to serve their country in the military and that becoming a proud member of America's fighting forces is what truly gave a youth his credentials to be "a man". While social change has reduced the awareness in the population that service in the military is actually the highest form of community service, the military continues to be a viable way that a young person can pay back this great country for the honor of their citizenship and start their lives as adults at the same time. The problem with the perception that volunteering for military service is no longer a natural path of community service may come from the false perception that the military exists solely to fight wars. And while that is job one for any military unit, the ways that our military has been used especially in times of crisis to perform community service within the borders of this country has left a long history of achievement as its legacy. Any young person that wants to join an organization dedicated to the single minded pursuit of being of service to others cannot find a better place to do that than the various branches of the military. Because the military is generally well funded, well trained, housed full time in preparation for crisis and kept at a high state of train gin and readiness, they can be called into help out when the community finds itself in need. Each year as hurricane season hits us, you see the military respond heroically. Nowhere was that more evident than the evacuations from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina that just could not have been possible without the tireless work of the military. But their efforts to keep America safe from the inside as well as the outside doesn't stop when the hurricanes slow down. Whether it's a tornado in the Midwest, fires in the west, volcanoes in the northeast or any other disaster that might hit our population, the military always see to be the "first responders" to such crisis. This high calling of our military is even more evident in the reason for being of our various National Guard units. While it's true that in the last few years, they have been needed with that difficult conflict we are facing in the Middle East, historically this has been a military force with the two pronged mission of protecting the population at the local level and helping out when the community has a need. It's good to step back from our current view of the military because it can become distorted because of the emotions we all associate with the conflicts our country has been faced with in the last few decades. But getting a historic view and taking into account the heroic work all branches of our military have done to perform important community service at the local level, we can conclude that there is no better place for a young person to seek a way to follow that commission given by President Kennedy long ago to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. The Miracle of Habitat for Humanity There may be no more recognizable organization name that comes to mind when we think of community service than Habitat for Humanity. This is an organization that does not view world poverty or reaching out to the disadvantaged as just subjects of speeches. Habitat for Humanity literally puts their backs into the mission of helping the disadvantaged, one home at a time. There is no doubt that the high profile "celebrities" that have worked in Habitat for Humanity have done a lot to raise the awareness of the community services this fine organization does in communities around the nation and around the world. President Jimmy Carter's tireless work with Habitat for Humanity has left us with even more powerful images of his leadership than perhaps he left us when he completed his term as President. But those images are never of an ex-president enjoying the accolades of admirers at an expensive Washington or Hollywood dinner to raise money for a cause. No, the images of President Carter working with Habitat for Humanity are the images that anyone who gets involved with this cause will remember. They will recall images of dozens and dozens of helpful citizens, of all ages, races, creeds and backgrounds, working together with their sleeves rolled up to build a house for a neighbor, even if that neighbor is from halfway around the world. Considering that the mission of Habitat for Humanity is driven by the calling to build homes for people in need, one house at a time, the figures of their success are truly staggering. As of their 2005 figures, Habitat for Humanity had built over 200,000 homes worldwide and those homes have given safe, clean, affordable shelter to over one million needy people. No wonder, as each new owner of a Habitat for Humanity home looks at their beautiful new home, they universally call the work of Habitat for Humanity "a miracle." The organizational system that Habitat for Humanity uses is a model for helping the less fortunate but avoiding the pitfalls that often occur when a government agency gives a handout. The future owners of a Habitat home enter into an agreement to work shoulder to shoulder with the volunteers who are building their home investing "sweat equity" into that home. This investment builds pride and a sense of ownership. But along with those benefits, it takes those same new homeowners and adds them to the army of workers who will turn around and go out and help build another home for someone just like themselves who could use a helping hand to afford a home where their family can live. It is small wonder that Habitat for Humanity was awarded the Presidential Metal of Freedom in 1996, the highest civilian honor the government can give. When awarding this metal, President Clinton said that Habitat for Humanity was ": the most successful continuous community service project in the history of the United States.". A truly phenomenal and "miraculous" movement such as Habitat for Humanity does not go unnoticed as we witnessed when President Carter, a tireless worker for Habitat for Humanity, was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his continuous work on behalf of the disadvantaged in our society and around the world. Thousands of citizens have flocked to work with others in Habitat for Humanity to build homes for their neighbors. The movement is ecumenical Christian, independent of government funding, non-profit and totally driven by an army of volunteers. And yet is has truly been an example of how communities can come together to help others for the sheer joy of community service. The Greatest Generation Not long ago, Tom Brokaw, a well known newsman and author wrote a book about the heroic sacrifices that the men and women during World War II made to stop Hitler and his allies and save our nation and the world from tyranny. The name of that book was The Greatest Generation. Now there is absolutely no question that the tremendous effort and self sacrifice that our grandfathers and grandmothers made during those dark days represents very best of what America is all about. We will never be able to thank them enough for what they did to preserve this great country for us and for our children. But there may be another greatest generation that deserves recognition as well. And that generation is the next one. The reason that generation has the chance to be the greatest generation as well is that we have the chance, right now as the parents, the guardians, the teachers, the Boy Scout leaders, the Sunday School teachers and the mentors of these young people to show them what greatness is and how they too can be for their times the greatest generation. To help the next generation to demonstrate that kind of greatness, we must instill in them a sense of community awareness, devotion and pride that will generate from everything they do. If the next generation is only what used to be called "the me generation", they will only do what makes them happy right now. Greatness comes from doing something that means something for the community. So by teaching our youth how to be involved in community service from a very early age, we equip them to be as great as any generation that came before. Being of service to the community is a skill and an attitude that is caught and not taught. So by making sure we, as the adults in their lives, are always looking for ways to get involved in community service, the youth will mimic our behavior as youth will always do and they will catch the fever and get a taste for community service that will last a lifetime. A wise man once said about helping the poor that if you give a man a fish he is fed for a day but if you teach him to fish, he is fed for a lifetime. This ethic is true about teaching our youth that community service is fun and that neighbors helping neighbors is what makes life worth living. That is teaching our kids to fish. And the result will be a love of community service that will last a lifetime. We have good mentors in our quest to raise the greatest generation. And there are outstanding youth organizations that thrive on community service and passing the torch to the next generation. From Boy Scouts to school clubs to youth groups to the YMCA, wherever there are mentors of youth, there is community service going on. How will we know if our quest to make the next generation great is a success? The clues will come quietly. When you hear your son or daughter leave the house with enthusiasm to go join in on a project to clean up the park or to sign up at the library to help children to read, you can reflect that you are witnessing the birth in that child a love of giving and a love of community service that will last a lifetime. That is the spirit that made the World War II generation great. By empowering our children to be servants of the community, they too will become for their times, the greatest generation. The Good Lawyers When you think of a lawyer, sometimes we get an image of high powered men in flashy suits charging $300 an hour to talk legal talk that nobody understands but other lawyers. And when we get those media images of lawyers in our heads, the idea of a lawyer who wants to use his or her specialized talent with the law and that extensive education they all have to have to practice law for community service work seems almost ridiculous. It's a good idea in all aspects of life not to let television or movie images of anyone affect reality very much. The truth is there are thousands of lawyers who went into law for other reasons than to make money and run for governor. In every city and town in the country, there are lawyers who work for very little to defend people who need help with the legal system try to get a fair shake in a system that seems to reward the wealthy and the influential. Most of us know at least a few lawyers. To be sure, there seems to be a lot of them. But if you think about your friends who are lawyers, many have them have a strong sense of community service and a desire to use the privilege and education that has been given to them to benefit society. It is a tradition that goes back for centuries in the legal profession. A lawyer by definition is one who stands between the people and the government to try to help those who have been falsely accused or need an advocate to be treated fairly. That attitude of responsibility to the community is reflected in the values of the Bar Association of America. The Bar Association holds its members to a high standard of public responsibility and accountability. And part of that sense of responsibility is using their talents and abilities as part of their community service. So part of a lawyer's commitment includes dedicated a certain amount of hours to the community to be offered as free legal assistance to those who cannot afford a lawyer otherwise. Now to be fair, this is required by the American Bar Association of all lawyers on a state by state basis. An average of 50 hours a year is required for a lawyer to continue to be a member of the Bar in good standing. This is called "Pro Bono Publico" work (usually shorted to Pro Bono) which is Latin for "in the public good". But rather than see that as something negative, this reflects the values of the Bar Association and it sends a message to anyone who wants to hang out their shingle as a lawyer that being in service to the community is important and encouraged from the highest levels of the legal profession. The attitudes of public responsibility don't just end at the door of the Bar Association building. Many lawyers give far more than their minimum requirements in free legal service to the community. In every city and town in this country, you can find lawyers working side by side with doctors, dentists, construction people and professionals of every description to try and help out people who don't have a lot to give back but just need that helping hand. So let's lay aside our prejudices about lawyers that we pick up from too many movies and television shows that only show the bad ones. When we do that we will realize that lawyers are good neighbors, good family men and woman and really do care about giving back to the community just like you and I do. Those are truly the good lawyers. The Evidence of Eagles Most of us at some point or another have met a young man who proudly includes in his credentials of his youth that he is an "Eagle Scout". If you are not familiar with the program of the Boy Scouts of America, that might sound like a strange thing to list as great accomplishments of youth. But there is no question that Eagle Scouts are a unique classification of youth who carry that distinction with a unique pride. It seems that once a boy adds that credential to their resume, they carry that honor with them forever. In brief, the Boy Scouts program is an international youth organization organized to develop good values, community spirit and leadership in boys that will help them become better citizens in manhood. It is a program that is over 100 years old and that has chapters all over the world. When a boy starts in the scouting program, he works his way up a series of ranks, each of which is progressively more difficult to achieve. The highest rank of any boy scout is the Eagle rank. Statistics tell us that of the thousands of boys that enter the Boy Scouts program, only 3% are able to achieve that final rank and be able to stand proudly and say "I am an Eagle Scout." And it is more than just an honor that stays within the BSA. Being an Eagle Scout can be listed on college applications, it can help with advancement in the military and become part of a man's employment resume right along with time in the military and college experience. It is that valuable to a young man. When a young man reaches the threshold of this prestigious rank, the requirements of him are high. Boys who wish to get over this final hurdle must work at it usually for over a year to accomplish what is required of them to put that Eagle pin on their uniform. And at the very heart of these strenuous requirements is the concept of community service. Community service is an integral part of every aspect of the program the Boy Scouts organization puts together for the boys. At each step along the path of advancement, some "service hours" are required of the boys. It is so much a natural part of the way a boy scout thinks that many recreational activates are organized around service projects so the boys come to understand that being in community service is just part of being a citizen. And it can be fun too. But to make the rank of Eagle, the candidate must complete his "Eagle Project". This is a distinctive project that must be of significant community value. The process of even getting that Eagle Project approved is strict and held to a high standard. And once the boy has his project approved, it will take weeks if not months to complete it. Typical Eagle projects include the complete repainting of a community service building, planting trees in a public park, landscaping all of the open areas in a church or organizing a community wide blood drive. There is no question that Eagle Projects make a positive impact on the community. And when a boy successfully completes that project and has turned in all of his requirements to become an Eagle Scout, he will look back with pride on that project and often take family members, friends and show his children and grandchildren that project with pride because he is able to say "that was my Eagle Project." So look around the community. Odds are you won't look far before you will see the impact of the Eagle program in your town. The Boy Scouts make sure the best of their best leave a mark on the community. They want to be sure that wherever their finest leaders can be found, there you will find the evidence of Eagles. The Church as Good Neighbor There has been a lot of discussion going on about whether religion should be part of public life. This kind of theoretical discussion can be thrown around on national television shows. But anyone who lives in a community in any town in this country knows that the church is as vital a part of any community as the town hall, the library or the local swimming pool. Whether you have religious convictions or not, the role of the church in community life is impossible to ignore. Most churches have as part of their core reason for being that they will reach out to the community in a wide variety of ways to help the needy and provide comfort to those in need of help in the community in which they reside. Since this country was founded, the church has been a gathering place where important public factions take place. Just take a walk around Boston where the nation was born and you will notice that many of the important public landmarks that were part of the start of this country were churches. To a church, participating in community service is just as natural as a policeman helping a lost child get home. It just is part of who they are what they do. If you have a community service project in mind, it is never a bad place to start to go to the church and meet with their administrative board. The church knows that if you improve the community, you make people feel more part of the lives of others. And people who want to be involved in the lives of others get out and go to church. So it just makes good sense for your local church, temple or synagogue to be a vital part of any community service project that can make your town a better place to live. It is important to understand the role the church can play in any community service project in town. The church is probably not the place to go to get massive funding for a huge public works project. But don't count the church out as a funding resource because within the church there may be many influential and wealthy citizens who might be ready to kick in their fair share to make the town a better place to live. The church, if it is a vital and living religious body, has at its disposal a strong community of enthusiastic members and the ability to mobilize those members to get out and make a difference in the community. The pastor or priest of the local church has the pulse of his or her congregation and he or she knows how to get them moving on an exciting project and, by the way, how to turn them against one just as fast. So when you go to the local church to discuss that community service project, think of what means the most to that religious institution. They are not motivated by property values, marketing statistics or traffic the project might generate. A church is interested in the people who might be touched and if the project gives them the ability to make a positive impact on the community. That kind of influence will help people feel open to coming to church again and that is what makes churches grow. So we should look at churches as places that have a tremendous value to any community service project we might need to get started. As people motivators, they cannot be beat. Church members are joiners and doers and they as a rule can be trusted with money, equipment and responsibility. Churches have small communities such as the youth group, the ladies circle or the men's fellowship that by themselves can take on a community service project and make it a success. So if you have plans to start a project that is going to make a positive mark on your community, remember a church can always be counted on to be a good neighbor.
Teens on a Mission from God One of the many great lines from the classic movie The Blues Brothers was one that was delivered by Dan Ackroyd when he was explaining the importance of their need to get their blues band back together. He always explained that it was because, "We're on a mission from God." But humor aside, across this country from literally thousands of churches each summer, youth groups head out on trips, some far away and some across town to offer community service in the name of their mission of spreading the word about their faith. Now whether you subscribe to the religious views of these many bright eyed teenagers, you have to admit that seeing such an army of youth spending their summer weeks working to help others rather than just hanging out at the pool or making trouble for their parents is a positive thing for everyone concerned. From a religious perspective, one of the great values of a mission trip for teenagers is that it gives them a chance to genuinely use their faith in service of others. Most religious doctrines include a dedication to service to mankind in one form or another. Most of the mission trips that are sponsored from American churches are Christian in nature. And the Christian faith definitely includes teaching that all followers should reach out to the poor and to those less fortunate than themselves as part of their devotion to God. So taking an organized group of young people out to offer service to the poor, to another culture or even overseas to a disadvantaged area makes those teachings from the church much more real. Even for those who may not subscribe to Christianity, it is clear that a faith that gets out and puts its muscle into community service is a faith that, to borrow a phrase, "puts it money where its mouth is." Beyond the religious aspects of the value of such mission trips, there are many tremendous values that are the outcome of mobilizing a group of teenagers to go and help others as part of a community service effort. Some of those values are: * It teaches the value of work. When youth are given shovels or paint brushes and they have to work 8-10 hours in the hot sun to help other people, they learn a lot about what hard work means and the great things that can come from hard work. This is a lesson that can never been taught as well via lectures or reading a book. It is a lesson best caught not taught. * It teaches them to work together. Community service projects almost always involves working in teams. As teens begin to bond with their fellow missionaries that are both other teens who are older and younger and with hard working adults, those divisions between generations and between each other melt away as they work hard and enjoy the fun of really doing something worthwhile. * It gives them a glimpse into the lives of others. Universally when teenagers return from a mission trip, they come back changed after seeing how others less fortunate than they live. This is a big growing experience and one that will only happen in a dramatic, face to face encounter such as they have on the mission field. We cannot overlook that one of the big values of putting tens of thousands of teenagers into the field to do community service each summer is that many poor, disadvantaged or down and out people get much needed help from an army of kids eager to serve because they are doing it from their reverence for their religious beliefs. The bonding that happens on mission trips isn't just between the team and each other and it's leadership. Those receiving the help will bond with the mission teams in ways that none involved will ever forget. And that has value that are probably even greater than the work that got done. Those are eternal values. Real Patriotism Patriotism is a word that has gotten a lot of use in the last few years as more and more people try to define what patriotism is based on how much you fly your flag and how many magnets you have on your car. But the expression of patriotism we show at the fourth of the July when we cut loose with those fireworks or we shout in agreement at stirring patriotic speeches are not the kind of patriotism that makes this country as great as it is. This is not to say that there is no place for that kind of patriotic expression. To be able to express devotion to country openly is one of our rights. And when all citizens of this country can do that in agreement, it builds community and the kind of pride that makes the nation strong. There is a phrase that one of the army divisions uses to explain to anybody who asks what makes that unit so brave and able to do such amazing things in battle or whenever called into duty. It is a very simple phrase but one that is full of meaning. It simply says "deeds not words." The concept of deeds being the true substance of patriotism is nowhere better shown than in the many acts of community service that go on in this country every week of the year. All over this great land, clubs, Boy Scout troops, churches, businesses and every imaginable kind of organization go into the community to do service projects to make their communities a better place to live. Maybe this doesn't seem like patriotism because we tend to associate patriotism with love of the country as a whole. But none of us live in the country as a whole. Each of us lives in a community that taken together make this wonderful country as great as it is. The country isn't great because it photographs well from space. It is great because in little towns and small cities and big metropolises and out in the country, Americans get out and find ways to help each other and to help their communities grow and continue to prosper. That spirit of community service is always on display when you see moments of crisis in part of the country. We see situations every week where there is a tornado here or a fire there or a lost child in one small town or a family who loses everything in another. When we see that, without fail, you see the local community rally to the aid of those who lost the most. In fact, when the national media does their job of letting us know when the need is great, the nation as a whole will pitch in and do all they can to help out their neighbors in another state, even though these are neighbors they have never met and that they will never see again. Obviously dramatic events like the 911 attacks show that kind of spirit most dramatically. At the local level, even in a town like New York City, on the sight where there was tremendous danger and loss of life everywhere, those New Yorkers became what we all are. They became Americans and even with the threat of more danger, they got in there and helped the wounded. And then day by day, week by week, those Americans set upon a community service project to end all community service projects as they began to put those neighborhoods back together again and make a community out of what terrorists turned into a war zone. But the local community service is not the end of the story. Soon from all over America, from small towns and big cities, armies of volunteers, coordinated by wise agencies that we depend on in times like these, moved into New York to lend their hands, neighbor to neighbor to help rebuild that city. Never mind if that mother from Peoria knew about New York or agreed with them politically. She saw a neighbor in pain and a town attacked by an enemy. And Americans come together when we need each other. That is the heart of what makes community service work. And that is the true meaning of patriotism. Merchants Reach Out Sometimes we see some tremendous acts of community service that one of the really big businesses in town takes on. A huge international bank may donate some huge statue to the local park. A big oil company who has been in the city since it was started might fund a library or a new museum. When these things happen, those big businesses usually get their names attached to those projects. And while we are all grateful for the contribution these businesses make to our towns, nobody is kidding themselves that they just do that as part of smart business and to take the write off. It is sad to be so cynical but when we think of true community service, it isn't some massive company that has no real face or personality to us that really makes a difference. It is when that local merchant who runs the local five and dime or ice cream shop or that new business getting started pitches in that we really see the "community" part of community service start to mean something. They say that small business really is the heart of our economy. But small business is what makes any city or town in America thrive. Even if the business is a branch of a large national chain, if the business functions for very long in your neighborhood, it doesn't take long for it to become a local business. Local merchants have good reasons to get involved in community service projects that are even more compelling than the reasons huge companies do it. Huge companies do it because they went to a seminar in New York where some hot shot wrote a book telling them it's a good idea to appease the locals. But with a local business, there are no hot shots telling them how to appease anyone. They ARE the locals and they love your community just as much as anyone. "Love" is a term not lots of people apply to the place they live very much. But our immediate neighborhood with the video store across the street, the pizza place just up the block and the grocery store that employs kids from your daughter's Sunday School class just a mile away all make up a local neighborhood that you do have feelings for. So it is not wrong to want to make an investment in the businesses and public use spaces that will improve the quality of life for everyone you know. Too often we sit around and wait for the government to kick in and make our lives better and improve things are broken down. We put too much value on the idea that "I paid my taxes, not the mayor can just get down here and fix our park". The pivotal word in that complaint is "our". The town you live in and particularly the part that means a lot to you is yours and it is all of our jobs to take care of what means a lot to us. At the local level, it is the local merchant who can really make a difference in improving the quality of life for his family and the families that shop with him. By working together with other local merchants, you can fund small community service projects and even get out of the store and roll up your sleeves and help out yourself. When you do that, you will get a feeling of pride in YOUR town and in your neighborhood. And that pride will be shared by your neighbors who, incidentally, are also your best customers. How the Rich Really Get Richer Somehow we have a fascination and sometimes a disgust toward the wealthiest people in our society. To be sure, they are the ones that get a lot of attention in the tabloids and television talk shows. And the paparazzi love them. But at the same time, we tend to look down on them. We assume that they are spoiled, perhaps got their wealth through unscrupulous means and that they cannot understand the day in day out struggles that the "common folks" go through every day. But there is another side to the lifestyle of the most fortunate in society and that is their philanthropic and community service work that they do. There is no question that the wealthy have amazing abilities to generate revenue and build powerful and successful businesses. But it seems that once people reach a certain level of wealth, the urge takes over to give to the community and provide the means for some truly great community service work to be done. There is a long precedent in the country for those who achieve the highest level of success to turn that success around and put it right back into the community. One of the great philanthropists of the American business community was David Packard, one of the founders of Hewlett Packard. Throughout his career, he never allowed the trappings of wealth to affect his lifestyle or his values. So when he had achieved great success, he turned right around and started the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. This ongoing community service organization uses the tremendous endowment of funds that David Packard passed to it in his will to fund dozens of worthwhile community service projects including preschools, community centers, health care for children and children's hospitals. A more up to date example of a very rich and successful business man turning that wealth to community service is Bill Gates, the entrepreneur who started Microsoft. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives literally millions to dozens of worthy projects that are set up to help ease the plight of those victimized by global poverty and illness as well finding ways to encourage global development to help put an end to poverty once and for all. Looking at this charitable work on the outside, you might think that the rich of our society do this kind of thing for a tax write off or because they feel guilty for all they take out of society. And sure, there are no doubt some of that social class who function out of those motivations. But a higher motivation often is what drives the wealthy to want to do their part. In many cases, such as Bill Gates, the wealth they have come to know was a byproduct of their brilliant work with their field of endeavor. They never set out to be rich but the marketplace rewarded them for innovation, invention or superior business abilities. These individuals are like you and I in that they set out in life to be as successful as they can be. And just like you and I, many of the wealthy know that being a success in life means more than just your bank account or how new your car is. So by using the blessings their success has given them to help others, the wealthy get a different kind of fulfillment from life than just luxury and fine living. They learn what many of us already know that to achieve true fulfillment in life, you have to seek it from helping others. By coming down out of their mansions and finding ways to help others in society, the rich discover that the one who gets the most out of community service is the giver. We are fortunate to such philanthropists who are using their wealth to help others. But they have learned that our thanks is not the reward. They have learned that the way to truly get richer is to enjoy a richer life and that there is no richer experience in life than the joy of helping others through community service. Helping Hands Around the World When we think of community service, we almost always think in terms of our local community. And reaching out to those in your own town is truly the most dynamic type of community service. But there are dramatic examples of people who reached out beyond the city limits of where they lived to really make a difference in the lives of people around them. Examples of ways that neighbors reached out to neighbors beyond their borders and out into the larger community of the nation can be found in youth outreach programs through local churches or community centers. Every year thousands of youth spread out all over the country to help those less fortunate than themselves. But there is one example of neighbor helping neighbor even past the borders of our country. This is an example of government working hand in hand with citizens to extend helping hands around the world. And that example of community service on a global scale is the Peace Corps. The idea of the Peace Corps was the brainchild of dreamers during the 1960s, a decade where the youth of America were searching for self-definition. It took a dynamic leader like John F. Kennedy to take that vision and find a way to organize it into a government program that could capitalize on the energy, the good will and the enthusiasm of youth to reach out to nations around the world. The idea had gained sufficient momentum that it became an important part of Kennedy's campaign for the presidency so much so that when President Kennedy gave his inaugural speech, it was the Peace Corps he was talking about when he uttered those historic words: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country" The Peace Corps has given tens of thousands of America's youth the opportunity to become part of a large community service outreach where that opportunity may not have existed before. Since its inception in 1960, over 187,000 people have served in the Peace Corps. If we take the time to reflect on the mission of the Peace Corps, it was truly an ambitious undertaking. The scope of this new federal agency was well summarized in the wording of the actual law that brought into being which states that the Peace Corps was established: "to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower." One wonders how the Peace Corps really is a way for a young person to ask what they can do for America in that it is an outreach to people in need all over the world. But in truth, efforts like the Peace Corps have done as much to promote democracy and to build good will between foreign nations and the United States as any official ambassador or formal meeting of heads of states could ever do. The Peace Corps has build relationships between peoples at the local level. And it is when the citizens of nations around the world see the true hearts of Americans and that sense of trust and good will is built up between peoples that the good will that naturally happens on a Peace Corps outing begins to take root and change opinions on a national level about what America is really all about. We can only hope that the Peace Corps continues to do its good work for many generations to come. The friendship it builds between people of all nationalities can go further to spread democracy and our way of life than any war can do. And in doing so, it fulfills the dream of President Kennedy that America's youth would be more about helping others than their own ambitions and that this would be his legacy to America and indeed to all the world. Getting the Government out of Community Service We live in a time when we tend to look to the government to do a lot of things. For some reason, we tend to think that just because we have to pay taxes, it is our government's job to fix everything that is broke and arrest anybody we don't like. But if we can get a more rational view of what the government can do and moreover what it cannot do, we then can define what is local and should be handled by people in our own comity. There are many projects that are just outside of what the government ought to be sticking their noses into. This is particularly true concerning the federal government. Too often we push to the national level discussions and decisions about the quality of life in our own communities when no matter what the federal government does, nothing will make our communities a better place to live more than people coming together as neighbors to make it so. A good example is the care of local parks and public areas. If we expect the government to pay a service that has no connection to our community to come in and make things right in the public spaces used by our children and that are important to our neighbors, we can be sure the job isn't going to get done right. One of the reasons that there is a general disrespect for public gathering spaces is that people don't see those spaces as part of their local community. If you think you are littering on yet another piece of government property, you won't think twice about treating it with disrespect because it isn't yours. It really is a matter of ownership. When we get together as a community and put together community service projects, we are making a statement that this area of our neighborhood belongs to us and it our job to make it nice. A great example of how this can work so well is a new phenomenon of the neighborhood swimming pool. As more public pools have to close, many neighborhoods are coming together, funding the land and construction and having a pool built for that neighborhood so everybody's kids can have a place to swim. Without fail these kinds of community spaces are better taken care of and even safer than the old public pools, run by the government, ever were. People are not as prone to leave them in a mess because these are your neighbors living next door to the pool. When young people are there swimming, it isn't just the lifeguards watching out for their safety. The entire neighborhood is taking responsibility for the safety of those kids. And the result is a safer, cleaner and better community space than could ever have happened if the government had built the pool. Our local, state and federal governments all have important jobs to do. We need them to make our streets safe to drive, to keep the lights on, to make sure jobs are coming to the state and to keep our relationship with the rest of the world working well. When they do their jobs well, our lives improve because of it. But when the government gets in the middle of projects where they just don't belong, the outcome is almost always a disaster. So, as a people living in a country run by the people, it is our job to make sure that we take care of the community service and we keep the government out of things that are none of their business and make sure they are doing what is their business. Everybody wins that way. Young Hands Making a Difference What is the more important goal of any kid? Well if you are a kid or have a kid, you can guess the answer right away. It isn't concerns about having enough to eat, where they will sleep or whether the bomb will be dropped tomorrow. No the worse fate that can befall a kid is summed up in one plea -- "What can I do? I'm bored!" It may seem like an odd suggestion then, to both the kid out there and to the ones charged with battling this dread affliction of "boredom" in the kids on our lives that there is one medicine for boredom that you may not have given a chance. And that is community service. Now this may be a tough sell because on the surface, community service isn't a toy or a video game or something designed to entertain kids. It is something so much different from any of those repacked amusements. It's for real. Lots of computer games are made to give you the feeling you created something whether it's a city, an alien planet or a spaceship. But when you turn off the computer, that creation is gone because it never was real. With community service you DO create something and not by talking to a pretend civilization on the computer screen. Oh no, what you create is real, it will be there tomorrow when you go back. And you are dealing with real people and solving real problems. All of a sudden, the kid isn't so much a kid any more. He or she is a valuable member of the community, just like an adult and there is not better feeling than that! There are tons of other great reasons to get involved in community service this summer or as a hobby to replace the endless hours playing computer games. There is such a huge variety of things you can get involved with through community service that you can get your hands dirty on a hobby or an interest that you really want to be involved in. And you won't be just enjoying that great interest by yourself because you will be working side by side with other youths, older kids in college or beyond, young dads and moms and even grandparents all who don't want to sit home and be bored and would rather be out there being somebody for someone else. Volunteering can even give you as much variety as playing games or fooling around with toys might give you and you don't have to beg mom and dad to buy you a thing. In most towns or cities, there is a community service coordinating group that will have dozens and dozens of ways you can plug in and do something for someone else. Some of the great ways you can pitch in and help out might include: * Helping stock food that will go out to famine victims or hurricane survivors. * Serving meals at the homeless shelter to families who really need the help. In fact, after the meal is over, those homeless kids would like nothing more than to spend a few hours with some new friends enjoying a simple game or just learning about each other. * Help the Special Olympics put on one of their athletic outings. If you or your kids love sports, what better way to put that skill to work helping others than letting someone who isn't as lucky as you know that great feeling of winning a race or sinking a basket. * Reading to a shut in or to the blind. You think its great hearing a story? You haven't had a thrill until you read it to someone else who has never heard it and you see their face as they enjoy every new twist and turn of the plot. Community service gives young hands a chance to really make a difference to others in the community. But maybe the most important thing it does is it opens kid's eyes to how great it is to stop worrying about themselves and help someone else out for a little while. It is the kind of addiction your mom and dad will be glad you got into. And chances are you will never again complain, "What can I do? I'm bored!" Children Reaching Children War is a terrible thing. And the war we are trying to get through right now sure has its share of brutality and loss of life. The sad thing is that it is the children who are most affected by such a war. And they are the ones who least understand what is going on around them. But even in situations as sad and desperate as a war zone, you can sometimes find rays of hope and moments where people reach out to each other in a way that really helps. One such way happens every time that children in our country reach out to children half way around the world. This happens every day through the many school projects that help kids find a way to send some needed supplies, a letter of encouragement and some joy to the children overseas who are enduring war in their country. These kinds of community service projects that teachers in thousands of school rooms all over America have their children do, go far to help bring international understanding and hope between peoples. It is safe to say that these outreaches do as much or more for the children extending the help as they do for the children to receive the packages from strangers far away. This is community service at the largest possible scale. We can call it that because when children reach out and help other children, even hardened and syndical adults are touched because we see a global community, the community of mankind and the community of children everywhere rise up to help others in need. The good this does is just as valuable as a community service project as any effort to pick up trash in the park or to gather food for the homeless, as good as those efforts are. For the children on the giving end of these community outreaches, the learning experience is invaluable. Many times the teachers will use an American solider someone knows as a point of contact. That brave soldier can make sure the gifts sent by the children get to local children of a similar age. If he can take some pictures or a video that can be sent back to America, the excitement the givers of the gifts experience is electric. Too often we all watch stories of atrocities or the suffering of war and we cannot really connect to what is going on because it is so far away and those people are not really connected to us. But when these children send presents to children suffering the affects of war, they gain a sense of connection, an empathy and that "brotherhood" or sisterhood with children far away who have the same hopes, dreams and daily needs that the kids in their classroom have. When a teacher takes their class through an exercise like this, the lesson time always pays off because the teacher and the parents of the children see an immediate interest in the far away affairs in these kids. It can be disconcerting to a parent to see their elementary school age child glued to the evening news and the coverage of the war to see if they can spot a child that might have received their package. All of a sudden, those far away children are real and all our kids want for them is for them to enjoy a simple toy, a nice thing to eat and a quiet day when nobody in their family dies. For the children in a war zone, these packages can be as much of a revelation as it is for the senders. They can look at the pictures of children from America who took the time to send something just for them. All of a sudden, American children are just like them and they care. A simple gift like this can change a heart from one of hate to one of a child who has found a friend. We should be happy our teachers are helping our kids connect to far away children and that the result is our kids empathize with people suffering around the world. These lessons will make them better citizens of their communities, of their country and of the world when they are grown and raising children of their own. Can Mandatory Community Service Work? Lots of organizations coordinate youth community service work. And you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would oppose the idea of kids pitching in and helping out make the community a better place for everybody to live. It's good for the community because we are using that boundless energy and physical stamina of youth for a good cause. It's good for the causes helped because there is no end of work to be done. And it's good for the kids because it helps them think about other people, it gives them a strong sense of self-esteem and it helps them learn new skills and meet others in the community they might never meet otherwise. But when those in leadership at the local, state or national level propose some form of uniform mandatory community service for youth that seems to change the nature of the program so dramatically that the discussion turns sour pretty fast. It might be that the term "mandatory community service" has a negative connotation because so often, that is part of the sentencing of someone who has run afoul of the law and is given so many hundred hours of community service to pay back their debt to society. So if we are going to implement any form of mandatory community service for teenagers or kids on our society, we need to think it through and take advantage or programs that have successfully mandated community service for kids and have had success. There are ample examples of youth organizations that have worked community service into their programs so successfully that the youth perform the service with enthusiasm and actually have a lot of fun with it. And that is the spirit you want everyone to have on a community service project, adult and youth alike. Often times voluntary school programs such as band, academic clubs, other competitive societies such as chess or debate clubs will include a form of community service as part of the requirements for membership. The service can be integrated with the activity such as having the chess club members spend a day a month at the shelter teaching chess to homeless kids. The youth associate their ambitions to become great at the skill they are seeking with sharing that skill with others. Churches and youth organizations not affiliated with schools also have great success with community service. When you see a church youth group outside the walls of the church, you can bet they are probably busy painting someone's porch, feeding the less fortunate or doing something of value for the community. The church can put a positive slant on it that fits with the mission of the organization by calling it a "mission to our own town" but the outcome is the same. One of the most outstanding examples of an organization that turns community service into a value that is eagerly sought by their youth is the Boy Scouts of America. In Boy Scouts, the young men must complete a certain number of hours of organized "service hours" to make the next rank in scouting. The program places a high value on advancing in rank, which is rewarded with pomp and circumstance during the advancement ceremony and badges for their uniforms, which young men pursue with zeal. The key is to tie the community service to something the youth want to do. If the mandatory community service is integrated with advancement, achievement and rewards, the short term "pay off" is all a kid needs to roll their sleeves up and get in there and work. And if they have fun side by side with adults they admire, you have a formula for a program of mandatory community service for youth that is sure to be a success. A Rich Retirement Whether it is you who is approaching those golden years we call retirement or one of your loved ones is in those years, there is no question that making that transition from the working world and decades of responsibility and hard work is not always easy. The sudden change of lifestyle and that feeling of "no longer being useful" is one of the most difficult aspects of retirement and growing older. When you combine that with reduced activity and the natural decline in physical ability that aging brings, you have a powerful emotional transition to go through. That is why people who actively counsel the elderly have learned that the most positive thing a person can do to combat that depression and sense of "uselessness" that plaques retirees is to make themselves useful. And there is no better place for them to do that than in community service. There are a variety of great reasons that volunteerism among the elderly is such a great idea. And if you are in a position to counsel an aging family member or friend, it is important to remember that doing community service is not all about being charitable and helping out the down and out. It is just as much about the health and well-being of the retiree as it is for the good of the community and the people in it. By getting out into the community and finding rewarding ways to perform community service, that sense of "being needed" and being a part of something is given back to the retiree. Community service and the retirement set are a perfect match for each other. People who are staffing community service projects are always in need of an army of qualified and mature help, especially from those who have sufficient time to really do a good job with a community service project. This is just right for retiree who if anything suffers with too much time on their hands. Too often, that time can be turned to self-pity or indulging in less than healthy lifestyle choice. Community service is, after all, "work". And as a people who are enjoying their rewards from a lifetime of work, this is just the thing to transition to a life of retirement. Community service can also call upon the elderly to participate in some level of physical activity. Now your local community service coordinator can make sure that their elderly volunteers are given assignments appropriate to their physical abilities. But just getting out there and greeting others, reading to the blind, helping with a food or blood drive or jumping in where they can on a big community project gets the blood moving and maybe just the right kind of exercise they need to stay active and healthy. Community service also provides opportunities to socialize with people of all ages and social backgrounds. One of the greatest dangers of a retirement lifestyle is the loneliness and isolation stepping out of the working world causes. Even if the elderly person lives in a retirement community, the chance to socialize with younger people and people of many backgrounds and orientations is tremendously healthy for the mental stability of one in that stage of life. The benefits to the retiree of getting involved in community service are many. But giving that retired person that sense of personal value and worth that they have come to expect from each day's work is valuable beyond measurement. Many community service projects are short term so the volunteers get that immediate gratification that gives anyone a boost, but even more so a retiree who feels left out and not useful. Community service may be just the medicine to cure those ills. Those Men on Tiny Motorcycles and the Funny Hats On the children's cartoon, The Flintstones, Fred and Barney belong to a fraternal organization that takes up quite a bit of their time. It is called the Loyal Order of the Buffalo and their leader is the Grand Poobah. This is a funny reference to several important organizations that make a genuine contribution to the community through their many philanthropic and community service efforts. In almost every small town and big city in America there are a number of men's fraternal organizations that gather together routinely, just like the Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo did on The Flintstones. Now we won't say that some of the things the men who gather in these groups do is not as fun and light hearted as it depicted on The Flintstones. These organizations which include The Lions Club, The Rotary Club, The Scottish Rite, The Knights of Columbus, The Kiwanis and the Shiners go back many generations in our culture and provide valuable networking opportunities for men in every community they serve. There is some secrecy that goes on with these fraternal organizations but that secrecy is not insidious as some have suggested. The charters of these organizations are universally benevolent and dedicated to three important principles. Those are (1) fellowship for men to network with each other and gather to discuss community issues (2) fun that is wholesome and provides a venue where men can enjoy each other's company in an acceptable manner and (3) community service. It is that last core value that we in the community see the most often when these fraternal organizations mobilize to take on an important need in the community. Because these organizations are often populated by business leaders, religious clergy and influential men of all walks of life, when they put their minds to get something done for the community, they have the leadership, the resources, the money, the talent and the self will to get things done. It is in the area of community service that these fraternal organizations are the most valuable to any community. None are more recognizable as the Shiners. The Shiners of North America are well known because of the famous Shrine Circus that makes its way around the country each year. Many children can remember going to their first Shrine Circus parade and seeing those men come charging down the street on those tiny little motorcycles or in tiny little cars all wearing that tall red hat, called a "fez" which is part of the uniform of a Shrine. This sense of fun and their desire to bring joy and laughter to families is one of the reasons the Shiners are such a beloved organization in our communities. This circus is almost as famous as the Ringling Brother's circus and it holds special meaning for a lot of families. That is because this is just one dozens of ways the Shiners raise money for their biggest community service project of them all. In fact the community service the Shiners do has been called the World's Greatest Philanthropy. That is because this fraternal organization has built and continues to operate 22 hospitals for children all over the country. The stories of miracles that have been done to save the lives of children in the Shiners children's hospitals are numerous. These wonderful hospitals offer care for children with life threatening diseases to whom they provide the finest of medical care. Even more amazing is that children who receive care at these hospitals are never required to be associated with the Shrine organization and many times the care they receive is given to them free of charge. It is heartwarming to see the good the Shiners of North America do each year as they hold parades, trips, dances, dinners, sporting events and that wonderful circus to raise money for their hospitals for children. It is amazing what a bunch of men on tiny motorcycles and wearing funny hats can do when they put their minds to it. A Different Kind of Christmas Each year as Christmas season begins to go into full gear, we hear the complaint that Christmas has become commercialized and we have forgotten "The true meaning of Christmas." When we make that observation, it must come from a nostalgic time, perhaps when we were children, and we remember Christmas being about the sacrifice of the Christ child and that the gifts we give reflect the gift of life that God has brought to us. Even if our Christmas time is not full of religious imagery, the stories and carols and traditions of the Christmas season point to values that are more about giving to each other out of the heart and being together as family more than the economic side of the season and the hustle and bustle that can weary the soul more than bless it. That is why this year it might be a time to think about trying a different kind of Christmas. If you feel that your family has gotten too bogged down in the commercial aspect of the holiday, maybe there is way to remind each other that Christmas is about giving between people and sharing with others in order to allow there to be "peace and good will among men". One way to bring the spirit of the season back is to reintroduce your family to the idea of doing something for someone less fortunate in a very dynamic and meaningful way. Oh sure, we like to give a few coins to the Santa on the corner collecting for the Salvation Army or buy a toy for the tree at the mall that will eventually be given to a poor child. But you and your family do not get to enjoy the thrill of actually giving to someone less fortunate and enjoying the fellowship, the gratitude and the since of bonding that kind of giving, when done face to face, can bring. To get to that "next level" of making giving to others meaningful, nothing can beat a good family community service project at the holidays to bring home the true meaning of the season to everybody in the family. There are dozens of causes around the holidays that are always in need of lots of help that you can volunteer your family to be involved with during the Christmas season. If you feel that your family might need to starter project before actually going and working with the less fortunate, you can help with the collection of goods and the organization of what is given in preparation for delivery. Many civic organizations collect mountains of toys, clothing and canned goods that will be split up into packages to be delivered to thousands of families in need of such things during the holidays. You can find such an organization and make an appointment to meet at their warehouse and help sort out the goods that have come in and package them up for delivery. Its hard work but as you and your family work to lovingly prepare these presents for others, it is so much more meaningful and in touch with the spirit of the season. Everybody will remember that Christmas fro a long time to come. But to really make the joy of Christmas become the joy of reaching out to others, serving Christmas dinner to the homeless or to those who are down and out will be an experience that will change the way your children view Christmas forever. You don't have to necessarily open your home to strangers to show hospitality to others. It is understandable that having people you don't know around your table at home could be a little frightening and more than you are ready to take on. But if you can include with your Christmas eve or Christmas day festivities that after the gifts are opened and big Christmas meal is done, everybody gets in the cars and goes to the shelter to share their love and to serve dinner to others the way they have to generously received, that will go a long way toward capturing the sprit of the holiday for those you are helping and for your family as well. For all involved, it will truly be a different kind of Christmas.
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