Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why we do what we do

All over the news these days there seems to be stories of people's greed. The pro athletes who won't start playing because they don't think their multi-million dollar contract is quite big enough to pay for their obvious talent and ability, the Bernie Madoffs of the world who enrich themselves by stealing from others, the lavish and over-consumptive lifestyles of today's rich and famous.

I'll really be aging myself here, but do you remember the lyrics to the classic Country song by Loretta Lynn "One's On The Way?" About a million years ago by today's reckoning, but probably in the late 1960's or early '70's.  It compares the lifestyles of the rich and famous to those of us on the front lines of making ends meet in middle America:

They say to have her hair done, Liz flies all the way to France
And Jackie's seen in a Discoteque doin' a brand new dance
And the White House social season should be glitterin' and gay
But here in Topeka the rain is a fallin'
The faucet is a drippin' and the kids are a bawlin'
One of 'em a toddlin' and one is a crawlin'
And one's on the way

This blog post isn't about the hard working Americans and their struggles in every day life. It's about what happens when those hard working Americans find something that needs to be done.

Last night I attended a two-hour meeting with the organizing committee of the North Platte Rail Fest. These hard working folks all have day jobs. Some blue-collar, some white-collar, and some that in-between breed of small business owners who do it all. Busy people with families and responsibilities. Yet they have contributed countless thousands of hours over the past year to plan this year's festival.

Why? Are they going to make the big bucks out of it? Are they going to get much besides Monday morning quarterbacks telling them how they should have done it differently?  For these folks in particular, they get a lot out of it. They get to be a part of something that has changed the culture of an entire community. 

Being a railroad town like North Platte hasn't always caused it's citizens to hold their heads up with pride. By it's very nature, railroading is a hard, long, dirty job. What kinds of people do these jobs? Good ole' fun lovin', beer drinkin', hard workin' but hard partyin' kinds of people. Men and women whose significant others won't let them in the house at night in their work clothes, and who have a separate washing machine to use just on them. I know what I'm talking about here, folks.

But these same people are the ones who have raised families, coached little league, been scoutmasters, church deacons, village board trustees, school board members and generally contributed greatly to the wonderful lifestyle we get to live here in Nebraska.

The people at Rail Fest saw that they weren't getting the recognition that they deserved and created a celebration to change that. They also petitioned Congress to have North Platte officially named Rail Town USA. And now thousands of rail fans come to North Platte each September (the 18th, 19th and 20th this year, by the way) to celebrate the accomplishments of these men and women who keep Union Pacific and America rolling. And the people of North Platte get to hold our heads up high because we're a Railroad Town! 

Rail Fest is only one committee of an organization called Original Town that is a group of people who saw a different kind of need. The residents of one of the oldest sections of town (hence Original Town), needed an advocate to make sure that they weren't overlooked when the clean-up, fix-up, beautification activities happen. I don't know the statistics, but Original Town has helped many families repair run-down homes, clean-up and paint others, and made life better for lots of folks.

Ah, but enough about them. What about North Platte's Habitat for Humanity? How many volunteer hours do you think it takes to build a house? Who knows, but they've completed 26 of them in the past few years, and have three in various stages of construction at the moment.

North Platte's RSVP program? More than 600 volunteers, retired from their lifelong careers, who still want to contribute to the community by giving of their time.

What about my mom and mother-in-law? My mom has volunteered for as long as I can remember at Sutherland's nursing home, spending hours each week bringing some fun to the residents there. My mother-in-law works (for free!) at the hospital and surgical center in North Platte making sure patients have as good a day as is possible under the circumstances.

My brothers and sisters? One brother built an entire house (OK, it was a playhouse) to be auctioned off so the kids of Sutherland can have a swimming pool. Another brother and his wife give tirelessly to their church and the homeless shelter. Sisters? Between school, church, and community work, they still have to fit in real jobs and families.  And we're no different than other Nebraskans.

These are only a small example. Recently I've had contact with the local VFW on a road rally celebrating the 110th anniversary of the organization, local community celebrations, a car show, arts in the park, a gun and knife show, the Nebraska State Rodeo Association, the Lincoln County High School Rodeo, United Way, farmers market, the people who organize a regular Open Mic, Arts Around Town...

I just tallied up the total donated goods and services for a single event that we're trying to bring to North Platte, and it's just over $250,000.00! One event that a team of people are working on like it's their job, to bring to the community that will benefit mostly other people.

The list is truly endless.

It's my job to help organizations like this. Most of these people do it just make things just a little bit better for their community.

According to a study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Nebraska ranks number two in volunteerism in the nation.
In all, Nebraskans last year donated nearly 67-million hours of their time, which works out to more than 49-hours for every Nebraskan. That’s $1.4 billion dollars in services donated.

All that and we're number two! Can you imagine the numbers racked up by the people in the number one state of Utah?

So, why do we do what we do? I don't know, but I'm just glad I'm surrounded by the kinds of people who do it.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee is always on.

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