Yesterday on facebook a long-time friend reminded me of John F. Kennedy’s quote “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” As we head into the week that includes both the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination and a holiday dedicated for giving thanks, that quote resonates even more for me now than ever before. In the eleven weeks I have spent volunteering during the Do Good Adventure road trip, I have met many people who have found their way to do for their country. The volunteers at these non-profit organizations give their time while staff works long hours, often for a salary lower than they could command on the open market. Together, they create miracles!
Just taking into account the staff and volunteers at the eleven organizations I’ve visited, each year these teams feed thousands of people, clothe and counsel hundreds more, shelter hundreds of victims of domestic violence, rescue tens of thousands of companion animals and advocate for everything from ocean protection to teen empowerment. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations operating in the United States today. That
is a lot of people, a lot of time and a lot of impact.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story…the story of the individuals whose lives are impacted by this work. The first night I volunteered with StandUp for Kids Atlanta, an organization that helps street kids, a pregnant 19-year-old came in for GED tutoring. She had already taken part of the test and was anxiously awaiting the results. The next night when she came in to shower and get clean clothes during hang out night she proudly announced that she had passed the portions of the test she had taken. Even as an outsider, I could tell that she credited StandUp for helping her succeed.
Or take the homeless woman in Houston who came to the Emergency Aid Coalition last week. I helped her pack the groceries for herself and her six kids. When I gave her an extra plate of cookies and a carrot cake, she was very appreciative that they would have something extra to enjoy on the holiday. I’ll never forget the look of relief on the face of the woman in the 9th ward who had lost everything during hurricane Katrina when I told her that the energy efficient light bulbs I installed that had been provided to her, free of charge, by Green Light New Orleans, would save her more than $500 on her electric bills over the life of the bulbs. She will, no doubt, make every penny of that savings count.
The staff and volunteers of these organizations change the landscape of our nation, especially for the people who need help most. They are not just asking what they can do for their country; they are jumping in and taking action. That gives us all a lot for which to be thankful.