Friday, October 10, 2014

Volunteerism and The Greatest Generation

Much has been written about "The Greatest Generation" - the folks who fought the Second World War, and came back to build a nation. I was truly blessed to have been raised by parents who survived the Great Depression. Dad lived on a farm, at least - mom and her five siblings went hungry sometimes. Dad graduated from high school, and went right into the Navy. He served till the end of WWII, then was called back to serve in the Korean War. My mom was a "Rosie the Riveter." She worked in the tank plant in Cleveland, because all the men were overseas fighting. Her only brother, Joe, was killed in France during the war.

After the war, these citizens were forever changed. They had seen famine, and hardship, and death. So they came home to their towns and villages, including Gahanna, to finally start their families. They found work, the economy boomed, and they built homes, businesses and communities.

And they volunteered. In Gahanna, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, (VFW), built their post home themselves along the Big Walnut Creek. The Gahanna Jefferson Recreation District formed, and built a community swimming pool, next to the VFW. Over the years, many wonderful community civic, fraternal, social and service organizations were founded here and flourished. The Rotary, the Lions Club, the Kiwanis, and The American Legion, to name just a few more. These groups served their community by volunteering, working hard, and raising and donating funds, to make sure Gahanna had all the extras that made this community home. They didn't count on government to provide everything; they did it themselves. This generation was self-sufficient and self-reliant, and was not afraid of hard work.

When I first moved to Gahanna in the mid-1980's, the Lion's Club was still holding their chicken dinner fundraiser at the high school, which funded Gahanna's fireworks show and July 4th parade. Independence Day events were held and funded by our Lions, with just safety and logistics support from the City and the Township fire department. Some folks may remember that the fireworks were launched near the high school stadium, until that was deemed unsafe for viewers in the stands. The Gahanna Jefferson Recreation District non-profit organization was running the Gahanna Swim Club, and was planning to build a new, second pool. The Hunter's Ridge Recreation Association owned neighborhood parkland, and was running a swimming pool on Gahanna's East Side. And the folks in the Foxwood development also built and funded a neighborhood pool (and still do). Unfortunately, some of these groups can no longer do these things, and some no longer exist. It is my great hope to see new groups of young people spring up and help take over events and facilities for the folks who have worked so hard for Gahanna for so long.

Every Friday night, our veterans still raise the flag at every home football game. Their numbers have dwindled over the years, and many have passed on to Post Everlasting. As a group they are aging, many in their eighties and nineties. The World War II vets are very few now - I had the great honor of riding in this year's July 4th parade with two of them. Time is passing for Korean War and Vietnam vets, too, yet they still serve. They do more funerals than parades these days, they tell me. They serve at funerals every single week, sometimes multiple times, for their fellow veterans. They hold Memorial Day and Veteran's Day services, and lead the parade every July 4th. The list of their community service projects is long. I sincerely hope our newer, returning vets consider joining these groups, or new veteran’s groups, and are able to take over these duties that we value so much in our community.

The same commitment to community service is true for so many other volunteer organizations in Gahanna. Recently, the folks from our Kiwanis Club were volunteering at the Parks & Recreation Foundation event on a Saturday evening, and the same folks were back at it volunteering at a food booth at the Gahanna Historical Society’s Flea market the very next morning!

Gahanna was truly built on volunteer citizen efforts over the years. Today, volunteer efforts are still critical. The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) would never be able to pull off the Blues and Jazz Festival without hundreds of people volunteering to help out. The CVB also funds and produces the Holiday Lights Parade and Winter Wonderland at Creekside every winter. So many community events just couldn’t happen without our wonderful citizen volunteers.

But, fewer people are volunteering these days. Increasingly it's getting harder to recruit enough folks to help out. There are a lot of reasons for this –“people just are so busy these days”, we hear. Then I think about my parents, and their generation. They were busy too – yet they made time to build Gahanna and communities all around this nation.

It seems like it is the same, wonderful people who help out at every event. I am so grateful for these folks – they know who they are! But we need new faces and more folks to help out. Government cannot afford, and shouldn’t, provide all the amenities and extra things that make a community strong. Our parents and grandparents knew that.  

If you are not currently involved in community volunteerism, we would love to have you. Even if you have just a few hours a year to give, that’s great. If everyone helps a little, we can continue to build a stronger Gahanna for many generations to come.  Can we count on you to join us?

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb
City of Gahanna

Note: Creepside, the Gahanna Parks and Recreation’s Halloween event at Creekside Park, is October 22nd. Volunteers are still needed.  Click here, if you are interested is signing up to volunteer.