In the midst of continued gridlock and doubts that anyone in Washington, D.C., or Olympia knows what the word compromise means, the United Way was serving up optimism and hope at its Spirit of Snohomish County breakfast on Wednesday, where it presented several awards to volunteers and others in the community.
The breakfast’s keynote speaker, Rich Harwood, a newspaper, TV and radio commentator, has counseled communities previously as they rebuild after tragedy, most recently working with Newtown, Connecticut, as the community debated what to do with the Sandy Hook Elementary School building, following the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six teachers in 2012. As with Newtown, Harwood said he was impressed with the community response that followed the landslide in Oso this March that killed 43 people.
What typified the response following the shooting and the slide was each community’s ability to focus on the needs of others.
“We need to make a fundamental choice to turn outward toward our communities,” Harwood said, to focus on shared aspirations, the kind of community we want and the things everyone is willing to work for.
Harwood told how at one community meeting he asked what people were willing to do in face of daunting problems. One man spoke up and said he wanted to find 12 to 15 people and go paint a school. Harwood was incredulous at first, he said, wondering what a fresh coat of paint was going to do to fix a community’s problems. But the man told Harwood how a simple act of volunteering, of shared work, would result in much more.
“It would demonstrate how we can step out of our homes, set a goal and start down a path,” Harwood said the man told him. The act of shared work would allow community members to gain confidence in themselves, restore faith in their neighbors and rebuild trust.
The United Way’s Spirit of Snohomish County award breakfast recognized those who have already stepped up with a paint brush in hand:
Recent Mariner High School graduate Kim Tran, winner of the Youth Award, is a busy volunteer with United Way, leading a video project to document its Youth United program.
Attorney Kay Field, winner of the Adult Award, created a free legal clinic for YWCA’s Pathways for Women program*, providing her advice and counsel pro bono.
IAM District 751 shop steward Paul Schubert, winner of the Labor Award, led a team of volunteers to build a wheelchair ramp for a disabled man and helped with food drives and park clean-up efforts.
Coastal Community Bank, the only bank that serves Darrington, responded to the needs of the community after the Oso landslide, forgiving car loans and mortgages of those who lost property in the disaster.
And a therapist and leader in the nonprofit community, Sarri Gilman, winner of the Reeves/Sievers Founders’ Award, founded Cocoon House, serving homeless and at-risk teens. For seven years she also has led Leadership Snohomish County, which helps develop community leaders.
If you’re feeling pessimistic about your community’s future, that your country is on the wrong track, pick up a brush and see what it does to change your perspective.