Despite the news, still things to smile about

By MICHELE MURPHY
OPINION

So many have commented about all the bad news this week. A 6-year old has died from cancer. A 4-year old is shot in the head in a drive-by. North Korea wants us dead. A 32-year old woman was run down and killed by an alleged “Hitler admirer” in Charlottesville and two state troopers were killed when their helicopter crashed as they worked to keep the peace.

Entwined in all that bad news are threads of hope. We can’t let acts of kindness and compassion go unnoticed. So often, they snowball into street, then neighborhood, then community-wide efforts that can lift us despite otherwise bad news.

Avon Lake is experiencing this right now as street after street went pink for a little girl named Piper. While she fought her cancer, nothing – not even evil cancer – could steal this community’s efforts to wrap their arms around this little girl and her family.

It cannot eliminate a family’s pain, but it can ease it.

National Nonprofit Day is tomorrow. It’s an opportunity to give a nod to the thousands of volunteers – many of them our neighbors, work colleagues and family members, as well as ourselves – who give of their precious free time to comfort the suffering, feed the hungry, care for the sick and the environment and the abandoned animals and a thousand other notable causes.

Voluntary associations are as old as America. Not long after the American Revolution, they began to grow as groups of people joined ranks to address issues of the day including drunkenness, treatment of the insane and slavery. I want to stress those were the terms used back then.

As immigrants arrived in America fleeing European wars, revolutions and starvation, they brought with them traditions, some based in their Catholic religious affiliation, for orphanages, temperance societies, hospitals and schools. Soon thousands of local, free-standing charitable corporations and voluntary associations emerged to address virtually any cause imaginable.

Call it what you want – charity, cause-related, nonprofit – the potential impact of one act of kindness or caring can, and does, improve the quality of life. It can even save a life.

My interest in nonprofit and philanthropic initiatives began when I was 5-years old. I was an Irish-Croatian Catholic kid in West Park Cleveland. I remember watching my dad write a check, place it in a small envelope and seal it just before we walked every week to Sunday Mass at St. Mark’s. Once I was in school, we had tax stamp drives to build schools or put additions on to churches. We had parish picnics with games of chance and proceeds benefiting parish activities. As kids, we went door to door selling Universe Bulletins, the Catholic newspaper. We also took fire safety surveys door to door. I earned a Webster’s dictionary – which I still possess – for turning in a high number of completed surveys. We held drives and contests to help those in need on every continent.

In addition, I remember my dad’s company donating free roofing and gutter work to virtually every Catholic church in Greater Cleveland. He was pretty generous with other denominations, too. Clothing, blankets and household items rarely went to the garbage. They were cleaned up and donated. When his workers or their family members became ill, he helped with bills. At my father’s wake decades later, we were shocked to meet families to whom my dad quietly gave money to cover their kids’ tuition at Catholic high schools or provide some other help the family needed.

I know for a fact there are lots of generous men and women like my dad. They live here in our neighborhoods. They organize dinners, read to children, visit the sick and lonely, repair or build houses and mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor. They make sure that arts and cultural organizations and programming are supported so that everyone can enjoy that beauty.

So, yes, the news often stinks. Feel free to substitute another word for stinks if you wish. But let’s also keep in mind as we change the dial or turn off the TV completely, in either disgust or fear, that there are opportunities right outside your front door to make you feel good about yourself and others. I bet it can even make you smile.


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