Opinion

July 8, 2014

Mark Millican: The fun of being civic-minded

She sat about midway up the front section of the theater, kind of by herself. Slightly overweight, she didn’t wear the nicer clothes that adorned some of the overachieving students in the room. Her semi-slouching posture certainly didn’t make it appear she was anticipating receiving one of the several college scholarships being awarded that night.

But a confluence of events was in the making.

Years ago a committee of the Rotary Club in Chatsworth had been going through dozens of scholarship applications from Murray County High School students. Sure, we looked at grade point average, but more so we had asked for volunteer work the applicant had taken part in, and without prying, how the family’s financial situation stood in regard to sending a graduating senior to their hopeful next level of education.

To be honest, being the club representative to appear at a two-hour long scholarship awards night was not a plum assignment. But we passed it around and appreciated the five or so minutes we got to address the students and explain why we gave the scholarship and, in our case, whose memory it honored.

Upon arising to speak I had no idea what would happen next. After telling a bit about the Rodney Hess scholarship — named for a middle school teacher who died of a heart attack while mentoring some students under his care on a school trip in Hawaii — I announced the recipient. Let’s call her “Brittany.”

For a moment the girl sat in stunned disbelief that her name had been announced, then she rallied by straightening herself and bounding up to the stage. Her friends seemed just as surprised.

“Way to go, Brittany!”

“All right, Britt!”

“Woo-hoo, Brittany!”

It was a stellar moment for her, and it made my day too. It made me think back to another civic club credo I’d learned years before as a charter member of the Ellijay Optimist Club: “Promise yourself: To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.”

Well, believe it or not, that original Optimist Club in Ellijay more than 20 years ago wasn’t optimistic enough to survive. I won’t go as far as to say we allowed too many pessimists to join, but will just mention it’s great to see a newer club thriving today.

Recently I attended the 25th anniversary of the Rotary Club of Gilmer County. It was great seeing some of the folks who were still involved, especially since I was there at the old Whitepath Golf Club lodge (since destroyed by fire) when the Rotary Club was officially formed — as a reporter. Although not as a member, I’ve also attended Lions Club meetings in Chatsworth and Ellijay, and Kiwanis and Rotary in Dalton. The Ruritan clubs that spring up in communities also intrigue me, and I hope to one day be involved with one of those somewhere.

What’s said about civic clubs is true in other areas of life as well: “You get out of it what you put into it.” But I would go as far as to say sometimes you get much more than you invest. Whether it’s specifically for youth, or to provide eyeglasses for disadvantaged folks, maybe to improve literacy, eradicate polio in the world, dig a well for clean water in a foreign land — or pump thousands of dollars into local ministries, outreaches, nonprofits and scholarships — the power of exponential multiplication can come to the fore when people work together and remember, “There’s no telling how much can be done if no one has to get the credit.”

Of course, the rule of “toiling” together happily and selflessly can work in any group, from churches to groups of schoolchildren and even inmates who see the light. I’ve heard it said the two best cures for depression are exercise and getting one’s mind off oneself by going out and helping somebody else. There’s no greater satisfaction than seeing people regain hope by being encouraged, blessed and given a hand up.

And where there are smiles of appreciation, there’s also great fun! (Psst, pass it on.)

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