The patriotic essay contest winners submitted an answer to the question:
“How does being connected as a community benefit individuals and their community.”
How do you start an essay contest and why? March of 2009, a newspaper article, a story of a young Cache Valley soldier who was killed in Iraq; his tearful widow holds their six-year-old son as she accepts a neatly folded American flag from an Army officer. Corporal Alleman was fighting for our freedom; we did not want to sit idly by and be a target for terrorists. What could I do? A plan was developed and taken to the North Ogden Kiwanis Club. It called for an essay contest for students in the Weber School District; the subject would be Freedom. The first-year budget was $8000, to give scholarships for the best essays. I donated the first $1000 and promised to raise half; Kiwanis would raise the other half.
For two years, 2010 and 2011, the Freedom Essay Contest encouraged students in 4th through 12th grade to write about our Constitution, Bill of Rights, The Federalist Papers and the Liberty Bell. Great essays were written and dozens of students received money for their future education. Kiwanis decided not to continue this project, so I developed the American Spirit Essay Contest for public participation beginning in 2012. Each year a new theme is used and we have explored the American Spirit of Pioneers, Law Enforcement, First Responders, Veterans, our Founding Fathers, even communities.
Our sixth year of American Spirit essays is now complete and many excellent essays have been evaluated and winners selected and rewarded. Throughout this eight year process. many local Weber County folks have contributed to the success of both projects. They deserve credit for their support; particularly Bert and Kathy Smith, Kerry Gibson, Gage Froerer, Matt Bell, Mayor Toby Mileski, Pastor Dave Duncan, Roger Blair and the Kiwanis Club. All have helped fund an annual budget of $1200 for the American Spirit Essay contest. The late Bert Smith was of significant influence as is his widow Kathy Smith. Both are exceptional patriots and devoted to the principles that have made our country great. We have, as a nation, many challenges now and in the future but we can keep the integrity of our constitutional government if we remember how we gained our freedoms and why we have a unique spirit that makes us Americans.
–John W. Reynolds
Age: 14, North Ogden
Machines, in general, are very complex. It takes a lot to keep them functioning and productive. They need many little pieces to fit together and work in perfect harmony in order to complete one goal. A community is very similar. A community is made up of people who have jobs and who all contribute to something bigger. Individuals could be likened to gears. A machine may be able to function if one gear is missing, but definitely not optimally. The same thing applies to a community. If we aren’t connected to our community, it won’t be as productive, and, in turn, everyone else in the community will be affected to their detriment.
Unfortunately, there are those who don’t contribute to the community and with each one of these people, the “machine” breaks down more and more. Now imagine what our community could do if every single citizen was productive by either having a job or doing volunteer work. Now that would be like a finely tuned and oiled machine that could accomplish great things.
As we all work together, we too can attain great things in the form of higher income, less crime, more jobs, less addiction and many more good things. Step by step our community could look nicer, be more family friendly, and all around more pleasant.
A big indicator of how our community will turn out is how children are today. If they contribute in their own household, and if they progressively take on more responsibility, they will most likely, be productive in a community. It may take some work to reap these benefits, but if all in the community help, it will be easier for all involved and will benefit both individuals as well as the entire community.
Age: 42, Pleasant View
My missionary son knocked on a door one day asking if they needed any help. When they declined, he asked if they knew of any neighbors who needed service. The couple replied: “We’ve only lived here ten years. We don’t know any of our neighbors.” I compare this with our experience of living in Pleasant View for the past 17 years. We still live by many of our original neighbors, however; in that timeframe, many of our neighbors have come and gone. It’s often with tear-filled eyes that we say goodbye. Though, we do love helping welcome the newcomers! What makes us so attached to our beloved town and its people?
Feeling connected, not only as a neighborhood but as a community, is vital to our well-being and brings returnable dividends of happiness to our lives. The friendships that we build and the time we take to serve and get acquainted with others creates powerful connectivity. It’s that connectivity that sees us through the good times and the bad. For instance, we’re able to practice a mock disaster each year through our city’s C.E.R.T. activities. Already forming bonds with neighbors and community members will be instrumental in emergencies. We’ve already seen our neighborhood and community pulling together in times of need. We’ve had flooding on our street and neighbors were awoken early in the morning, rushing to come help divert and bail water from homes. We had the damaging wind storm last summer that failed many trees and left some yards in shambles. We were able to rally as a community to help multiple people the very next day clean up and clear out felled trees and debris. This loving service brought some to tears and many to wonder at the power to do good in just a few hours.
Age: 47, North Ogden
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. We are all intertwined in this life by our simple existence as part of the human family. From the day we were born, we began to have an influence on those around us. Mark Twain said it well when he stated: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Each step, each action, each choice we make affects others with either good or bad consequence. We cannot simply exist and not have an influence on those around us, so we need to choose what our actions and influence will be.
If we want to have good in our lives, we must be the good. If we want our community to be full of service and love, we must give service and love. What do we want for ourselves, our family, our community? Mahatma Gandhi so eloquently declared “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. If you want to find out your true purpose and sense of identity, you must find ways to serve those around you. You must become not only a part of your community, you must become your community. As your example and influence radiate to those around you, they will feel your love; they will know that they can rely on you to support them and help them because they are part of your community. Then they, in turn, will become part of the good in your community. The beauty of this is that “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” (Helen Keller). Because when it comes down to it, your community is your family—and family is everything!