A few short days ago, I was humbled and honored to receive the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award. It was community recognition for years of work in many areas but mostly with kids in need of adult mentors at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan.
Reluctantly, I did enjoy the spotlight and soaked in the kind words of so many people I respect and admire. All the while, there was a twinge of misgiving because deep down I knew there were so many deserving people who toil for this community outside the spotlight of any award or public acclaim.
There are emergency medical technicians and firemen who respond to calls at all hours of the day or night. They leave their families and care for others in times of need. These people wash the blood off their gloved hands, change their clothes, go back to their daily lives, and wait to do it all over again.
Clerical staff at many social service agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services or Child & Family Services handle a myriad of people with all kinds of problems daily. They listen, empathize and search for solutions day after day.
How many Cherry Festival volunteers does it take to pull off that amazing week every year? During the best time to be outside in our beautiful region, they put everything aside to entertain our community guests and stimulate an economy we all enjoy every month of the year.
Almost daily, people in our community fix meals at Munson Manor Hospitality House. Ingredients are purchased. Meals are prepped. Tables are set. The only purpose is to give people on the receiving end a smiling face and a homecooked meal as they deal with life-threatening medical issues within their families.
Norte has kids, moms and dads walking and biking all over our community. Adult volunteers encourage kids to leave the video games inside and get moving outdoors. They are creating lifelong healthy habits in hundreds of kids every year.
Finally, there are the volunteers who are the closest to my heart. These are the 400-ish men and women who mentor kids from mostly single-family homes through Big Brothers Big Sisters. They help with homework, crafts, games and dozens of other activities that so many kids take for granted. Mostly, the biggest thing they do is simply be present in lives that can be full of disappointment. They not only give their time but, more importantly, these amazing folks give their hearts as well.
If I included every non-profit in town, this column would never end. This list is a tiny sampling of what makes up our great community. We might see them with a back to the camera on a news story or in the fringes of a newspaper picture. We never see their full name, credentials or years of service. They never get a meal, video tribute or news stories dedicated to them individually.
I will be forever grateful for the Distinguished Service Award recognition. It will hang on my wall to my dying day. Until that day arrives, I will always remember that one person doesn’t make a community great. It takes many people willing to work outside the spotlight to make the lives of others just a little bit brighter.