By U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Many demonstrate steady acts of compassion: donating to canned food drives in local schools; collecting coats for those without them during the cold months; tutoring struggling students; and visiting with seniors. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines compassion as "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." Recognizing the kindness and giving spirit throughout Idaho, I am not surprised by the numerous examples of compassionate Idahoans. However, I am constantly impressed by the magnitude of their generosity. Idahoans dedicate countless hours, often overcoming their own personal challenges, to serve others throughout our communities. This abundance of altruism is truly inspiring.
During November, when I visited with area veterans organizations to recognize outstanding veterans and volunteers in our communities with the Spirit of Freedom Award, I was reminded of the remarkable spirit of compassion and generosity throughout Idaho and our nation. The fourteen 2010 Spirit of Freedom award recipients included a veteran who, despite battling Parkinson's disease, dedicates hundreds of hours to serving fellow veterans. He focuses on visiting those who may not have family or others to spend time with them. Another award recipient, a Vietnam War Veteran, consistently goes to the local airport, sometimes early in the morning, to be there to provide a warm "welcome home" for returning service personnel. Despite all that he has done for our country and veterans, he says that he wishes he could do more. Similarly, another award recipient, who served in World War II, has dedicated more than 6,000 hours of his time to serving fellow veterans. This month, Governor and Mrs. Otter also honored more than 100 individuals and groups for their exemplary volunteer work through the Governor's Brightest Star Awards.
These outstanding Idahoans are a mere tip of the iceberg of the numerous, little-noted examples of devoted and selfless community service. According to estimates from the Corporation for National and Community Service, more than 33 percent of Idaho residents volunteer. Based on 2007-2009 data, Idaho ranked third among states for average hours of service per resident, and Idaho residents contributed more than $1.2 billion worth of service. The top four volunteer activities were tutoring/teaching, general labor, mentoring youth and the collection and distribution of food. Many people may not report their volunteerism, as it is just part of their way of life, and they may prefer to give anonymously. Therefore, estimating volunteerism can be challenging. The number of Idaho volunteers is likely greater than current estimates indicate. But, trying to put a price on these gifts can never fully measure the true impact on people's lives.
Idahoans step in and protect families and homes when wildfires burn through communities, care for the sick, feed the hungry, shelter those out in the cold this winter, comfort the mistreated and provide guidance for the lost. Most importantly, they remind us that no matter the challenges, we are not alone. This spirit of looking out for each other is all around us, making Idaho and our nation so great. The countless, encouraging, every-day heroes are among the many blessings I am counting this holiday season.