When a rash of wildfires broke out across Nebraska last year, volunteer firefighters traveled as far as 350 miles to assist. Many of them left their families and businesses for days on end to fight blazes that blackened more than 300 thousand acres across the State. Crews went through vacation days and midnight oil in unimaginable conditions to protect nearby communities and valuable grassland now even more coveted by ranchers in search of feed for livestock.
The display of selflessness was echoed by people in the local and neighboring communities anxious to lend a hand. Empty fire halls quickly filled with pallets of food, water and other supplies donated by concerned citizens across the state. Folks contributed their time to help coordinate efforts to rejuvenate exhausted firefighters taking brief respites from the flames.
Residents in the Ainsworth area also donated fence posts and wire to ranchers whose permanent fences were destroyed in the Region 24 Complex fire, where more than 100 volunteer fire departments responded to extinguish the blaze.
In the face of great adversity, folks from across the state came together with nothing more than a desire to help. As it turns out, in Nebraska, this reaction is not all that uncommon. Nebraska ranks among the top states in community service participation. We have always been a state of neighbor helping neighbor--a place where we look out for one another and are quick to lend a hand when needed.
But it doesn't just take a disaster for Nebraskans to get involved in their communities. Many times, Nebraskans proactively seek ways to volunteer to make their communities even better. I was touched when I heard the story of Millard West High School senior and Eagle Scout Drew Grandgenett, who created and distributed nearly 120 fleece blankets to veterans and their spouses at Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home in Bellevue. The residents were impressed and thankful to receive such a heartwarming gift. Grandgenett said it was just a way for his generation to say thanks.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been declared a National Day of Service, and Americans across the country will give of their time and resources to help in ways big and small to make this country the best it can be. Dr. King once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" Our state's dedication to helping others is evident in the above stories and ones forever unspoken.
I want to say thank you to all the Nebraskans who have taken the time in many ways to help improve our state, and I encourage all Nebraskans to help maintain our state's proud history of community service whenever you can. To find volunteer projects in your community, visit www.nationalservice.gov. Volunteer work not only helps those directly impacted, but also instills a sense of pride in communities and individuals taking part to lend a hand. This sense of community is one of the many reasons I feel privileged to call Nebraska home. I could not be more proud to represent a state so dedicated to selflessness and service.