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Nation’s greatness should be measured in the generosity of our spirit and willingness to help others

Even in tough economic times, Americans generally agree that our greatness as a nation springs from our democratic traditions, diverse cultures and ingrained traits such as self-reliance, ingenuity and a “can-do” spirit.

Part of our national character, too, is our willingness to volunteer to help others.

Americans jump at the chance to support a cause or project dear to them. According to the Obama administration, more than 61 million Americans volunteer today. We Americans love baseball, apple pie and volunteering.

Last year then-Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said July 4 is a good time to look beyond the “bustle and busyness” of everyday obligations to find a way to contribute. He talked about the importance of volunteerism as part of a patriotism-themed, Independence Day speech about country, service, veterans and freedom.

”I hope you take that moment to think about what you can do to shape the future of this country we love,” said the presidential candidate at the University of Colorado. “Loving your country shouldn’t just mean watching fireworks on July 4th.”

President Obama continues to urge Americans to volunteer. With a call to serve as part of his “Renew America Together” initiative and “ServiceNation,” a campaign to enlist 100 million volunteers by 2020, the president is helping to inspire a new era of voluntary citizen service in America.

He is doing this with the help of service organizations such as Lions Clubs International. As a member of the organizing committee for the ServiceNation coalition, Lions participated in the campaign’s first national day of service to renew our country.

Meeting in Minneapolis
The world’s largest service organization, Lions Clubs International was formed in 1917.  This week, nearly 15,000 Lions from around the world will convene in Minneapolis  for our 92nd annual international convention. We will pay heed to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell as he delivers his keynote address about importance of volunteerism. Powell’s role in unveiling  Obama’s “Renew America Together” campaign and his longtime support for national service inspire Lions worldwide.

Lions are known for their volunteer work to end preventable blindness, which began in 1925 in response to a challenge from Helen Keller. Today more than 1.3 million Lions in 205 nations serve our communities in a variety ways — such as working with youth, improving the environment, building homes for those with disabilities, supporting diabetes education and providing disaster relief. Just north of Minneapolis in McGregor Minnesota, Lion volunteers run Camp New Hope, designed to help veterans reconnect with their families after they return home from combat. On Glacier Lake, this retreat, funded by Lions and other contributors, allows veterans and their families to reconnect, bond and participate in counseling sessions. Local Lion volunteers provide meals, daycare and arrange for counseling for veterans and their families.

In giving, volunteers receive
Lions believe that it is in giving that we receive — and it has been proven that volunteers do indeed receive. They enjoy greater longevity, higher functional ability and lower rates of heart disease and depression, according to a study released by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Volunteering is also invaluable for strengthening community relationships, an important function in our diverse society. Harvard professor Robert Putnam has shown that social capital resulting from civic engagement positively affects crime rates and health, and even boosts economic status. In these hard economic times, volunteering can lighten the burdens resulting from financial hardship.

Our greatness as a nation should not be measured by our gross national product, our medal count in the Olympics or our military might. Rather it should be measured in the generosity of our spirit and in our willingness to lend a helping hand.

There are a number of ways to volunteer. You might decide to volunteer at a local library and teach others to read, coach a soccer team or be a big brother or sister to a child who needs a mentor. You could also join a local volunteer organization. The opportunities are many and the need is great. The key is to get involved. You can make a difference!

Al Brandel is the international president of Lions Club International; Debra Wasserman is a director of the Lions Clubs International and a Lions club member in Faribault, Minn.

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