In June I was blessed to attend the Jefferson Awards National Ceremonies in Washington, D.C., with Valerie Long, executive director of CATCH Kids who represented local Unsung Hero award winner, Dr. Ed Ivancic.
Founded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Sen. Robert Taft and Sam Beard, the Jefferson Awards began in 1972 to create the nation’s equivalent of a Nobel Prize to recognize, inspire and activate volunteerism and public service in communities, workplaces and schools across America. In 1977, the Jefferson Awards reached out to newspapers, radio and television stations in local communities and asked them to join in a unique partnership to highlight “Unsung Heroes.”
Ivancic spearheaded a study to determine the cause of a gap in the accessibility of medical services for disadvantaged children. Thus, CATCH Kids was born with the mission to make accessible, comprehensive, high quality care available at no cost to children who have trouble obtaining needed care due to poverty or other access barriers. According to Long, after working in his private clinic, Ivancic volunteers countless hours in CATCH Kids clinics. I have witnessed the tremendous difference his passion to help children has made in our area.
The common theme throughout the ceremony was, “one person can make a difference.” I was especially moved by remarks from Jefferson Award Board Member Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. She stated, “As a young girl, my life consisted of maids … maids to clean, cook, iron … maids to take care of whatever I needed or wanted … One day my father (Robert Kennedy) came home with this glazed look in his eyes after visiting the Mississippi Delta area. As he walked through the door, he emotionally uttered, ‘Families (anywhere from 5 to 12 people) are living in houses that are not even the size of our foyer or dining room! We have to help. We have to make a difference!”’
She actively became involved in the plight of the less fortunate.
I listened to so many stories of how one person has made a difference in the lives of others throughout this country: A 16-year-old shot a woman in the head and maimed her for life; however, she forgave him and once a year visits him in prison and travels the country sharing a message about love, choices and forgiveness. A pediatrician visited an orphanage in Romania where children with AIDS had been left to die. After that experience, he launched an AIDS initiative to deliver medication to children in countries where drugs are not readily available. Psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner said, “No society can long sustain itself unless its members have learned the sensitivities, motivations and skills involved in assisting and caring for other human beings.”
I thought about the people in Northeast Mississippi who strive every day to make a difference in the lives of others. There are so many “unsung heroes” who may never be recognized for their contributions to society – yet they work tirelessly on causes such as the Free Clinic, Sanctuary Hospice House, Tree of Life Clinic; food pantries and shelters; teaching, educating and preparing children, etc. Julia Child said, “The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile.” Many stay behind the scenes and remain anonymous working from their hearts and beliefs to benefit our area.
Madam Marie Curie said, “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? … We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” I recall how Mayor Jack Reed together with local ministers, other citizens and the Tupelo Public Schools raised funds to assist in Haiti. Eileen Bailey, a teacher, shared a story with me about one of her students. The student proudly said, “Ms. Bailey, I saved a dollar of my lunch money to help the people in Haiti.”
Someone stated, “Giving is the right thing to do. All of us can give. We all have a contribution to make and no contribution is greater than the other.” It is our duty to help others according to our means. We all have different abilities and talents. It is said that the ten most powerful two letter words in the English language are, “IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME.”
One should ask: Can it be me? Can my gifts and abilities make a difference? Can my idea benefit people as Dr. Ivancic’s did and as so many others have done? Is it up to me? You be the judge.
Juanita Gambrell Floyd is vice president of finance/administration for CREATE Foundation, Inc. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.