THE BLOG
10/01/2013 01:35 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How to Be Proud of the U.S. Despite Congress: The Good in our Country Is All Around Us

At a time when Congressional members are behaving like little children with no teacher to step in and tell them to "work it out," it is very difficult to remember why we should be proud to be Americans.

To Be Proud, Look Local
At times like this, I am still proud of our country, and when people ask me how I can feel this way, I always tell them "look local." If you just think about the good, hardworking Americans you know who have dedicated their lives to doing something important -- probably including you -- it will make you feel better.

To get you started thinking of your list, let me share my list of some of the citizens I have encountered in only the past year who are the kind of people that make me proud:

• Military families. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, kids, and the soldiers themselves -- the soldiers are putting their lives in danger for our country. Doesn't this tell Congress anything about their need to keep our country strong?

• The rangers in our national parks, who are now without a paycheck. I visit many, many of these properties for my website, www.americacomesalive.com , and I am continually impressed by the commitment these people make to their work. For rangers, their job is not a job; it is a career, and their nights and weekends are spent reading and learning more to enrich the stories they have to share with visitors.

• The people at most nonprofits. While a few of these organizations can pay their staffs well, most are run on a lean budget, and the employees end up working hard in jobs that will never make them rich. Since moving to L.A., I have connected with Lupus L.A., and its staff and its volunteer board continue to impress me with their tireless dedication. Of course, this is just one of many organizations of this type. Hats off to them all.

• This weekend I visited Rancho Los Cerritos, a treasure here in southern California and one of many sites of its kind that are located all over the country. Rancho Los Cerritos is partly supported by the city of Long Beach but it largely depends on funding from their Friends group and much of the staff is volunteer. A one-hour visit to this property provides visitors with an important story -- the California story -- about life here from about 1840-1930. And admission was free!

• I keep myself on the mailing list of Westchester for Change in New York though I now live in California. I worked with this group to help pass the health care law, and I stay on their mailings because they continue to inspire me. The organization is grassroots volunteerism at its best, and they wanted the Affordable Health Care law to pass because it is not fair to live in a country like ours and not provide affordable care to hardworking citizens who don't happen to work for big companies that provide health insurance.

And here are a few specific individuals I single out in my own mind for special thanks:

• Debbie Kandoll, who as a volunteer, runs Military Working Dog Adoptions. When military dogs are retired our government has no arrangement to bring the dogs home or connect them with a family. Debbie works tirelessly to get funding, collect airline miles, and bring these four-legged veterans to the U.S. so that they can live out their retirement in loving and caring environments.

• Cate Magennis Wyatt, who had the vision to create Journey through Hallowed Ground, now a National Heritage Area that links a 180-mile long, 75-mile swath of land stretching from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. Cate saw the necessity to create an umbrella organization to help preserve and protect the American story. Their "Of the Student By The Student For The Student" program brings history into the schools and communicates our story to both children and their parents, who are eventually invited in to see their children's year-long effort on the program. We need groups like this to enrich education.

Cheryl McKissack Daniel, who heads a 108-year-old Manhattan-based construction company that does approximately $50 million in business each year. This is a great story no matter what, but it is particularly significant because Cheryl's family originally came to the U.S. as slaves, and her grandfather and great uncle were the first licensed black architects in Tennessee. She's the very embodiment of the American spirit.

Josie Gavieres, a volunteer who runs BARK Therapy Dogs, an organization of 170 + teams that sends volunteers into schools and to visit libraries. The volunteers take therapy dogs with them, and children get to read to the animals...there is no more patient listener than a dog who is being read to and perhaps patted at the same time. The volunteers are there to help the kids with hard words and to give each individual child their own 15 minutes of personal attention -- something that is all too rare in this country.

• Doug Westfall of Paragon Agency Publishers who has dedicated his life to seeking out first-person accounts of the American story and publishing them. Journalism is called the "first draft of history" but we are lucky to have people like Doug who watch for diaries and letters and personal collections to publish so that readers can have access to the eyewitness accounts of important events in our country.

Volunteers everywhere. Your community has them... you probably are one... my community has them. Good Americans are out amongst us every day.

That's just a brief peek at my list. My website is dedicated to telling stories of these types of Americans who have been part of our country over the last 200+ years, so I have plenty more I could run past you!

We deserve a much better Congress than what we have now. I am sorry they are continuing to draw their paychecks as that is terribly unfair when other federal employees are being furloughed.

And About that Shutdown
This shutdown is about the Affordable Care Act. It would be interesting to inform some Congress members that they were elected to uphold the law, and Obamacare IS the law. This morning's news report was that on Day One of enrollment there was a 30-minute wait for people who were calling to sign up -- yet there is no rush. People can enroll over the next six months, but clearly, a significant number of Americans care about getting the insurance they know they need.

In our next election please vote, and vote for the candidates who promise to compromise some of the time so that our country can have the government we deserve.

And P.S. to political groups emailing me for money at this time: I do not believe that sending you my credit card number for a donation is going to bring about a solution. My wallet is tightly closed for now. However, I will still continue to embody the traits of a good citizen -- helping out in my own community and doing what I can to make this country the best it can be.

Feel free to use the comments section to add your own thoughts on people or groups that still make you proud to be an American.

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