THE BLOG
06/28/2013 10:39 pm ET | Updated Aug 29, 2013

America's Greatness

The Fourth of July is a great day in the history of the United States of America. On this coming Thursday, July 4, we will celebrate the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia in 1776 officially declared the independence of our country on July 2, when it approved a resolution by Virginia's Richard Lee declaring that from that time on the United States would not be subject to England or to any other country. Two days later that the same congress approved the written statement, the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming to the nations of the world the reason for, and theories behind, our determination on being independent.

In that same year, 1776, John Adams declared that each year thereafter we as a country should celebrate our independence by using fireworks. We also celebrate the birthday of our country by doing such things as flying the American flag, listening to political speeches highlighted with patriotic phrases, and gathering in backyards for family cookouts and in parks for picnics.

I'm a patriotic United States citizen, and I like flying the flag, gathering for a family cookout or picnic, followed by attending a fireworks show. And for as long as I can remember my family has celebrated the Fourth of July in those ways. But this year I am going to add a new feature to my Fourth of July celebration. When I gather with my family to celebrate, I'm going to tell them about an experience I've had over the past week that makes me even prouder of being a United States citizen. Here's what happened.

The French and Untied States Governments brought 16 young French adults, all in their 20s, from France to spend two weeks in the United States to learn about how NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the United States provide various social services. They spent their first week in the Washington, D.C., area and the second week in St. Louis, and I was the St. Louis, Missouri, coordinator for the program.

Among other things, it was my responsibility to make arrangements for the two French women and 14 men to visit non-governmental organizations in the Greater St. Louis Area that provide various kinds of social services and to learn how they are organized and how they raise the money needed to fulfill their respective missions. It was a rewarding experience that makes me even more patriotic than ever.

I learned about the many heartwarming services that these various not-for-profit organizations provide for people in need. I learned about the services provided for people who, for whatever reason, have been unable to take care of and provide adequately for themselves. For example, I learned about the protective services they provide for women who have fled from abusive relationships and are trying to find a safe haven for themselves and any children they have, and the assistance they provide these same women in seeking permanent housing and adequate employment.

I learned about the services provided the expectant mother -- the wed and unwed -- who is without support from family or friends and who is without food and shelter and proper pre-natal care and has no idea about where she will live after her baby is born and how she will be able to care and provide for herself and her new child.

I observed the volunteers at work in following the system that had been developed over a long trial-and-error time frame in providing clothes for people who stood in a block-long line in the hot sun working their way up to the door that led to the room where they were given clothes that had been donated to the agency and whose volunteers had mended and cleaned and sorted by sizes.

I learned about the help being given to returning veterans who are finding it difficult to adjust to civilian life, who got hooked on alcohol or drugs while in the service, or who are unable to give up the fighting ways they learned in the military and are abusive to family members, or who are having trouble finding and keeping suitable employment.

I learned about the terrible difficult task of working with the homeless who suffer from mental disease, and drug addiction. I learned about the AA Meetings they have in their agencies and the twenty-four hour support systems they have for the addicted person who has kicked the habit but is in constant danger of backsliding.

I learned about the great number of services provided for mentally handicapped children and their parents. I learned about the medical facilities and schools and colleges provided for our children and young adults. I learned about the adoption services provided for children without a home.

I learned about the services provided for our aged people, including the special services for those suffering with Alzheimer's.

I learned about the truck loads of goods collected and delivered to flood and hurricane and fire victims nearby and far away.

I learned about the work some of these agencies are doing in rebuilding deteriorated urban neighborhoods.

I learned about the services provided immigrants and refugees and their families, some of whom arrive with very little of anything other than themselves.

And I have been reminded of the many federal and state laws that make it possible for not-for-profit organizations to exist and receive tax-deducted contributions. And I learned about their many board members, volunteers, and contributors who make this all possible. Do I need to go any further?

We often hear about the bad things going on in our cities, and there are many bad things happening. But what I witnessed this past week, day after day and visit after visit, was kindness, love, and generosity -- Americans giving to Americans. And, in my opinion, it would be good for all citizens to take the time really to learn about the menu of loving and caring services that are made possible by the generosity of Americans.

Yes, I am a proud and patriotic United States citizen, and this Fourth of July I will fly the American flag just a little higher than in past years.