Saturday, September 03, 2005

Op-Ed: Honoring Labors of the He

WASHINGTON, Thursday, September 01, 2005 — We are about to celebrate Labor Day, a special holiday when all Americans honor the countless workers who have built this great country and those who still labor to sustain it. In this celebration, we tend to focus on wage-earners, as well we should. But this Labor Day in particular, I would ask all Americans to remember and recognize those laborers who are motivated only by compassion and paid only with our gratitude—our nation’s volunteers.
As we begin the almost unimaginable task of helping, healing and rebuilding lives in the deadly wake of Hurricane Katrina, we should remember that—as with all catastrophes that scar our land—volunteers will lead the way. The American Red Cross is launching the largest response it has ever mobilized in response to a single natural disaster in its nearly 125 year history. This massive effort will mobilize thousands of trained disaster relief workers, who will provide safe shelter, warm meals and comforting shoulders to lean on.
But the most remarkable thing about this “Army of Hope” is that most of them are working without any compensation. In fact, volunteers make up 96% of the entire Red Cross workforce and are the driving force behind most of the great relief organizations responding to Katrina. An undertaking of this magnitude could never be tackled by an entirely paid workforce. The cost would be astronomical, the hours too brutal and the emotional toll too great. And yet, miraculously, it can be done by compassionate volunteers, working for rewards of the heart rather than rewards for the purse. Without the scores of Red Cross volunteers and those who staff humanitarian organizations across the country, this massive recovery mission would be impossible.
America has always been a place of humanitarian action and compassion — a place where people look out for each other and are always willing to take care of their neighbors in need, whether they are across the street, around the corner or around the globe. It’s what Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who studied American society in the 1830s, called “the habits of the democratic heart”—the drive that compels Americans to work together to overcome challenges and continually improve communities, the spontaneous generosity we demonstrate again and again in crises. Putting our compassion into action is deeply rooted in the American character. The American Red Cross is the embodiment of that truly American character.
As a nation, our hearts go out to those whose lives have been shattered by Hurricane Katrina. We cannot imagine the suffering and grief left in Katrina’s wake, but we can pull together as a nation to help begin the healing and the rebuilding. During this Labor Day weekend, I urge you to remember, honor, and above all, support that often overlooked workforce—the volunteers who represent the caring hearts and helping hands of America.

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