One of the things I sometimes read about is the homogenization of our nation's communities. After travelling across the country for five weeks, I am happy to report that we continue to live in a land of great regional character. Even volunteer experiences vary across the country.
A perfect example for me was participating in my first-ever Human Cattle Drive in Sheridan, Wyo., (also known as the Trail Tromp) to break in a gorgeous new 12-mile trail. The pathway was created through voluntary conservation easements and orchestrated by a team of volunteers with the Sheridan Nature Conservancy. The community volunteers literally stomped the trail down and simultaneously raised awareness and enthusiasm for this amazing new community asset.
In Minneapolis, I experienced the strong, unique legacy of corporate social responsibility with companies like Target which, in 1946, set a precedent of giving away 5 percent of its pre-tax profits. That philanthropic leadership continues to be the high-water mark among corporations nationwide and has influenced many other Minneapolis-based companies to give back at similar levels.
From Crater Lake to the Badlands, I marveled at our amazing National Parks. My son, Vinson, became a devotee of the Junior Ranger program (and their badges) – a program to cultivate a new generation of volunteers to value and protect these extraordinary national treasures. I learned that the story of our National Parks is the story of amazing citizen leaders who became the protectors of these places for the ages. This tradition continues – the National Park Service has 22,000 employees, but ten times as many volunteers- 221,000.
In Portland, I waited in line for 30 minutes for Voodoo bacon maple donuts (worth it) and talked with civic innovators like Dani Swope, who created The Children's Book Bank to share her love of books and her own children's beloved library with other kids. The Book Bank is now distributing 96,000 books each year. This visit with Dani and other Portlanders made me ask what the spark is that fuels the fire of civic innovation.
In Seattle, I enjoyed a city that has created extraordinary "third spaces," gathering points for community connection ranging from a Sculpture Garden to a new Innovation Hub to Starbucks. These connections are helping citizens act in concert to accomplish extraordinary things.
Across the country, I have met innovators who are creating new ways of using their time, talent, money and voice to tackle critical issues and enrich their communities. If you haven't already, I hope you'll take a minute to join my family trip and read about the amazing people I met on the Points of Light blog.
CEO, Points of Light