See The Need. Take the Lead. Be the Seed.
The following remarks about volunteerism were delivered on Jan. 28, 2015, during the President’s Luncheon at the Keep America Beautiful National Conference in Washington, D.C., by Robert Phelps, executive director of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission.
Don’t worry if your job is small ….
Just remember that the Mighty Oak ….
Was once a little nut … like you.
I don’t know if your experience is anything like mine, but some folks I know consider me something of a nut.
They say, “Why do you work so hard… such long hours … give up your weekends? You don’t have to work.”
Sometimes I just smile. It’s something some would never understand.
Other times I reply, “Yeah, I do have to work: because there’s a need and somebody has to do it.”
If you’re like me, and so many others that are driven to help make and keep our communities, states and country clean and green, we have to work. It’s in our DNA, our blood; it’s part of who we are.
Now, if you object to being called a nut in the poem, just substitute, acorn … it’s what produces the oak tree. Or, as an acorn is also a seed, just think of yourself as a seed. Because that’s what we really are.
I know a lot about acorns. I have two huge heritage oak trees, 60-80 feet high, in my front yard. My neighbor, Margaret, has two twin-trunk oaks next to my driveway – so that’s six oaks that I deal with – along with her other two, that’s eight oak trees. So we have acorns; seemingly millions of acorns – every year.
Acorns are marvelous things, really. They come in all shapes and sizes. And they have a mission.
Every year, they drop on my walk. Within a couple of days, a sprout appears and you can imagine the acorn saying, “Finally got out of that tree! Wow! Look out world: There’s an oak tree inside me ready to come out!”
The ones that fall on the ground also sprout and in a few days send out a root … which quickly grows and if left alone, are on their way to becoming oak trees.
And that’s kind of what we do, isn’t it? We’re seeds that bloom where we are planted.
Did you know that Keep America Beautiful grew from a planted seed? Let me explain:
At the end of World War II, millions of troops returned home, married their sweethearts and started families – some of you in this room are boomers born in this period. They found jobs, built houses, and as automobiles were becoming available again, took trips – sometimes to work, to vacation, or just to get out and enjoy riding around as a family.
Some enterprising restaurateurs had a brilliant idea: instead of investing in lobbies, dining rooms and waiters, why not have a place where a person can drive up in their car, order and be served through a window, then let them be on their way? It’ll be cheaper, quicker and more convenient! Everybody wins!
Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So this convenience, along with packaging and other on-the-go culture practices, had consequences. We all know what they were, because we are still dealing with them today: litter and littering.
Some of the nation’s leading brands despaired that their products and residual packaging were being seen in a lot of inappropriate places, cluttering and littering our roadsides, parks and waterways.
And they saw the need to do something about it.
They formed a nonprofit organization to draw attention to and raise awareness of the need to improve folks’ behaviors so they would put trash in its place. That organization is called Keep America Beautiful.
Campaigns featuring Lassie, Lady Bird Johnson and Suzy Spotless urged people to “pitch in” and ”put litter in its place.” It helped, but it wasn’t until the iconic TV spot featuring an actor portraying a Native American, Iron Eyes Cody, galvanized the nation into addressing the critical need to take action to clean up America.
About that time, Dr. Robert Allen developed a five-step program that could help improve an individual’s behavior. But it was a process … and it needed a structure to widely apply it.
Keep America Beautiful saw the need for active involvement to improve personal responsibility toward our environment and started planting seeds – community affiliates – across the country to implement this new system.
KAB’s Bill Nash, like Johnny Appleseed, crossed the nation, planting seeds, starting affiliates – some 400 community improvement organizations – and the KAB Affiliate Network began to transform our country.
Keep America Beautiful saw a need and took the lead: they planted seeds.
Today, KAB is like a tree: a mighty trunk rising out of the earth, flowing into branches, then limbs, then twigs and leaves to form a giant canopy.
This is what most people see when they think of Keep America Beautiful: a canopy consisting of a board of directors, staff, sponsors, state leaders, local affiliates, programs, events, littering and blight research, and environmental leadership.
But we know there’s more.
Under the ground, the trunk divides into a corresponding network of roots – large to small with some nearly hair-like – that stretches out to encompass the same area covered by the tree’s canopy above.
Here are the affiliate directors, the boards, the supporters and sponsors, local programs … and the most valuable-of-all … the volunteers! Millions of volunteers!
You know what volunteers are? Unpaid labor. We don’t pay volunteers, but it’s not because they are worthless … we don’t pay volunteers because they are priceless!
Each part of the tree – above ground or under it – nourishes and supports the other: it’s a symbiotic relationship of mutually dependency; one can’t remain healthy without the other. Together we are a giant. And we continue to grow… and to put out seeds.
If you take away just one thought from our time together today, I hope it will be this:
See a Need. Take the Lead. Be a Seed.
When you see a need … take to lead and work to find solutions.
Be the seed that starts something grand. Put down roots and send up shoots!
Ideas are powerful things … whether they are yours or someone else’s – it really doesn’t matter – take the lead in planting them … nourishing them … and helping them grow.
You’ll find that you’ll grow too. In service, in satisfaction, in the ability to help improve your community and state … and you’ll be doing your part to help make and keep America beautiful!
So, don’t worry if your job is small …
And if your rewards are few …
Remember that the Mighty Oak…
Began from a seed like you.