The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

David Knepper

September 29, 2013

David Knepper | Are we ready for change? Are you in?

JOHNSTOWN — “Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

–  William Shakespeare,

from Julius Caesar  

We are indeed indebted to the framers of the American Constitution for their courage and determination to create a new form of government built on those foundational principles that would sustain and guide the new nation into an uncertain future. After much debate and compromise, they crafted a blueprint to “ordain and establish” a representative form of government that would convey the powers of self-democratization to the people.

They envisioned that this form of government would be the fairest and most efficient that anyone could hope for then and in the future.

The concept was that representatives so chosen would make decisions that best mirrored the will of the people. It was a rather lofty ideal, to say the least, in which public service in any capacity should be considered an honor, not a career.

And once members in Congress completed their terms in office, then these “citizen legislators” should graciously vacate their office rather than consider themselves as “career politicians,” a title of ignobility” that some legislators today bestow upon themselves.

It wasn’t until President Franklin Roosevelt came to office that the precedent established by George Washington in serving no more than two terms as president became law, with the adoption of the 22nd Amendment in February 1951. Of course, members of Congress do not operate under term limits and can run for re-election as many times as they like.

Presently, there is about a 94 percent re-election rate in the House and 83 percent in the Senate. It is no wonder, then, that those aspiring for public service view running for office as a lost cause for the average citizen to mount a successful campaign against current members of Congress – not to mention the exorbitant cost to beat an incumbent.

So, if you’re not willing to wait to enter public service, then put your energies to work and begin to volunteer.  Fortunately, there are many in our nation who choose a different path to serve their country rather than to engage in political gamesmanship.

These are the volunteers who are the bright stars all across our country – the “spark plugs” if you will – who make things happen rather than rely on others for constructive change.

Channel your energies in a positive, constructive way because if people are expecting change to come from the top down from politicians, don’t hold your breath for long.

Volunteers every day are rolling up their sleeves to take an active role in reshaping their communities, to live out their dreams, and to believe that no challenge is insurmountable.

Making new connections to your community benefits everyone. If you want to help out in your community, all you need is free time and the desire to make your neighborhood a better place. You can inspire others as well as yourself.

Creating new social connections can prevent depression and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Seeing that your contribution is making your community a better place to live will also give you a sense of pride and fulfillment.

Look around and you will see many terrific examples of where a legion of volunteers channeled their energies, skills, and  free labor to create a new community park such as one in St. Michael,  or a new municipal office building in Wilmore.

These are just a few volunteer projects that have been developed in my area (Forest Hills) from the many hundreds throughout our region.

How will you be spending your time now? Let’s trust that it is not in endless debate about the comings and goings in Washington or in Harrisburg.

The capability to make strong, positive change lies within all of us. Let’s make it happen – let’s get involved – let’s volunteer!

David A. Knepper is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears monthly in the Sunday edition.

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