Never Underestimate the People of the U.S.

I don’t know, maybe it’s an age thing. In fact, it might be seasonal or even political. Regardless, this time of the year I often find myself somewhat melancholy …. even more so as I grow older.

Could it be the way time flies from Halloween to New Year’s Eve? It seems to be one continuous blur of stress, food, decorations, people, and demands.

Due to the nature of the work I do, maybe it’s the constant chaos of airports, hotels, town cars, travel and constantly meeting new people. This year that chaos was magnified a hundred fold by the never-ending chaos of a presidential election and a major storm that crippled much of the East coast.

Regardless, it’s a lot to deal with and can lead to emotional challenges for many. In fact, it was recently leading me in that direction. However, when we least expect it, and often most need it, life, fate, karma, destiny, or God (your choice) seems to provide the “kick-in-the-pants” we need to rebound and face the fact that melancholy we feel is a choice we make.

Talk about coincidence. I was recently reading a captivating newspaper article while waiting for my plane connection at O’Hare. I glanced up at the large TV in the lounge to see a newsman sharing the same story with his viewing audience. As the story unfolded, I sat there mesmerized at this superb example of basic human kindness, empathy and healing.

Slidell, Louisiana, is a city of about 30,000 people located 34 miles northeast of New Orleans. As the images of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating blow to New Jersey dominated the media, two Slidell community leaders chatted on Facebook, brainstorming about how they might help the countless victims. Kim Bergeron, the Director of Cultural and Public Affairs, and Donna O’Daniels, St. Tammany Tourist and Convention Commission President and CEO, were reminded of the devastation and trauma they shared with family and friends after the life-altering impact of Katrina in August of 2005.

From that idea sprouted the Train of Hope, an effort to gather flashlights and batteries, cold weather clothes and other supplies and ship them on an Amtrak train, directly to the New Jersey communities in need.

The group quickly established a website, a Facebook page and several drop-off points around St. Tammany Parish.

Amtrak has a train which runs from New Orleans to Newark’s Penn Station. They volunteered their assistance in transporting five tons of food, supplies, diapers, baby wipes, formula, baby food, canned goods, cleaning products, blankets, cold weather clothing, batteries, flashlights and everything else volunteers in Slidell, many of them victims of Hurricane Katrina, could think of. Amtrak normally called this train “The Crescent” but for this special trip they dubbed it “The Train of Hope”!

A massive group of volunteers showed up to sort and load the train for its long journey north. Upon arrival in Newark, a team of more than 70 volunteers were waiting to load the goods onto trucks and ship them off to Bayonne and Hoboken, where Hurricane Sandy flooded out whole neighborhoods and where many are still without power.

Hoboken City Councilman Tim Occhipinti said, “It touches you in a way that it’s very difficult to not choke up on. The outpouring from people you’ve never met, who don’t even live in your area of the country, who have first-hand witnessed the situation that you’re going through, and that they’re willing to give so much back to other people. It’s awe-inspiring, and it makes you glad that you live in a country where a complete stranger is willing to donate their time, money and effort to others.”

When you see situations like this — which get little or no publicity — it makes you appreciate the privilege we all share to live in such a wonderful country. Residents of Slidell and St. Tammany Parish shared a bittersweet camaraderie with their northern counterparts. In fact, Slidell was one of the hardest hit cities when Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana. In addition, they just got hit again by Isaac. I think it’s also a touch of healing for victims of Katrina to be able to give back to victims elsewhere.

Knowing what the many victims of this disaster had to deal with certainly overshadows any melancholy I may have been dealing with. Witnessing the warm response from a group of compassionate strangers 1,300 miles away from the coastal chaos certainly renews one’s faith in this country and the good people who make it what it is. What better time of the year to give thanks for being an American! Every once in a while, I need that special “tap on the shoulder” to remind me to count my blessings!

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

2 thoughts on “Never Underestimate the People of the U.S.

  1. I had to smile when this link was forwarded to me by a friend. It’s heartwarming to know that this collaborative effort by Katrina warriors to aid those in need inspired others. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Train of Hope efforts. It was an testimony of the goodness of so many and the human spirit.

  2. Thanks for your kind words Harry. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since Kim and I were in the Northeast overseeing the delivery of tons of donations from St Tammany Parish just after Hurricane Sandy. And in December, we repeated the effort and delivered another trainload of donations from all 50 states. It reinforces the fact that at the end of the day, regardless of whether we hail from “red states” or “blue states”, we’re all Americans. And this is what Americans do.

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