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Address to the Jaycees

Address to the Jaycees
November 18, 1995
Becky Norton Dunlop

Thank You. It would be a pleasure and an honor to address the Jaycees anytime, but on this occasion, just a few days before that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, it seems especially appropriate for me to do so. Allow me to tell you why: Simply because so much of what motivates you as members of the Jaycees is the spirit of grateful, free individuals volunteering to give something back to the larger community, to neighbor and to stranger alike. In a word, the spirit of living up to the responsibilities of mature, fully involved citizens.

All of you recognize that we, as Americans and as Virginians, are the inheritors of more blessings and of more gifts than we can possibly deserve, repay, or even enumerate.

To cite just a few: there is the beauty of our beloved Virginia countryside and its natural resources, not to mention the bounty they produce and which sustains us; then there is our constitutional structure of a federated republic, dividing power in such a way so as to keep our government limited and to keep us the freest people in the history of the world; and, in particular, as Virginians we can thankfully lay claim to the most important and fascinating historical legacy around.

That short list just scratches the surface of what we all have to give thanks for, and, just as important, of what calls on us to give back a little something of ourselves.

This tradition of "giving back," for which you are so deservedly famous, is one of America's oldest traditions, as old, indeed, as Thanksgiving. Without this tradition we Americans could never have settled this vast land successfully. This tradition, which amounts to voluntary acts of stewardship, is what has enabled us to maintain communities that have prospered and have grown to be the envy of the world.

Indeed, much of the world has never enjoyed our tradition of voluntary stewardship and has watched us for over two hundred years with a combination of awe and disbelief as the great American adventure has unfolded. Many believed that it could not succeed, that the people could never be trusted to run their own affairs without the direction from their betters, be they aristocrats or their stand-ins.

Whatever the world's initial skepticism, today peoples all over the globe are beginning to try to emulate our embrace of freedom through personal responsibility, including even the former communist countries where coercive governmental traditions absolutely opposed to ours once prevailed.

Sadly, the totalitarians--wherever they appear--always seem to be busy imposing some supposedly enlightened vision of a pristine utopia on to their hapless victims, usually with assurances that they have only their best interests at heart. Strange how the totalitarian's devotion is always to some abstraction like economic class or race, and never to the flesh-and blood people actually walking around amongst us, here and now. The immense value that real people hold and represent always seems to go unnoticed by ideologues.

That's where you and I differ from totalitarians, whether they come from overseas or are homegrown. You already share with me, I suspect, the conviction that Virginia's people are her greatest and most precious natural resource, and that their needs, not the needs of some abstraction, must come first. Indeed, meeting the needs of Virginians is precisely what you have dedicated so much of your time and effort to doing.

Thankfully, I can report to you today that a revived spirit of volunteerism and stewardship, of the sort you have exemplified for years, is again beginning to flourish across America and the Old Dominion. I can promise you that as Secretary of Natural Resources in the Allen administration these traditions are especially important to me. I'm delighted to see this revived spirit expressing itself in so many ways.

Where the environment is concerned, stewardship simply means rolling up our sleeves and taking care of our resources today so that we can make sure future generations will have wonderful natural resources to enjoy. Sometimes that may mean getting your hands a bit dirty, but then that can be part of the fun. In the larger political arena, we see the spirit of volunteerism and stewardship expressed in a fervent desire to decentralize power and to return it to the grassroots. That can also mean getting one's hands a bit dirty, though it isn't usually quite as much fun.

In any case, I feel very much at home in your company. In a real sense you've led the way, breaking ground for this new spirit of private citizen involvement in community affairs. You and other service organizations have already demonstrated how much concerned individuals can do to improve community life in countless ways, without sitting around waiting for government bureaucrats to come up with some social engineering scheme to set things right.

You have demonstrated not just superior efficiency but speed that would make a bureaucrat dizzy. When the Jaycees decide to tackle a problem, there's no agonizing for months and years over minutiae, no swamps of red tape to wade through. You go to work and start making a difference, without waiting for pages of regulations and reams of legislation.

One of my goals as Secretary of Natural Resources has been to stimulate in Virginia's citizens the twin spirits of volunteerism and stewardship. I don't doubt for a moment that our fellow citizens are the most precious resource in the Commonwealth and that, furthermore, if we can just tap into their creativity, their ingenuity, and their knowledge--won not through abstract theorizing but through hands-on experience--we can benefit the Old Dominion in undreamed of ways.

Indeed, we've already started doing just that. Take the problem of managing hydrilla on Lake Anna and Lake Gaston. The Allen administration has worked to bring together local officials, people who use the lakes, and nearby residents and property owners. We've encouraged them to come up with the best solution for their own communities, while offering whatever technical assistance we can from the appropriate state agencies.

Then there's the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries project to create handicapped accessible facilities at the Chester Phelps Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Fauquier county. This is the first project of this type on a WMA. Now listen to this:

The entire project is being driven by a local organization, the local affiliate of the Float Fishermen of Virginia. It was their vision to begin with. They generated local support and are the lead organization, and they have committed themselves to raising a substantial amount of money to finance the project.

I could go on describing many such Allen administration measures, but instead I'd like to focus at some length on one we are especially proud of.

I'd like to tell you about a project particularly dear to my heart that I call Operation Spruce-UP. Of all audiences you seem to me to be the most likely to recognize its value and to want to support it, perhaps in conjunction with a similar program of your own which you call GreenWorks! in which you identify and tackle environmental challenges of wide ranging scope and complexity.

Your partner in Green Works! is the American Forest Foundation's Project Learning Tree, and between the two of you, you've put together a model program which doesn't so much strive to educate people towards what to think about one environmental problem or another, but how to think about them.

Some of the projects that your GreenWorks! program is already accomplishing include soil erosion prevention, stabilizing stream banks, planting trees, caring for existing urban trees, and landscaping schoolyards.

We have a similar project of our own which you may not have heard much about. I'd like to bring it to your attention now because, for all the world, if ever two programs were natural allies, so to speak, and ought to be linked together, it is these two, yours and ours.

With Governor Allen's enthusiastic blessing, we launched Operation Spruce-UP last spring when he designated three weeks in April, the 1st though the 23rd, for this campaign calling on Virginians to voluntarily pitch in and demonstrate the stewardship towards our natural, recreational, historic, and cultural resources that is appropriate for a free people. The event was sponsored by the eight agencies that I direct which include the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department, Chippokes Plantation Farm Foundation, the Virginia Marine Resource Commission, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, and the Departments of Conservation and Recreation, Environmental Quality, Game and Inland Fisheries, and Historic Resources.

And what a response we had! Service organizations, religious groups of all denominations, civic clubs, school clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, hunt clubs and fishing associations, bird watching organizations--and even the Virginian Houndsmen--all signed up and sent contingents. Most gratifying and inspiring, however, was the response of just plain John and Jane Q. Citizen, your neighbors and mine.

All told, thousands of Virginians turned out, and I must tell you that these folks rose to the occasion so magnificently that Governor Allen and I are now committed to making Operation Spruce-UP an annual event, extending throughout the entire month of April. Our hope is that it will become as much a part of Virginia's springtime as the dogwood blossoms and the redbud, as the wild turkey's gobble and the beginning of serious striper and crappie fishing.

What sort of tasks did these volunteers set for themselves and accomplish? (At the cost of not one penny to the taxpayers, I might add.) Well, they cleaned up state parks, beaches, and other natural areas. They performed trail maintenance, removing fallen trees and clearing brush. They hauled away firewood, completed light repairs, and took care of minor construction projects, like building picnic tables. They painted and built fences, including one at George Washington's Grist Mill. They cleared long overgrown cemeteries, and they placed wood duck boxes in the boggy areas of the forests. They planted trees, shrubs, and flowers. They landscaped, raked, and spread mulch.

The state provided some of the materials needed, including a little expertise from staff from time to time, here and there, but much help also came through donations from local businesses.

You get the idea. Heck, it practically was your idea! You pioneered partnerships between government and the private sector.

Governor Allen was eager to bestow some sort of official recognition on these thousands of volunteers for their efforts, so each one was given a certificate signed by him. But I guarantee you that they took away from the experience a lot more than just a certificate to hang on the wall, as nice as that is.

They also took away many valuable lessons. One lesson that I'm absolutely convinced they took away is that our natural resources our inherently dynamic, resilient, and responsive to wise management. Another is that these resources are renewable and that human beings can manage them and interact with them while cherishing them.

And I certainly hope they took away the lesson that our natural resources shouldn't be off-limits to us as some radical environmentalists seem to think they should be. No, I believe these volunteers learned that our natural resources are a part of everyone's heritage, a part of our heritage that benefits from private citizens getting involved in its management.

And my strong hunch is that they also came to grasp that environmental problems are always site-and-situation specific. The last thing--and I mean the very last thing--that can solve them are overly prescriptive dictates from far away desk bound "higher ups."

Mandates and regulations that are not based on sound science and applied to carefully delineated sites and situations, but are instead based on dogma and political opportunism are likely to make a problem worse, not to solve it.

Beyond that, the volunteers, young or old, white or black, rich or poor, all got hands-on training in effective citizenship. We don't have Kings and Dukes and Earls in America. We don't have people to whom society simply cedes governing powers and authority. Here political participation is open to all, but nobody can hope to function well in our political system without having seen it up close, and you can only do that, my friends, by beginning at the beginning, by getting involved at the simplest level, then progressing upwards, if you so desire.

Thus, as Governor Allen and I see it, Operation Spruce-UP, along with stoking the fires of volunteerism that have always been a vital component in improving American life, also indirectly nudges, maybe even channels, grassroots folks into the political process, not as Republicans or Democrats, not even as conservatives or liberals, but simply as concerned citizens with a sense of their legitimate responsibilities.

You see, we believe that a big part of what makes our Operation Spruce-UP enriching is that it shows people that they can make a difference. They can change something for the better. What better habit to foster in our fellow citizens than that? By our lights, Operation Spruce-UP can be the first step in forming people who have learned how to have an impact on the status quo. Once something like that becomes a habit, well, it's Katie-Bar-The-Door! In the long run it's bound to strengthen our democratic institutions because it brings far more people into the decision making process.

And just let some elitist try to tell some of these folks to stay in their place, to leave all the important things in the hands of bureaucratic know-it-alls! In fact, I believe it is likely that some of Virginia's most active future citizen/statesmen and women will turn out to have been faithful participants in Operation Spruce-UP.

They better be. Unless we train leaders now who will replace the knee-jerk big-spending habits that we first picked up during the 1960s and which have only gotten more deeply entrenched over time with habits emphasizing voluntary stewardship...

Well, I shudder to complete the thought.

What else can happen but higher and higher taxes? What else can happen but a mushrooming ever-more-arrogant bureaucracy and probably an inefficient one at that? That's still one more lesson for our Operation Spruce-UP volunteers to take away from the experience. After all, many of them are youngsters who haven't yet begun paying taxes, and who probably don't have much grasp of the crushing fiscal realities that the national debt will soon be laying upon their shoulders.

Oh, but not everything about Operation Spruce-Un is freighted with such import. It's not all deadly seriousness by any means. We leave non-stop deadly seriousness to the bureaucrats, the elitists, and the totalitarians. Operation Spruce-UP is about having fun too, believe me.

Up at Leeslyvannia State Park, for example, in southeastern Prince William County, over 100 school children, ranging from ages 7 to 17, showed up, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, to clean up trash. That April morning was cold, darned cold, but they stuck it out, and later one of them, Stephanie Machado, a senior at Garfield High School, stressed to a reporter that she was having a great time.

A particular source of wonder and delight to her and to her classmates was the old 1950's style beer cans that they kept finding that did not have the pop-tops that came along in the mid-1960s. I suspect maybe one or two of you in the audience tonight may recall these items. In fact, maybe one or two of you may have thrown away some of these very beer cans, though nowadays, of course, nobody in this room would ever dream of doing such a thing.

Anyhow, it seems that finding countless triangular holes punched in the cans' tops prompted endless jokes and laughter among the students as they played games, trying to imagine and describe just who had thrown the cans away and what these figures--straight out of ancient history as far as the kids were concerned--might have been up to at the time.

"This is fun," Stephanie told the reporter, "and it's great for the park and for the community. I just enjoy being in the park. It's nice and we should keep it that way."

That young lady pretty much said it all, didn't she? I offer her as exhibit "B" to prove my point about Virginia's people being her most precious natural resource.

As for exhibit "C", well, I offer the testimony of Leesylvannia's Chief Ranger, Brendon Hanafin, who explained to the same reporter, "[Operation Spruce-UP] saves us a considerable amount of time. We wanted to get the trash out of here, but we couldn't do it without this sort of cooperative effort." Prior to the event Leesylvannia officials had requested 50 of the Governor's signed certificates; on the day of the event twice that number showed up to the pleasant surprise of the park staff.

But wait. What happened to exhibit "A" you ask. Well, believe me I sure haven't forgotten it. In fact, it's been here all along. You yourselves are my exhibit "A", my strongest proof that Virginia's people are her most precious natural resource.

I thank you again, and I hope to see you all this spring during Operation Spruce-UP. If nothing else, just think of all the fun you could have enlightening wide-eyed teenagers about the days of beer cans without pop tops! Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless you all!