Beautiful Committee Speech
June 4, 1997
Becky Norton Dunlop
Well, Good Afternoon. I want to thank Mr. Sonny Morton, the Chairman of the Danville City Beautiful Committee and his helper Mrs. Bobbie Hudson, for inviting me to come today on the occasion of your award ceremony and to speak to all of you on a subject that I know is dear to all of our hearts -volunteerism and the important role it has begun to play in improving life in the Old Dominion.
I believe that what motivates volunteers is the spirit of grateful, free individuals offering 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.
This tradition of generously "giving back" is one of America's oldest traditions. Without it we Americans could never have settled this vast land successfully. Voluntary acts of stewardship are what have 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 prevailed.
Thankfully, I can report to you today that a revived spirit of volunteerism and stewardship, of the sort you have exemplified, 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.
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 that 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.
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, 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. For example, there's the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries' project to create handicapped accessible facilities at the Chester Phelps Wildlife Management Area 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.
Another is implementation of an innovative technology for improving water quality that involves a partnership between 4th and 5th graders, a farmer and the Department of Environmental Quality. Our DEQ professional found a natural solution to reducing water pollution -planting the right species of trees on stream-banks and limiting access by livestock. The farmer agreed to allow the students to test their new "technology" and to limit his livestock with a strand of fencing. As a result, we have student volunteers planting trees and then seeing the improvements in the water quality.
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, a statewide project called Operation Spruce-Up. Of all audiences, you seem to me to be the most likely to recognize its value, not least because 480 members of the Danville City Beautiful Committee participated in it this past April as part of your own annual " Clean-Up, Paint-Up, and Fix-up" month.
With Governor Allen's enthusiastic blessing we launched Operation Spruce-Up three years ago when he designated the month of April for this campaign. The event has been sponsored by the eight agencies that I direct.
And what a response we have had over the last three years! 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 Roundsmen- 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.
In the most recently concluded Operation Spruce Up campaign, a total of 400 groups sent over 28,000 volunteers who rose to the occasion so magnificently that Gov. Allen and I now envision Operation Spruce-Up as a permanent annual event, extending throughout the entire month of every 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.
Gov. 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, and I'm especially pleased that 480 of them went to the Danville City Beautiful committee for your wonderful volunteers. But I guarantee you that these volunteers 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 humans 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 their management.
And my strong hunch is that they also came to grasp that solutions to 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."
When applied to carefully delineated sites and situations, mandates and regulations that are based on dogma and political opportunism, as opposed to sound science, are likely to make a problem worse, not 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 they better get involved. Unless we train leaders now who will replace the knee-jerk big spending habits that we first picked up during the 1960's with habits emphasizing voluntary stewardship…
Well, I shudder to complete the thought.
Oh, but not everything about Operation Spruce-Up or volunteerism is freighted with such import. I doubt I need to tell you how much fun volunteering can be and how inspiring. And speaking of fun and inspiration, I think it is now time to begin our ceremony to reward some of those who have done so much. Thank you again and God Bless you all for your works.