I had a case of “being a teenager,” and as such, I felt like the only people making a difference lived anywhere but here.
I mean, sure, I knew there were good people here doing good things, but I never really understood exactly what those people did and how they really helped this community.
I always just thought the only people who ever wanted to help the downtrodden in Hazard and Perry County were members of youth groups and churches in places like Virginia and Ohio who only came in here to help build houses in the summer time.
I can distinctly remember thinking that no one who actually lives and works here cares one spit about their own community. I remember thinking that it was up to me to leave here, get educated and come back to help my people help themselves (like I said, I had one strong case of “being a teenager”).
Clearly, this notion I had was completely off base, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last six months working at the Hazard Herald it is this: the people who care the absolute most about this county, this city and this community are the people who live and work here.
This fact hit me like a sack of potatoes when I was at the United Way of Perry County’s Founders Day dinner.
There I was, surrounded by people who live in Hazard and Perry County, and who have been giving back to this community longer than I’ve been alive.
I was hearing stories about how the United Way of Perry County helps Hazard-Perry County Community Ministries keep the doors to their homeless shelter open 24/7, 365 days a year, and how the money they raise is almost immediately given to those in our community who need it most.
I could see Gerry Roll, the executive director of the Hazard-Perry County Community Foundation at the dinner. I see Gerry around town a lot when I go to cover events, and everywhere she goes, she’s always trying to raise support for the Foundation so she can help the people of this community.
I know first hand what the Community Foundation can do for my neighbors in this county, because I’ve witnessed Community Sports League basketball games and heard the stories about small community parks around the county that were improved using money and support from the Community Foundation.
Dr. Ashok Patel was at the United Way dinner, being honored as one of the organization’s founders. He has recently started an initiative to raise money for the United Way of Perry County in which physicians pledge donations to the group by the end of the year. Fifteen doctors in Perry County have already signed up to be a part of this giving back plan.
I’ve also been witness to other people in our community that are giving back without the slightest expectation of anything in return.
People like the Pathfinders of Perry County were at the dinner, too. This group wants to build a walking path through downtown Hazard, not only to get people noticing downtown again, but also to improve the health of Hazard and Perry County citizens. To me, they are improving the look of Hazard to make it a place that people are proud of.
There’s also the people working at the Housing Development Alliance in Perry County, who build homes for those who need them most, but can’t afford to build one without their help.
I mentioned Community Ministries earlier, and they are a vital part of this community. They house the homeless and council the depressed and downtrodden. They help people who have no where else to turn make decisions about education, housing and overall health and well-being.
These are just a few very honorable mentions, because honestly, I probably couldn’t list all the amazing philanthropists I’ve met who are working daily to improve Hazard and Perry County and the lives of their neighbors – OUR neighbors – who live here.
All of the founders of the United Way of Perry County spoke about how the group began. In all of their remarks, there was one common theme. They all agreed over 20 years ago that there was a gap in our community that wasn’t being filled like it ought to – the gap of helping those who need it most. They formed the United Way not with selfish intentions, but with a giving spirit.
I learned from the Founder’s Day dinner that that giving spirit is still alive in Perry County, and it is beyond genuine and sincere. I also learned that without that giving spirit in our community, a lot of the people who live here would be forgotten.
I was filled up with something during that dinner I couldn’t quite place at the time, but I now realize that feeling was pride. Pride in knowing that there was so much selfless giving going on right under my nose all the years of my life that I never knew existed. And pride in knowing that these silent sentinels of philanthropy live and work among us.
They are Perry Countians – my neighbors – and they care just as much about our community and the people in it as I always hoped they would.