Understanding citizenship in a small town

First published: December 29, 2006

Citizenship is one of those words that gets tossed around in conversations and politics, but is rarely understood. It can be defined as membership in a political community, originally meaning a city of town; but now, it usually means a country or the globe. With it comes the right to participate in the political life.

Beyond this stricter definition, citizenship often implies working towards the betterment of one’s community through participation, volunteer work, and efforts to improve life for all citizens. This comes from the earliest times of democracy in Greece, where citizenship was based on the way people lived in the small-scale communities of the polis. There was little, if any, separation between the private life of people and the public life of a community. The obligations of citizenship were fundamentally connected to a person’s everyday life. The destiny of the community was entwined with the ability of individuals to survive and flourish. Hence, anything done to support the community was considered an opportunity to be virtuous, gaining the honour and respect of fellow citizens.

It is in the spirit of this notion of citizenship that Cobourg and Port Hope councils will be honouring the contributions of people within the community announced recently. Port Hope residents have until Jan. 12, 2007 (the second Friday in January), while Cobourg residents have until Jan. 24, 2007 to make their nominations.

Recipients of last year’s awards in Port Hope include the Port Hope High School 50th Reunion committee; Geoff Dale, a volunteer at the Fare Share Food Bank; Pat Goodyear, a board members with Community Care, as well as a volunteer with the Jazz Festival, charter member of Port Hope Probus and assists with the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario House Tour. Then, there is the long list of others like Peter Hills, Maggie Snow, Myra Woolacott, Judy Carrigan, Mark Moorcroft, Kaitlyn Ward, Kelsi Annge Prince, Blake Holton, Selena Forsyth, Joan Bebee, Bonnie Walker and a huge list of athletes.

It is no different in Cobourg. Last year, Alberta (Bert) MacMillan, a mover and shaker behind many community events such as the Victoria Hall Volunteer, First Night Committee, the Probus Club and St. Peter’s Church was honoured, along with Kim Rudd, President of the Cobourg and District Chamber of Commerce and member of the Physician Recruitment Committee. There is also Kay Boulter, Helen Ball, George Leger, Mabel Puddy, Kay and Graham Marshall, Marnie McCombe, Murray Edward Spry, along with organizations like the Kiwanis Club, St. John’s Ambulance, and Habitat for Humanity among a host of others who received recognition.

It would take far more space than this column to mention every individual or group and their incredible contribution. For those who are not mentioned, it should not take away from their valuable efforts, time and energy.

What is most extraordinary is the way some of these volunteers go on to represent the community at the provincial and national levels. Only last week, John Metson, of Cobourg, was named to the national board for Habitat for Humanity. He distinguished himself with his work as the president of the Canadian Housing Renewal Association and the Ontario Non-Profit Housing. He is also treasurer of the Northumberland Hills Hospital Foundation board. He and his wife, Gayle, moved to Cobourg seven years ago.

And, this is what truly remarkable about these citizens. Volunteering to help make the community a better place has little to do anymore with where one was born, grew up and lived, as the Greek’s defined it so long ago. What truly makes these members of our community great is the spirit in which these contributions are made through their immense compassion and empathy for others. It is not a matter of geography, but a state of mind or a condition of the spirit that makes them special.

What we must also remember is these awards recognize only a fraction of the countless people who give so generously. Let us not forget all the small organizations or the tiny committees within all the service clubs, churches, sports organizations, and community groups, who give money, energy and effort. Most importantly, they give time, which some people might argue is the most valuable commodity considering today’s hectic lifestyle.

In a post-modern world where the individual is often placed at the centre of the “me” generation, it is marvelous to celebrate those who buck the trend, placing the lives and concerns of others above themselves. One thing the Greek’s understood was the inextricable link between the quality of life, or the survival of a community, and us, as individuals. When we fail to give of ourselves to assist others, the community fails. No matter how small the contribution, it all matters.

And, so, we should all take time to reflect on the great role the past award winners and those who are yet to be named. Without them, we would not live in such wonderful place or experience the quality of life we enjoy.

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