Let’s always be there for our neighbors

WASHINGTON – All year long, there are people around us who work in quiet anonymity through local groups and causes or directly with people in need. They donate freely of themselves, making a difference for others and for our communities.

As we reflect on the past year and look ahead with hope and optimism to the coming year, it’s my goal to draw attention to some of these efforts and the groups and individuals behind them.

Northern Michigan continues to face many tough challenges, but that hasn’t drained our spirit and we’ve shown how resilient we can be. There are many examples. First, we can look to the brave men and women in our armed forces, some of which are serving in far off parts of the world protecting our freedoms. Their sacrifices – and those of their families – should never be forgotten.

One of the truly rewarding experiences I’ve had is treating our local veterans at the VA hospital in Iron Mountain for 20 years. In that time, I was blessed to work with several other dedicated doctors, nurses, and hospital personnel that have a shared commitment and passion to serve our brave heroes. But caregivers can come in several forms. For other opportunities in your community, go to www.volunteer.va.gov to learn where your help may be most needed.

My wife, Judy, and I have been committed to the St. Vincent de Paul society for many years. The Vincentians do such wonderful work for our communities above and below the bridge, from thrift stores to visiting tens of thousands in their homes, senior centers, and hospitals. And from providing travel aid to running food drives last year they helped over 50,000 people in our area-dedicating nearly $900,000 to aiding them and another $200,000 of in-kind donations including food, furniture, clothing and professional services. To find out more about what they do or how you can help, please contact a local church.

Mentorships can be a life changing experience for everyone involved. I’ve seen firsthand how a mentorship can help a young person flourish as they tackle real-world challenges. From study help or tutoring in academics to being an extra sounding board that can lend an added adult perspective when needed, mentors can play a significant role in our children’s development. Having a positive role model that will take the time to share their own experiences and be there to listen is invaluable to helping these kids take the right path.

My son-in-law started with a mentor when he was a sophomore in high school, and still speaks to the lifelong benefits he has gained from that relationship. In fact, he’s now 26-years-old, with a growing family of his own, but he remains in touch with his mentor to this day. His experience moved me to seek out a local mentorship, so I took part in the Kinkid program in Iron County. The young man I worked with had to move away, but it was a deeply rewarding experience that I hope to do again in the near future.

These are just a few of the countless causes and efforts locally that can make a difference, but this only begins to scratch the surface of all the good work and deeds taking place everyday around us. I’ll continue to post more of my efforts and the efforts of others on my Facebook page and Twitter account to share the inspirational efforts we have going on all around us all year long. There must be hundreds of these stories throughout our communities, please share them-online, in a letter to the paper or when gathering with friends and neighbors. I’d like to hear more. I believe if we amplify these efforts it may bring more and more of us together to keep helping our friends in need.

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Rep. Dan Benishek is a general surgeon from Iron River and is serving in his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives.