Inspiring Okeechobee: Volunteers are the heart of the community

OKEECHOBEE — This week’s Inspiring Okeechobee will be a bit different, and perhaps provoke continued debate surrounding celebrations and traditions we have in our great community. The July 4 festivities being held on a date different than the actual holiday had folks on social media debating why the event was not held on the 4th of July. Strong opinions were noted and as social media sites often do, there were those who favored hosting the event on the weekend, versus celebrating on the actual federally recognized day. Then there were those who objected to having festivities outside of the actual holiday.

Thomas Jefferson was said to have penned on the approaching 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be … the signal of arousing men to burst the chains … and the assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. …For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” (PBS.org)
As the debate over the scheduling of the event progressed, others offered history lessons.

Certainly, I am no historian, but from the best I can decipher when the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in June of 1776 the initial document to declare our independence from Britain, was drafted. Over the course of the following weeks it was changed 86 times prior to the adoption of the version we all know as the Declaration of Independence. Apparently, it was signed by the participants on July 2; however, on July 4 the final two men penned their signatures, making the document official. It was not until July 8 that the document was read publicly in Philadelphia’s Independence Square. (PBS.org)

My social studies friends, please forgive me if I am mistaken. Yes, Mr. Nichols and Mr. Welch, this is for you!

One year later, Philadelphia celebrated with bonfires, bells and fireworks and this tradition grew to other communities for many years prior to the federal government recognizing the 4th of July as a federal holiday in 1938 or was it 1941? It appears that the government began recognizing it as a federal holiday and paying its workers in 1938, but other sources say it was not until 1941 that it was recognized as an official federal holiday.

Largely the debate locally was that the holiday and festivities should occur on the actual date of the holiday. My two cents, for what it’s worth with the caveat that I did not plan the event, fundraise for the event nor did I volunteer for the event. I have attended previous July 4 celebrations at Okee-Tantie and they were wonderful. I highly suspect that this event was equally wonderful, because the pictures I have seen show people having a great time.

As a person who plans, fundraises and volunteers for events that benefit our great community it’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow to have criticisms slung about on Facebook or other social media sites when I have worked countless hours behind the scenes to bring something great for children, families, seniors and visitors to our great community. I can imagine that these organizers perhaps felt the same way.

This is in no way to diminish my appreciation for the celebration of holidays on the date they occur, as I understand we are a community steeped in tradition. I recall just a few weeks prior to the event that the planners were uncertain if we would even have the event, due to lack of funding. The interesting thing is that we have freedoms to express ourselves which our government has afforded by the signing of these documents.

With the advent of social media over the past decade, it is much easier to offer critique and criticism; but it’s just as easy to give praise and thanks. We, myself included at times, are very quick to express our thoughts with a few key strokes, not realizing the impact that we have on others. When I spoke to one of the organizers a year ago about why the event was not held on the actual date, it was because of the availability of volunteers, not just the day of the event but in the days leading up to the event. It was established that there were more people available to help pull off an event like this, if it were held on a weekend day. Many times, we judge events and activities by the end product, but have no clue about the steps that it took to get to that day. I can speak to that personally, as we are readying the Back to School Expo. It takes months of planning, grant writing, collaboration, gathering donations (which must be sorted) and making sure every detail is tended to have a great event.

To those men and women who made these festivities happen on a moment’s notice, a hearty and heartfelt thank you. To those who choose to volunteer, you are a blessing to our community. To those who enjoyed the festivities, that’s the “why.”

Going back to the words of Thomas Jefferson, it is important that we celebrate our freedoms as this Declaration, “restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion.” While we do have a right to our freedom of opinion, perhaps we still need to temper it with the adage our mothers taught, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” If we all try to follow that rule, the world will be a better place. To the organizers: job well done. Thanks for inspiring me and our community this week.

Community volunteers who provided Okeechobee residents with a celebration of our nation’s birth included (left to right) J.D. Mixon, Matt Buxton, Michael Hazellief and Frank DeCarlo. The July 1 event included watermelon eating contests, ice cream eating contests, sack races, frozen T-shirt contests in addition to an amazing fireworks show at the Okee-Tantie recreation area on July 1, 2017.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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