There’s a lot to learn from helping out

On a recent Sunday, our family drove fresh water to help Moose Lake, Carlton County and other northeastern Minnesota families deal with floodwater. What words are there to describe the smiles, thanks and hugs that greeted us? Because of the generosity of managers at Walgreen’s, SuperAmerica and Lund’s, we brought about 25 donated cases of water, something that we heard people needed. And on the way, we stopped at Tobie’s, the traditional midway refreshment place between Duluth and the Twin Cities. A manager there also gave us a case of water to share.

We witnessed courage, persistence and resilience. It also was a remarkable reminder of what you get, when you give. What have you learned from helping out?

Like many others, we were stunned by the scenes from Duluth and other northeastern Minnesota communities after heavy rains. You can see some of this in news clips such as this one from Channel 5, KSTP: www.youtube.com/watch?v=47qGFUzyN5I&feature=related.

We figured that a good use of a summer Sunday would be trying to help a bit. About 30 years ago we had a serious fire at our house. Neighbors, friends and the Red Cross helped us immediately. You don’t forget something like that.

We stopped first in Moose Lake, because some years ago we had family there. We drove to the school that is near the lake. Part of the front yard was still under water, along with rooms in the lower level.

The principal and some teachers, as well as others, were there, making some sense of the unexpected rush of water and the damage it brought. “You drove all the way from the Twin Cities?” the principal asked. “Yes,” I explained, “we’re educators, too. We wanted you to know others are with you.” We left water and a check to help pay for damaged and destroyed materials.

We also drove through nearby streets. In block after block, people had emptied out their basements. Furniture, toys, a vast array of material – soaked and smelling. But people waved and thanked us for the water we offered.

We also stopped at a local church where we’d been told relief supplies were being distributed. As we unloaded more water (which they welcomed), they offered us hot dogs. “Thanks,” we smiled. “Save it for the local people.”

Then it was on to Cloquet, and a relief center set up by Carlton County. Droves of people were bringing toys, food and other items there. And Carlton County had a very efficient center to accept and distribute things.

Finally, on to Duluth, to look around and have lunch. (Northeastern Minnesota needs tourist money.  And most parts of the area are again open, and beautiful.)

Over the years we’ve taken our youngsters to help at various disasters, mostly floods. The lessons we learned together won’t come from a book or computer screen. But isn’t this part of helping youngsters learn to be contributing citizens in a free country, where we’ve been given more than we can ever repay?

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

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