“And so my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you –ask what you can do for your country.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
When President John F. Kennedy issued that challenge near the conclusion of his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he wasn’t speaking broadly to all of his fellow citizens. He was specifically speaking to you — even if on that bitterly cold, wind-swept day more than a half-century ago, you were yet to be born.
From that day forward, love of country would be measured not by the number of American flags displayed on the front lawn or the ability to recite the second verse of the Star-Spangled Banner (there are four in our national anthem). No, JFK made it clear that patriotism requires each citizen to take on, not shrink from, the responsibility to serve others. Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or economic status, you have an obligation to serve the public, a duty to share what you have to create and nurture a healthier, safer, stronger and more inclusive America.
As we mark the 100th anniversary of President Kennedy’s birth, a milestone that has inspired new generations to find meaning in the enduring values that formed the heart of JFK’s legacy, it seems especially timely to ask: what have you contributed — better still, what are you doing right now — for your community, for your neighbors, for your country?
Today we see decision-makers from Wall St. to Main St. ignore what is right and fair, and make choices that are based on corporate profits, executive bonuses and personal gain. We place blind faith in leaders who are more concerned with preserving their jobs than exhibiting courage. Far too many of us have fallen prey to self-centeredness, materialism, privilege and greed.
Yet, at the same time, hundreds of men and women in our area who have been diagnosed with intellectual challenges and other developmental disabilities, served with passion, skill and love by the dedicated employees of Developmental Enterprises Corporation, have stayed clear of the “What have you done for me lately?” syndrome that is so pervasive in today’s culture.
During the past year alone, intellectually and developmentally disabled adults at DEC training facilities and residences throughout Montgomery County voluntarily devoted upwards of 3,000 hours to performing acts of community service. Rather than waste time conjuring what others could do for them, these individuals have drawn on lessons taught to give back, regardless of their personal limitations…to share their talents, energies, creativity, even their financial resources with neighbors they may never know, but whose needs are greater than their own.
Why? What do they understand that so many others fail to grasp?