You will often hear me say that Nebraska is the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family. One of the features that helps make the Good Life so great is Nebraska’s tradition of service to others through volunteerism. Nebraskans everywhere have a long history of deep commitment to their schools, their churches and their communities. When Nebraskans see a need, they go and meet that need. It’s what we do.

Every day, people and voluntary organizations across Nebraska carry out acts of service which enrich the lives of both the volunteers and the people they serve. These people and organizations have long played a role in strengthening not only Nebraska, but our entire country. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized the American propensity for volunteerism and wrote about it extensively in his classic work, “Democracy in America.” De Tocqueville observed this about American volunteerism: “I have seen Americans making great and sincere sacrifices for the key common good and a hundred times I have noticed that, when needs be, they almost always gave each other faithful support.”

While Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that in 1840, that spirit lives on in the work of Nebraskans today. Look around and you’ll see countless examples of Nebraskans stepping up and helping out those in need. Over 33 percent of Nebraskans volunteered in 2015, ranking us sixth among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. We volunteer at a rate much higher than the national average of around 25 percent. Their work added up to over 58 million hours and an estimated $1.3 billion in value for Nebraska in 2015 alone.

It’s not hard to volunteer in Nebraska. There are over 1,000 registered volunteer organizations in our state, and numerous other volunteer organizations and faith communities. I encourage each and every one of you to get involved with at least one of these programs. Volunteers play a vital role in our lives by strengthening the social fabric of our society. Governments can’t love. Only people love. Our volunteers build personal and loving relationships with people in our communities who need our help.

Here are some great stories of Nebraskans who are serving their state.

The TeamMates Mentoring Program, started in 1991 by coach Tom Osborne and his wife Nancy, works to inspire youth to reach their full potential through mentoring. Coach Osborne saw his football players as high-achieving role models who generations of kids looked up to. He wanted their example to make an impact on the lives of young Nebraskans. Coach Osborne took 22 football players to middle schools in Lincoln to be mentors. Their initial success encouraged them to grow the idea. When it became an official program in 1998, TeamMates had 12 chapters and 441 mentors matched with mentees. Today, TeamMates has grown to over 150 chapters and serves over 8,000 Nebraska students. The TeamMates program has extended beyond Nebraska’s borders as well, with chapters in Iowa, Kansas and Wyoming.

Bill and Evonne Williams of Patriotic Productions are another great example of Nebraska’s volunteer spirit. Bill and Evonne worked to create “Remembering Our Fallen,” a traveling display which honors the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation. With the help of the Omaha World-Herald and Bellevue University, Bill and Evonne opened “Remembering Our Fallen” in front of a crowd of over 1,000 people. The memorial has been traveling weekly throughout Nebraska since January of 2011. Bill and Evonne have since expanded the program with Bellevue University to create additional memorials in 19 states, and just last month a national memorial was unveiled at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This is an incredible way to honor those who sacrificed all for their country.

The spirit of volunteerism starts at a young age for Nebraskans, who faithfully pass this tradition on from generation to generation. Sophia Stroud, a third-grader from Omaha, was flipping through an American Girl catalog one day and noticed that one of the dolls was bald. Sophia immediately asked her mom as to why the bald dolls were made and who they were for. After Sophia’s mother explained to her that the dolls were for kids who have cancer or who have lost their hair, Sophia took it upon herself to raise money and purchase these dolls for patients at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. Sophia baked cookies with the help of her grandmother and raised over $1,400 in one month by selling them. This money allowed Sophia to donate eight dolls and six Build-A-Bear teddy bears to children in the hospital.

It’s an honor to be governor of a state with such a strong commitment to volunteerism. Your acts of service make Nebraska the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family. If you have a story about volunteerism that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Please call my office at 402-471-2244 or email me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov.

Gov. Pete Ricketts can be contacted at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.

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