Citizenship links Generations

 Monday, February 08, 2016
Hugh Ralston


Our Freedoms are not Free

The voters of Iowa have caucused and soon we shall hear from the primary voters in New Hampshire. Our quadrennial election has been launched. It is a process that is both majestic and parochial, one that tests the bonds of our community and provides evidence that this democratic experiment continues to live and breathe through its people. As these United States work through the gauntlet of selecting our next president and the leaders who will serve in our Congress, legislatures and local offices, we know that elections matter. The choices made shape not only our public life, but our communities as well.

Citizenship is not simply a right. It is also a responsibility. Elections are a reminder of the civic responsibility that has been built into our communal lives. The disciplines required to sustain, nurture and advance our form of government include reading, listening to opposing views, choosing candidates, parties, platforms and ultimately voting. It also includes service on juries, in the military, in keeping our elected officials accountable. When we participate as citizens, we also honor the sacrifices and investments made by prior generations. Our freedoms have never been free and many were won through the dedication, sacrifice and commitment of others. These values remain the envy of millions around the world.

Engaging the Community in Civic Life

The Civic Learning Partnership was established last year to promote civic knowledge and engagement in our community. Chaired by Justice Franson and skippered, in part, by noted local attorney Mike Wilhem, this group of leaders from all walks of life has been exploring ways to align the disciplines needed to sustain our form of government with an increasingly diverse, and somewhat disconnected, citizenry. They are also paying attention to the ways these civic virtues can be nurtured and passed on to the next generation. Schools, nonprofits, local and state government, other public institutions, lawyers, private companies, faith based institutions – all have a chance to contribute to this important work.

Practical efforts are underway led by the partnership not only to ensure that civic responsibilities are taught in our schools, but also to find ways to engage youth around issues of public concern. By developing their own opinions and ideas, young people will be able to add their voices to the debate; we will all be stronger for it.

Other partners are joining the conversation. In March, a conference sponsored by the Bonner Center for Character and Civic Education will highlight some of these efforts and provide awards to students for their civic work. And just this past week, the city of Fresno launched its youth commission, a platform for engaging this new generation into the city’s civic life.

NextGen Philanthropy at CVCF

In the nonprofit sector the transition of generations is extremely important in shaping the future. Program staff, board members and donors are seeking new ways to ensure that institutions continue to matter, and to adapt to the new tools, skills and passions of the next generation. It is a vital effort.

At Central Valley Community Foundation, we are excited about the possibilities for generational transitions in philanthropy as well. Our NextGen group is a team of committed young philanthropists who want to shape a better future in the place where they live and their families have deep roots. By working to understand the needs in our community and using their own funds to make effective grants they are learning the tools of civic leadership. This is their home and they want to invest in solutions that make it better.

In fact, we just invited NextGen’s founder to join the foundation board, to ensure these voices are part of our conversations as well.

We all have a role to play

In this election year as we engage in the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, we are reminded once again of Benjamin Franklin’s observation at the Constitutional Convention: “we have a republic, if you can keep it.“ Our first president, George Washington, looked forward to life after two terms to a higher office: citizen. We all have a chance to engage in this important work.

By exploring ways in which we can reinforce civic leadership, grounded in the responsibilities of citizenship, we can engage others in building community. That is how this country got built and how we will manage the future together. Come join us.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

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Fresno Regional Foundation helps donors achieve their charitable goals, and we serve as a bridge connecting philanthropy to community-based organizations that provide programs and services throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

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