Like most others who run for public office, I imagined I was going to change the world and do so in record time. However, once seated on the Olmsted County Board, it did not take long for me to realize that I was late for the party. Our local government, and the nonprofits and charities that work with us are full of people who have been successfully doing so, one client at a time, day after day, for years.
I'm a "roads and bridges" type of guy. In my mind, providing safe and reliable transportation to our residents is one of the core responsibilities of local government. I still believe that. However, what has really jumped out to me in my first few months as an Olmsted County commissioner is how much value we, as a county, place on protecting the vulnerable among us and providing them with the resources to live the highest quality of life possible.
No doubt this decision comes at a financial price – one we witness when we pay our property taxes to the county and income taxes to the state and federal government. But when you get over the sticker shock, you learn that this is the price we have to pay to have a society that values all lives.
As commissioners, we have many opportunities throughout the year to learn more about the valuable resources available in our area. We do not promote one service over others. Depending on our interests and committee or advisory board assignments, we may hear about an organization's mission which inspires us to share what we have learned with others.
Recently, I was invited to an informational lunch meeting at Bear Creek Services, which was started 41 years ago when a group of parents got together to fill a need when the state of Minnesota began closing the institutions that had housed their children. They are the original nonprofit organization in Southeast Minnesota directed at helping those among us face mental challenges to reach their potential and thrive at life.
Their guiding principle is "Building Independence, Maximizing Potential." Their core clients are individuals with traumatic brain injuries and developmental disabilities. Along with group homes that provide safe environments for these individuals, they have an Independent Living Services program that helps train qualified individuals towards the goal of totally independent living on their own.
Every one of us sees their residents, and residents of similar nonprofits, when we go shopping, to the movies, to the athletic club, etc. Thankfully, they lead their lives seamlessly alongside ours. I'm happy to live in a society that values individuals with differing abilities. We are all better off because of an inclusive and supportive approach to community life.
There is a lot wrong in this world and it's easy to get caught up in the negativity that surrounds us. My purpose here is to point out that there is also a lot right in this world and, locally, one example of that is the way we value the lives of those who face challenges that weren't of their own making.
The true heroes in our society are not on the big screen, in elected office or on the football field. They're walking among us, alongside those who most need them. I urge you to consider being a hero to someone in need. Contact one of the many great organizations that support those participating in their programs and see how you can help.
Mark Thein lives in Oronoco Township and represents District 7 on the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners.