“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
You’ve surely heard this quote at least half a dozen times before. I know I have. And, I’ve never doubted that it was true. But there is a difference between believing something is true and experiencing it. This week I got to see this idea play out in real life.
The 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act is coming up this Saturday, October 15th. On that day Vicksburg National Military Park is hosting a Junior Ranger Day full of activities for visitors of all ages. There will be living history programs, lectures, and other demonstrations throughout the day throughout the park. It’s going to be a great event!
As a way to lead up to this event though, we hosted a volunteer project that allowed volunteers to actually participate in historic preservation themselves. On Monday, 12 volunteers came to help us clean headstones in our National Cemetery. This is important for so many reasons. This is a time consuming task which our maintenance division just simply does not have enough people to accomplish. By cleaning headstones we are able to continue to care for those who fought for our country. We are able to provide visitors with a better experience. But, we’re also able to contribute to historic preservation in the park. These headstones are important artifacts of the founding of the cemetery in 1866 and the Civil War. By cleaning them we are restoring them and preventing further degradation. This is necessary if we want to protect this incredible resource for future generations.
To clean these headstones volunteers had to first rinse each one off with water. Then they scrubbed the headstones using plastic brushes and a cleaning solution called D2. This
solution is environmentally friendly and doesn’t harm the headstones at all. Finally, volunteers rinsed of the headstones. This is not easy work. It requires lots of bending over or sitting on the ground and a good bit of elbow grease. I was expecting us to maybe get 50 headstones done during the 4 hour project. But, these volunteers went way above and beyond what I expected. The project was set to end at Noon and so when it got to be 11:30 I told everyone that they could finish the headstone they were on and we could wrap up the project. We’d already gotten far more done than I expected. Everyone had worked together diligently and we’d moved through most of the designated area of the cemetery quickly. When I said this, one particularly enthusiastic volunteer immediately rejected my suggestion saying, “No! Come on! We’re almost through. We’ll be done in no time!” He was right, we didn’t have too much further to go to
finish the entire section. Everyone else agreed and kept on working just as hard as they’d worked all morning. Sure enough, by 12:15 or so we’d cleaned and scrubbed every headstone in that part of the park- over 150 headstones! We accomplished three times what I had hoped we would. I was surprised and thrilled at what this incredible group of volunteers accomplished! This “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” made a huge difference in our park and our cemetery. They contributed to historic preservation at Vicksburg National Military Park in a significant way. And, I learned about the importance and potential of small volunteer projects to make big impacts in our parks.