We live in a county where there is no real shortage in volunteerism. Many people devote their time to one cause or another. Folks do it for many reasons. Some people want to make a difference. Some may need something to occupy their time. Some may need a tax write-off. And unfortunately, many do it for the glory they can squeeze from every photo op.
But there are others who volunteer because they have been directly affected by some issue or another. These people amaze me with their ability to relive their pain in order to help others. For them, it isn’t about the photo op. It has to be about easing the pain, helping others and keeping memories alive.
One such case is that of Marsha Sweat. Marsha has felt the pain of losing her son, Joshua. I can only imagine it would have been easy for her to curl up in a ball for the rest of her days until she just dwindled away. But that isn’t her.
Instead, she started an organization called Joshua’s Light for the sole purpose of preventing others from suffering the same pain that she has lived through and I am sure continues to live through every day. Marsha’s husband, Mike, has been there for it all. He’s a good man and has helped her every step of the way.
Joshua’s Light has the sole purpose of helping people in need find help before they use suicide as a last resort. There are more of these cases in Cherokee County than you would believe. Many companies encourage their employees to get help through early warning programs. But few actually do. They don’t use it because regardless of what their organization says, there is a stigma placed on people that admit to needing help.
Not many months ago, Scott McElroy was willing to speak to the Canton Rotary Club about Wounded Warriors. He spoke about the pain of being in combat without going into great detail. But you could tell through his watery eyes that he was only sharing an ounce of what he was seeing in his mind. Then he went on to speak about the trials our soldiers face when coming home.
He put us on notice that the men and women coming home from war are not always taken care of after their duty overseas ends. Scott married Patty Baker not long ago. I have heard her also speak of the issues facing our troops coming home. She spoke with as much conviction as Scott.
Only a week away is the third annual Collins Dixon Bend Your Knees Run. It was started by Bob and Robin Dixon after losing Collins to a brain tumor. The sheer agony they must have felt watching their son suffer I simply can’t imagine. I can imagine it would have been easy to be mad at the world after what they went through.
But they took their pain and channeled it into raising money to help find a cure. This means they must relive the most unimaginable pain any parent could ever endure.
The common denominator in these three examples is that these couples have endured serious pain coming from serious problems. They have stood together united and, if not conquered their pain, they have at a minimum made the pain take a back seat.
Many couples fail to stay together without the hurt of losing a child. Many fail to stay together without the wounds from war. But these three couples have endured.
Knowing all three couples, I can plainly see that despite tribulations, they have much joy in their lives. Then again, there is much joy in dedicating your life to truly helping others. Not everyone could continue to share a painful experience. It can’t be easy. But I guess if it was easy, more people would be doing it.
I want to thank the Sweats, the McElroys and the Dixons for their willingness to be vulnerable in helping others. They are truly making a difference in the lives of many. Most importantly, they are doing it for reasons that most of us can’t even comprehend.
Chris Collett is a lifelong resident of Cherokee County.