What do firefighters and 'community service' have in common? Neither get the attention they deserve. Well, 25 years ago, one Chicago firefighter apparently thought he wasn’t doing enough for the community he served, despite, you know, being a fireman—a job whose very description can be said to be ‘above and beyond’.
Kirkland Flowers, 63, is retiring from the fire-fighting game, but his service to the community isn’t over yet. 25 years ago, when Flowers noticed the worrying number of kids hanging out near the Engine 16 station on Wabash and 39th, he decided to leap into action. He started a program aimed at boosting the abysmally low school attendance rates in one of the most impoverished parts of Chicago.
The program, called FITCH—Firefighters/paramedics In The Community Helping—gave a free bike to any kid whose report card showed good grades and perfect attendance. In eight months, attendance rose from 20% to 45%, reaching a (probably unexpected) high of 92% within the year. In one school. He then expanded his operation, because, why wouldn’t he? At its inception, though, his program didn’t even have the bikes to give away. Until the community got wind of what he was up to—he got them new, used, revamped. To read a more in-depth telling of Kirkland Flowers’ story, follow this link—it’s where I got all my information.
Kirkland Flowers’ tale is an inspiring one. It shows just how much of a difference one person, with one idea and no way of realizing it, can make. While sociologists, psychologists, government officials, and ‘think-tank’ intellectuals sat (and still do) around discussing how best to combat the ‘issue' of poverty, one ordinary guy was actively making a noticeable difference. And at an alarming—(I couldn’t help myself)—rate. Granted, as a firefighter, he’s naturally a man of action—he runs into burning, collapsing buildings while everyone else is running out, after all.
Mr. Flowers’ story is a perfect example of local community service in which we can all participate. Now, I’m not saying we all need to go out and birth our own community outreach program—though I’m not not saying that, either...
What I mean is that a little goes a long way, and we can all play our part. All it requires is a little time or a donation—a bit of money, food, clothing, or a piece of equipment or a ‘doo-dad’ or something—maybe that Christmas present from three years ago that’s still in the box, unopened, lying in the corner of your basement. Something you no longer need (which I know every single one of us has). Oh, and don’t be an asshole and give away something that’s falling apart or obviously over-used—that's not cool.
And, honestly, isn't it our civic duty—as a community—to help better our community? To make it better place to live and to take care of its people? Not only is it the human thing to do, it has a positive effect on the community as a whole. It brings the community together, fosters a sense of unity, camaraderie, and kindness (which is badass!) by banding together with a common goal in the interest of the public good. Plus, it’s just the decent thing to do.