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E Pluribus Unum

Submitted By: Karen Delaney


I have a vivid childhood memory of gathering around a black and white TV set in on a warm summer's evening to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Unlike the spectacles of today, the main event was the parade of nations. After what seemed like hours, when the United States' athletes came onto the field I was struck by one huge difference in our team, "Look at us, we look like the whole world!" To my child's eyes, the fact that what unified our team obviously had nothing to do with how we looked, was a wonderful, almost magical thing. It is the first memory I have of being proud of my country.


The concept that a nation could be held together by shared values and beliefs, and that these ideals might overcome historic human dividers such as language, culture, religion, race, class and gender is so central to America that it was enshrined on the original Seal of the United States, and is still there today. E Pluribus Unum; Out of Many, One. I realize that we often fall short of this ideal, but the fact that we continue to hold this value and strive to make it a part of our culture continues to make me proud.


Volunteering is a great opportunity to dedicate time in our busy lives to reach out across apparent differences and build the common ground that is so important to our community. As I was dropping off supplies at a volunteer graffiti clean-up project recently, I was delighted to see youth from our Watsonville Center, a family from Scotts Valley and folks from the Aptos neighborhood working together, chatting and making sandwiches to share. Working side by side toward a common goal turns strangers into neighbors, maybe even friends.


I have had hundreds of conversations with volunteers who describe the joy, inspiration and satisfaction they get from spending time with people they would never meet if they weren't volunteering. These opportunities to step outside our circles of friends and family are personally enriching, and help reinforce those fragile bonds that help us learn to be one people.


There are some organizations dedicated entirely to bringing people together across differences, like the Conflict Resolution Program and the Diversity Center; and those dedicated to building community in a particular place, like the Davenport Resource Center or Beach Flats Community Center. You can learn about volunteer opportunities with these groups, and hundreds of others by pressing the Volunteer Now button at our website,


Karen Delaney is executive director of the Santa Cruz County Volunteer Center. Her column appears monthly in the Sentinel. For information about volunteer opportunities, visit or call 427-5070 or 722-6708.


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