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Golis: Hey, take a look around


Some days are like that. From first to last, the morning news serves up one calamity after another.

One day last week, we read the latest on the fall from grace of a once-promising politician. We read new findings on the devastations from climate change and an update on a series of scandals in the state Legislature. We even read of the resurrection of a White House sex scandal from long ago.

So here's the question: How are you and I supposed to avoid becoming discouraged?

On this day, left to choose between pulling the covers over our heads or taking a walk, we chose the walk.

On a a beautiful spring morning, it turns out, you will find yourselves sharing stories with neighbors, exchanging smiles and waves with people you don't even know and listening to guys in hard hats explaining why they're digging a hole in the street.

Maybe people aren't so bad, after all.

The walk worked out so well that we decided to drive to the west county for breakfast, a short jaunt that reminded us that we live on one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth.

The most fortunate among us may visit France or Italy this summer, but what you see in Provence or Tuscany won't be any more beautiful than the view back across the Santa Rosa Plain, gazing toward the familiar profiles of Taylor Mountain and Mount St. Helena.

The same could be said for the views across the Alexander or Dry Creek or Sonoma valleys, the rolling hills west of Petaluma, the rugged coastline or the redwood forests. Take a look around. Climate and terrain and people — there's a reason visitors come from all over the world.

At day's end, we joined several hundred others folks for the 26th edition of The Press Democrat Youth Service Awards.

This is the annual ceremony that honors high school seniors who volunteer in schools and in hospitals, senior centers and food banks. These are students who coach youngsters with special needs, build houses for poor people in Third World countries, tutor classmates at risk of falling behind, create recycling programs in their schools and raise money for victims of natural disasters.

These are students who raise tens of thousands of dollars to support youngsters aging out of foster care and to build orphanages in South Africa.

In 26 years, more than 3,000 of these high school seniors have passed this way. No one can meet them or attend this annual ceremony without feeling better about the world in which he or she lives.

"We are humbled by their commitment to our community and hopeful about what they will do for our world," said Executive Editor Catherine Barnett.

"You are the leaders of Sonoma County tomorrow," said guest speaker Matt Martin, executive director of Social Advocates for Youth.

He advised them to "find the place in life where you feel most alive — and then live there."

Since we're talking about what should make us feel better about our world, I want to share a story from the April 26 fundraiser of the Redwood Empire Food Bank. As part of the auction, the audience was asked to help purchase an additional tractor trailer. Each tractor-trailer can deliver 10,000 meals a day, 3.6 million meals in a year, 72 million meals during its lifetime. One unit costs $180,000.

In 10 minutes, the folks in that room donated $288,500.

In the same week, 10,000 Degrees Sonoma County (formerly Scholarship Sonoma County) hosted a reception. You might not know that in a single year following the founding of this new scholarship program, annual awards to deserving students almost tripled — from $241,000 to 108 students in 2012 to $641,000 to 250 students in 2013.

And more than three-quarters of the recipients were the first in their families to attend college. These kinds of investments become game changers because new family traditions pass down through the generations.

These are not isolated achievements. They are happening all the time in your hometown.

None of this hopeful news means that human beings are going to achieve perfection any time soon. Just now, our political class seems especially determined to act in ways that make us cynical.

But the rest of us are learning there are other ways to make the world better, whether it's organizing to protect the environment, volunteering to help people in need, or donating money so that young people can get an education and people in trouble will have enough to eat.

For those politicians who choose to be irrelevant (or worse), that will be their choice. It doesn't mean the rest of us can't go on with our lives.

<i>Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.</i>