Community Spirit Award
A Texas community picked The Chaplaincy as 1997's best example of unselfish volunteerism. It was announced that the Tri-Cities area of Washington — the cities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland — had been selected to receive the Midland Community Spirit Award.
After the award, The Chaplaincy received many inquiries about not only the building of their Hospice House and the reason for winning the award, but also about their Hospice program. This gave us unparalleled opportunity to share with others what we have done here, all as an outreach of three communities working together.
The Story of the Midland Community Spirit Award
One Wednesday evening in October 1987, Jessica McClure was playing in her aunt's back yard in Midland, Texas, when she slipped down a dark, abandoned well shaft. There, 22 feet below the surface, 18-month-old Jessica remained tightly wedged. Above, paramedics and other emergency crew were working outside an 8-inch hole.
For the next 58 1/2 hours, Jessica's courage, her cries and her songs of Humpty Dumpty and Winnie the Pooh would capture the world's attention. Jessica's sporadic cries drove the resolve of rescue crews and construction workers who began drilling a tunnel next to the shaft that held Jessica.
"It seems like we might be right on the course to the girl," Midland Police Chief Richard Czech told reporters at 6:50 a.m. "But it will be several more hours." Jessica giggled when rescuers first touched her.
The banner headline on the final morning edition Oct. 17, 1987, was "BABY JESSICA RESCUED." There were whoops of joy and cries of "Praise the Lord" as the child, covered with petroleum jelly used to facilitate her release, was brought to the surface alive and taken to Midland Memorial Hospital.
After this heart rending rescue, communities across the country and around the world marveled at the volunteers who spent long hours digging, or who donated expensive drilling equipment or food and drinks.
The Creation of the Midland Community Spirit Award
Carroll Thomas, the mayor of Midland at the time of the rescue, said he and other community officials realized that "what had happened to us was a very unique thing in the history of our community, but that probably similar things have happened to a lot of communities who weren't appropriately recognized."
When city officials received a $5,000 gift from a Rio Grande Valley resident, Thomas said "we asked ourselves what more fitting thing could we do with the money than to recognize in the future other communities that, in one way or another, had similar things happen to them, had similar accomplishments. We decided we would make the award qualification broad. The event primarily had to be a significant event in the community where the whole community rallied to a common cause and accomplished that cause."
Winners would be communities that pulled together the way the Midland community pulled together to rescue Jessica. "From the very first, this was not to be an award about the rescue, but rather to be an award about citizens working together."
A chairman of the Community Spirit Award committee once said that she thought the award "is a wonderful way to recognize the positive things that are happening in America. It sounds like a real cliche to say that all we see is the bad news, but there are so many ways that people come together and work together and combine their talents and energies to work toward a common goal and that's rarely recognized or certainly not recognized outside the community in which it happens."
When the Community Spirit Award was created, there were very few awards like this nationwide. I think it's significant that in the 10 years since the conception of this award, lots of other kinds of recognitions have come into being. It has become a part of beginning to recognize how important it is to encourage volunteerism. It seems like the Points of Light, all the special volunteer days have really come about in the last 10 years.
The Award Sculpture
A portion of the $5,000 donation was spent creating a bronze bas-relief sculpture, depicting the rescue, which was mounted on the side of Midland Center. The award that is presented to the winning community is a smaller version of that same sculpture.
A letter from Thomas to "Dear Abby" kicked off the award in 1989 and drew a number of nominations.
First Award — 1989 Sioux City, Iowa, the site of a United Airlines crash that killed 112 passengers. Volunteers came together to aid the 184 passengers who survived the crash. The award was presented to the mayor and city officials at the White House by then-President Bush. It was sponsored at the time by Sears, which flew city representatives and Jessica and her parents to Washington for the presentation.
Second Award — 1990 Yakima, Wash., for its efforts to rid the city of drugs.
Third Award — 1991 Bangor, Maine, received the award for the warm welcome residents gave armed forces personnel returning from the Persian Gulf War.
Fourth Award — 1993 Warren and Southern Wells, Ind., honored volunteers who spent the Christmas holidays outfitting a Warren community building as an elementary school, to replace the Southern Wells school that had burned down.
Fifth Award — 1995 Petaluma, Calif., received the award in recognition of the efforts volunteers put into searching for Polly Klaas, 12, who had been kidnapped from her home during a slumber party. After she was found slain, volunteers formed two foundations — one that seeks to identify convicted molesters and educate children on how to prevent attacks, and another that provides data bases on missing children to law enforcement agencies.
Sixth Award — 1997 The Tri-Cities area of Washington — the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, where volunteers spent 24,000 hours building a 9,000-square-foot Hospice House.