The only investment guaranteed to pay off is when we invest in ourselves

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There are more than 1,150 school children who are homeless in Clay County.

Nearly one in six county residents don’t have health insurance.

Thousands will go hungry tonight.

Let all that sink in.

It’s easy to live in our own special bubble, being completely insulated by geography or indifference to the people in need all around us.

We often think of homelessness as the guy standing on the street corner with a sign, but too often it’s the family that used to live down the street who now must find refuge on a neighbor’s couch, at an extended stay hotel, in a car, or worse.

We are uncomfortable acknowledging domestic abuse.

Drugs and alcohol are somebody else’s problem, just like dropping out of school or choosing a life of crime. After all, they are situations they created on their own.

Mental health issues are overwhelming in our community. But it’s somebody else’s problem.

And Uncle Sam takes care of its veterans.

When we step away from our own comfort zone, we see there are so many who just need a little help. Sometimes that means sandwich or warm clothes. Sometimes it’s educating them to how to properly take care of themselves.

And sometimes, it’s a kick in the backside.

We are lucky in Clay County to have so many organizations dedicated to relieving the suffering of our fellow citizens. Thousands work tirelessly, and thanklessly, to make a difference for those who long ago lost hope.

Believe me, the need is real. So is the help.

Last Tuesday’s Celebrate Clay is a wonderful example of the charitable work being done in our community. Forty-eight organizations, from churches to non-profits to schools, all were recognized by the Paul E. and Klare N. Reinhold Foundation for their work to make Clay County better for all of us. They gave away $75,000 to be channeled back into their charitable work, which is a tremendous gesture by family who continues to believe we can all be better people.

SafetyNET is another incredible group of people who share ideas – and solutions – to improving the lives of everyone.

But there’s no much more that needs to be done, and it starts with understanding the needs.

In the next few days, we will compile a list of organizations that work on our behalf to make life a little easier, and certainly healthier, in our neighborhoods. Go online at ClayTodayOnline.com, and you will see there are so many options.

Then pick one.

Money always is central need. Just as important, however, is sweat. So many times, a group doesn’t a bucket of spare change. It needs someone to build a wheelchair ramp. Or read a book to children. Or to deliver food to a shut-in. Or be a positive influence in a young life.

“We want a child to feel normal,” said Natalie Meyer, a child advocate for Guardian Ad Litem for Children, a group that represents children after they’ve been taken from a home by the courts. “We want them to know it’s not their fault – and it’s not normal.”

Imagine having the gut-wrenching responsibility of teaching a child to be “normal.” And it happens a lot more than you think.

“You find your passion,” said Ernie Cohen, who runs two non-profits – Clay Behavioral Health Center and Kids First of Florida. “People have a heart. It’s out there. We’re doing so much, but there’s so much more than needs to be done.”

All right, challenge accepted. Come join us.

You will learn time and money are the commodities that can fix broken lives. If you have either, it will be the greatest investment you will ever make.

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