Honk if you've helped make this place better

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 29, 2011 

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We can achieve world peace one bumper sticker at a time.

Or is that whirled peas?

In the case of a Hilton Head Island woman, world peace isn't the immediate goal of the new bumper sticker she's promoting. She'll settle for simpler acts of civility, even conversation.

Jenifer Gajdalo suggested the bumper stickers, which are being distributed by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee on Hilton Head Island. They read:

"MLK: Build the 'Beloved Community' in Beaufort County."

Martin Luther King Jr. -- who spoke of a beloved community -- visited Beaufort County several times during the civil rights movement, using the Penn Center on St. Helena Island as a retreat.

Little could King have known that one day this county would attract many residents like Gajdalo. She raised her family in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where everyone mostly looked alike. Now she lives in a much different place, which her friends tell her is paradise.

"People say we're just a bunch of retirees," Gajdalo said, "but we have found amazing people here with so many skills."

She also has found a community of people of different colors, and different languages.

And she's found a community where people don't always look right outside their comfort zone.

"We shouldn't look only at people like ourselves," she said. "We should look at everybody."

'PRACTICE CIVILITY'

Gajdalo's eyes were opened in a cemetery. She was there on cleanup duty during on the MLK Celebration Committee's Fifth Saturday Community Service Days. Volunteers gather for breakfast cooked by local clergy, then put in several hours of work in the community.

"We were cleaning up a native-islander cemetery next to the Piggly Wiggly," Gajdalo said. "I worked alongside someone I may not have crossed paths with or talked to otherwise. She works in the post office. After that, every time I went to the post office I had a friend."

The more we get out, Gajdalo believes, the more we will realize that all people of Beaufort County have the same wants, the same needs, the same desires and the same things that bring joy and pleasure.

The bumper sticker is to be a gentle reminder.

She got the idea when she dashed to the library when she and her husband went to visit their daughter last Thanksgiving in Maryland.

"As I pulled into the library parking lot, I noticed that many cars were sporting a bumper sticker that read 'Practice Civility in Howard County.' That got me to thinking."

The MLK Jr. Celebration Committee is always looking for ways to keep its mission before the public. It organizes Fifth Saturday events and the annual Martin Luther King Memorial Weekend in January.

"These are efforts to remind older community members and educate younger members about the civil rights agenda of Dr. King and his desire to build a beloved community, in which all members would value one another and care for the needs and concerns of the community," Gajdalo said.

The bumper sticker could remind people and be a "teaching moment," 365 days a year.

"If younger children didn't understand what it meant, hopefully, their parents or grandparents would explain the life and work of Dr. King and the struggle for civil rights that took place in the 1960s."

BUILDING BLOCKS

Two recent events show progress.

Hilton Head Mayor Drew Laughlin and parent Leslie Richardson announced the new Mayor's Youth Volunteer Service Award as "a way of focusing our volunteer efforts and getting young people involved in service to their community very early."

Also, Beaufort County was named one of America's 100 best communities for young people, thanks to years of collaborative efforts countywide by a number of agencies.

"Building the 'Beloved Community' is the work of individuals, schools, civic groups, fraternal organizations, nonprofit organizations, governments and churches," said Gajdalo, who is secretary of the MLK Celebration Committee.

"We hope the bumper sticker will encourage Beaufort County residents to take action on an individual and community level to improve the quality of life for everyone who is fortunate enough to live in this special corner of our country."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content:

Hilton Head mayor encourages youth to lend helping hand

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