By Jennifer Wellborn
From the age of eight through my early teens, I spent the majority of my free time performing volunteer work at Republican Headquarters. It isn’t the typical pastime for most kids, but as a single parent without any discretionary income, taking us to work with her was the best option my mom had. My brother and I spent our summers and school breaks stuffing, sealing, and sorting hundreds of thousands of newsletters and fundraiser notices. Many of our weekends were spent either preparing for or attending a myriad of fundraisers, speeches, or other political functions. I learned how to answer phones professionally, shake hands properly, and those years of organizing the storeroom kindled a love of office supplies that translated to a passion for scrapbooking as an adult.
These experiences provided a wealth of lessons that would help shape who I would grow into. One of the foremost lessons was the importance of exercising our right and privilege to vote. I was quite taken aback the day a man walked into the office and declared he was there to register as a Democrat. After watching my mom cheerfully get him registered, and thanking him for doing so, I asked why she didn’t tell him to go to Democrat Headquarters to register. She not only explained to me that registrars cannot refuse to register somebody based upon party affiliation, but she also imparted to me a sense of civic duty to vote, no matter who the vote may be cast for. As
I witnessed people I knew get elected to office (or not), I came to recognize that every vote does matter. I registered the day I turned 18, and have never missed an election since.
In 1982 President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush came to Las Vegas for an Up With America convention. I was part of a group of kids who had been asked to attend and sing a grouping of patriotic songs as part of the event. I don’t remember the speeches made that day, but I can still remember the buzz of excitement and cheers when President Reagan stepped out and was greeted by the attendees. To this day, I remember the lyrics of the songs we sang that afternoon, and the burgeoning patriotism that I was developing resonates through me still each time I hear them.
After President Reagan was re-elected to office, I was assigned a research paper in class. I chose for my topic, “What is life like in the White House?” I wrote the President the sincerest letter a 4th grader could conjure, full of questions about the information I needed, and asked my mom if she thought it might get to him in time. She told me she couldn’t promise that I would get a response, but that she could help me have my letter delivered. A few days later, Senator Chic Hecht dropped in the office, and agreed to pass my letter on to Senator Paul Laxalt, who personally hand delivered it to President Reagan.
Within a couple of weeks, President Reagan found spare time in the middle of his duties to dictate and personally sign his response to me. It was a huge day for me. Not only had I received my very own mail, it just happened to be coming from the President of the United States.
You do not have to raise your children at Republican Headquarters to instill a sense of patriotism and civic duty in them. (It worked really well for my mom, but I haven’t tried it with my own.) The greatest example our children have to build these values for themselves is by us living them. Discuss with them the issues on the ballots, and take them with you to vote. Teach them our country’s patriotic hymns in their entirety, and learn about why they were written when they were. Study together to learn about the lives of the founding fathers and the other military and civilian heroes that have shaped and still do shape this country by securing and defending our freedoms. Teach them more than just how we celebrate the Fourth of July, teach them why. Let them be a part of the democratic process in whichever ways are available, and they will grow to understand and appreciate it as adults.