Are Real Heroes Extinct?

It seems like every time we open a newspaper these days we get slapped in the face with yet another scandal surrounding another so-called “hero.”

The media does a great job of putting these icons from entertainment, sports and politics up onto pedestals where they stand in all their glory until they unceremoniously crash themselves to the ground. Drugs, extra-marital affairs, sexual assaults, murder charges, DUI’s. It’s all there for everyone to see.

We watch the drama unfold and wonder how we’re going to talk to our kids about the latest adult-role-model-turned-into-cautionary tale. And as our disappointment mounts along with theirs, we feel our cynicism grow along with it.

Aren’t there ANY adults out there in the spotlight who we can point to as examples for our children? Or is the whole hero-thing nothing more than an out-dated fantasy?

And when did we, as a culture, decide that fame (or being rich) was sufficient grounds for being looked up to or thought of as a hero, anyway?

I know that we are supposed to be the real heroes in our children’s lives, and, yes, we should try our best to be positive role models for them – living our lives in ways that encourage them to do good in their own.

But when we are trying to instill good values, it’s helpful to point out others who are doing inspirational things that exemplify our values and ideals, too. Things that put a face on character traits like perseverance, courage, big-heartedness, and ingenuity.

People like George Washington, Florence Nightingale and Martin Luther King were amazing individuals, for sure. Heroes. But they aren’t exactly examples of local-boy/girl-makes-good. They were exceptional individuals who lived big lives of destiny that changed the world.

But our children need to be introduced to real-life heroes from their own time who are meeting the challenges of today with energy and determination. Everyday folks who find ways to make real contributions to their community or the world.

Our kids need a lot of models who demonstrate to them what is good and what they should be shooting for.

Luckily, there are many outstanding adults who are quietly living their lives while doing things to inspire real admiration and respect. Each is making a significant difference. If we can find them, point them out, and take it one step further and follow their work, we will be doing a lot to instill hopefulness and a desire to be of service in our children.

So today, I want to introduce you to one of them. Her name is Patty Webster and she’s a hero, if you ever saw one. Patty, a native of Detroit, Michigan had tried a bunch of things before finding her true calling – including modeling, working as an adoptions counselor and also as an usherette for Radio City Music Hall.

Then, around 17 years ago, she decided to try her hand as a tour guide and take people on expeditions to the Amazon. And that’s when everything changed.

Patty started to realize that although the jungle was beautiful, it was full of people who were living in poverty and disease. As her return trips accumulated, local people got to know her and started to come to her for help when they were sick. Although she didn’t have much, she happily shared her Band-Aids, over-the-counter medicines and anything else that might be useful.

And each time she came back, she brought more. Before long, lines started to form outside the mosquito netting of her tent. When she awoke each day, people looking for medicine or information on how to treat one thing or another greeted her. At one point, Patty (who has no medical training what-so-ever) found herself giving stitches to someone by following instructions in a book.

Today, Patty’s every-day-kindness and concern has turned into something really big and really amazing. She has been described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Mother Teresa and her work through the non-profit organization she started shows why.

Since 1993, Amazon Promise has brought medical relief to the poorest people in the most remote areas of Peru. Her medical teams and groups of volunteers have provided free health care, education, and treatment to over 55,000 people there. And the work continues.

Now this is a chick to talk about at the dinner table!  To learn more about Amazon Promise and the work they’re doing, visit their website. And don’t forget to tell your kids!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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