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Olson: Good works abound at Thanksgiving

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After school let out Tuesday afternoon, seven Scouts from Boy Scout Troop No. 33 in DeKalb and two of their Scout leaders headed to New Jersey to help superstorm Sandy victims.

Since their two-day journey to the coast in a white Boy Scouts van ended Wednesday night, local Scouts Ryan McNett, brothers Hunter and Wesley Jensen, Keegan Donnelly, Caeden Keith, Travis de Oliveira and Brandon Tolliver have been working to help residents.

They also brought donated money and items they collected from local people and delivered them to a local bank and charities in the area.

The boys, who range in age from 11 to 15 years old, spent Thanksgiving Day at a retirement home in Middletown, N.J., where they served lunch and kept company with the residents who remained there.

On Friday, the boys were in Brick, N.J., on the coast about 50 miles south of New York City. There, scouts worked to clean debris from a local seaside park, and then moved on to help an elderly couple whose home had been filled with waist-deep water and whose backyard was filled with debris.

Later Friday, they planned to help a local relief agency relocate.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Chad McNett, a DeKalb police officer and scout leader who led the group along with Scoutmaster Cliff Golden. “I think people here are, they’re a little more freaked out than you’d find in the Lousiana-Texas border that experiences this every so often.”

Speaking by phone Friday from New Jersey, McNett described a landscape where all manner of debris was piled by the street outside homes: Drywall, furniture, an assortment of household items.

“There are pieces of docks and garbage in people’s yards,” McNett said. “The garbage piled out at the road as you drive around is just incredible. You can see all the houses have been gutted.”

Ryan McNett, Chad’s son and a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Clinton Rosette Middle School, said he wanted to make the trip because it was important to him to help.

He felt his day’s work Friday helping to clear debris from parks and homes had done just that.

“There’s docks I’m pulling apart all over the beach,” Ryan McNett said. “I feel like I’ve helped out.”

The scope of the destruction from the storm is probably worse than many of us imagine, he said.

“I saw, like, houses that were, like, torn apart, there was one house that was, like, half-gone, there were some houses that were not there, they were in pieces everywhere, it was a complete disaster,” he said. “I just didn’t think it could be that bad.”

Hunter Jensen, an eighth-grader at Clinton Rosette, said he had experience in helping people after disasters. Last year he visited Harrisburg to help residents there pick up the pieces after a tornado.

“I just liked helping the people, and I wanted to do it again,” Hunter Jensen said.

Golden, the Scoutmaster, said the local Scouts have made previous trips to disaster areas, including after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to Galveston, Texas, after Hurricane Ike in 2008 and ’09. He said the Scouts might organize another trip to the storm zone during the schools’ winter break when more young people could make it.

Here’s hoping the Scouts have a safe trip home after doing a good job representing our community and helping those in need.

•••

What to tax next?: Gov. Pat Quinn brought a group of children with megaphones on stage with him Sunday at a news conference designed to raise awareness about Illinois’ $85 billion public pension shortfall.

As one of my colleagues pointed out to me on Twitter, the governor on stage with a bunch of kids and no proposed solutions probably means more tax increases for Illinois.

But what to tax? Cigarettes again? I think they’re more than $10 a pack in Chicago, and Cook County’s not far behind. Raise it much higher and everyone will quit smoking and you’ll be back to square one.

In the past few years, there have been increases in fees and taxes on license plates, traffic tickets, alcohol, candy, the tollway system, and of course that whopping 66 percent increase in income taxes that was supposed to solve our problems but did nothing. The list goes on.

If they’re looking for new ideas, here are a few certain to go nowhere:

• A 5 percent surcharge on people who use personal checks at the grocery store. Seriously, you’re holding up the line. Anyone older than 70 receives a fee waiver.

• A tax on energy drinks. The younger crowd loves these drinks. They already pay premium prices and put up with the taste, in exchange for the promise of amped fuel, or energy for five hours to be a rockstar or something. They won’t notice another 50 cents a throw.

• Sports betting. Video gambling is spreading to bars across the state, and it already has generated more than $350,000 in October. Why not add sports books at racetracks and bars, too? The state gets the vig – and the loser bets – and it’s cash-only. If you think the taverns are doing better business now, just wait until you can put $10 on the under in the Bears game while you drink a Schlitz.

Yes, these are tongue-in-cheek – although sports gambling would scrape up a mother lode of cash, even if you limited the betting to $20 or less a play.

Whatever tax hikes our state’s leaders come up with this time – and something tells me they will soon – here’s hoping they’re on something your neighbor uses and you don’t.

•••

Small business Saturday: After Black Thursday night/Friday comes Small Business Saturday. Why bother with shopping at small local retailers, when there are giant chains with flashy sales fliers and mind-boggling (or so they say) bargains on merchandise?

The large corporate businesses are all well and good. But small businesses are important, too. They create more jobs as a collective than the big boxes, and the money you spend with them will stay in your community.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, a government agency, says the country’s roughly 28 million small businesses are the source of 65 percent of the jobs created the past two decades. For every $100 spent at locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, employee earnings and other revenue, according to the small business advocacy group 3/50 Project.

If you haven’t blown your entire holiday budget at Walmart already, give some of your local businesses a look when you do your shopping, today or whenever you get around to it.

•••

Good day of dentistry: A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Collins Dental Group’s plan to help local veterans by providing them and their families with free dental work Nov. 10, the day before Veterans Day.

Dennis J. Collins, the owner of Collins Dental, said in a letter to me this week that the event was a great success.

“We are proud that we were able to provide over $23,000 in donated dental services Saturday, Nov. 10, in honor of Veterans Day and are hoping to make this a special yearly event for Collins Dental Group,” Collins wrote.

Collins said that almost 100 veterans arrived at his office that day, where the staff of six dentists, six hygienists, and 24 office personnel helped them.

Thanks to the Collins team for the donations and to the veterans for their service.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-459-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, and follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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