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Mutual Aid in West, Texas

April 22, 2013
The tragedy that struck the community of West, Texas, (population 2,819) has been somewhat lost in the media flurry and public fury surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings. The entire nation has embraced the “Boston Strong” theme – and rightly so. While the senseless terrorist attack occurred in Boston, every American city and citizen was the target. To paraphrase the words of Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz, “This is our nation and no one is going to take away the freedoms and values we hold dear.” Having spent a considerable amount of time in Boston, I have no doubt the folks there will quickly rally to heal their collective physical and psychological wounds. I’ve only driven through West, Texas, once – on a very long drive moving our younger son from Chicago to San Antonio. We were both struck by the billboard advertising Czech bakeries, delicatessens, and “Westfest” – a Labor Day celebration of Czech culture. Like most small towns in Texas and across the country, its most distinguishing feature is the relationships between the families that live there – the “social capital” that binds communities together. And at the core of those values is unspoken but well understood fraternal concept of “mutual aid.” My guess is that the majority of the folks that live in and around West are members of one or more societies. SPJST alone has two lodges and more than 1,500 members living in the area. Other Czech-based fraternals – Catholic Union of Texas (The KJT), Catholic Family Fraternal of Texas, KJZT, and Western Fraternal Life Association – are also likely to have members in the community. And no doubt, Knights of Columbus (whose local hall is being used to store relief supplies) and San Antonio-based Catholic Life Insurance also have a presence there. West-Texas-explosion_095313 The families of the 14 individuals who died in the industrial explosion – most of them first responders – will no doubt appreciate the financial support that will come from the life insurance coverage their loved ones owned. Those funds may help keep families in their homes, keep food on the table, and send children to college. The financial security that fraternals provide their members through insurance products is critically important – and one of the most overlooked benefits of membership. We don’t need to downplay the fact that being a financial services provider is one of the primary functions of being a fraternal. But the real impact – the one that extends beyond financial support for the surviving family members – is the helping hands that fraternal members will provide one another (and everyone else in the community who needs them) to rebuild their town and their lives. It’s this “social capital” that is never mentioned in the media and virtually impossible to value that sets fraternals apart from their commercial insurance company competitors. Because being a fraternal means more than collecting premiums and paying claims. It means members share a responsibility to help one another cope with unimaginable losses that dollars simply can’t replace. Please note that SPJST has established the West Benevolence Fund to help those community members in need. 100 percent of funds collected will be applied toward relief efforts. Organizations and individuals who wish to contribute may do so by visiting www.spjst.org.