DIXON – Dixon National Guard Cmdr. Michael Kowalski wants to make an impact on the community while he’s here.
To him, service is not limited to duties in uniform or on a battlefield.
Typically, commanders spend 1 to 2 years with a troop, and it is up to them whether to extend a helping hand to the community.
Kowalski, a Southside Chicago native, was excited to be a part of Toys for Tots success in his first year here.
Reaching out to veteran Jim James, who runs Toys for Tots for Lee and Ogle counties with his wife Angie, Kowalski was told the nonprofit toy drive could use more space to store and distribute toys.
Limited in the type of services he can extend, Kowalski offered the use of the armory to the organization. Kowalski cannot require any of the National Guard members to volunteer, but most of those in the troop did anyway.
They were there to help carry boxes of toys into the facility and unload them, and some, including Kowalski, even joined in the distribution.
“It’s been a great experience to know we helped those children have a Christmas,” he said.
James called this year’s Toys for Tots campaign the most successful yet.
In two Saturdays this month, more than 300 needy families in Lee and Ogle counties received toys. Every toy from a storage room that was stacked to the ceiling was distributed.
Kowalski thinks the armory building is not being utilized to its full capacity and wants to host more community events there.
He is planning a blood drive in February and an open house of National Guard equipment and vehicles in August.
“The armory is what I can offer,” Kowalski said. “The Army policies are strict on what I can and can’t do. We want our outreach to be to our veterans and to our community.”
With the success of this year’s Toys for Tots campaign, James is hopeful this will become a tradition continued by future commanders, too. Kowalski already has told James next Christmas should be a go at the Armory.
With his leadership, Kowalski is providing a great lesson for his troops.
He is showing men and women, even when their service time in the National Guard is completed, that the kind of impact they can make in their communities is vast.
These men and women are our future leaders. And Kowalski is setting the example.
Dateline Dixon is a weekly column on happenings in Dixon.
Derek Barichello has “office hours” from 1 to 2 p.m. today at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.
He also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-798-4085, ext. 526.