One hour a week can make Marshalltown better

The crowd gathered at MHS Auditorium last Saturday to honor Marshalltown’s own Carlos Portes was inspired in more ways than just hearing about his amazing life story.

They were also challenged to give back to their community to affect change and make Marshalltown a better place.

Portes was honored for receiving the prestigious Iowa Volunteer’s Award and People’s Choice Award from Governor Branstad for his work with the Red Cross near Ground Zero in New York City during 911.

However, the biggest impact of his speech came after Portes told his inspirational life story of arriving in the U.S. from Cuba on a Peter Pan Flight as a 9-year-old boy with no money and unable to speak English yet still able – through the help of his Marshalltown family, Catherine and Leon Hockett – to rise to the top of the insurance profession and end up giving advice to two presidents in the Oval Office.

When he completed his story, Portes fielded questions from the audience.

One young man asked Portes what advice he could give him since he, too, was a young Latino starting in the insurance business here in Marshalltown.

Portes’ advice struck many of those present as the cornerstone message of what can make a good community great.

He told the young man that he needed to give back to his community to affect change. He said you do that by getting involved in volunteerism – even if it is only an hour a week.

Join a service club, participate in a Chamber of Commerce committee, help at your church – BE INVOLVED AND GIVE SOMETHING BACK, he said.

Portes explained how this is what he did as a young person after breaking into the insurance business in New York City. He saw a need for Latinos to be more involved in the community so he started a Lion’s Club.

It was the first Lion’s Club to be started by a Latino in the entire country. He was later asked to speak in Georgia about his volunteerism. The person who asked him to come to Georgia was then-Governor Jimmy Carter. Portes later became Carter’s choice to be the Special Ambassador to Latin America.

I couldn’t help think about what Portes was saying was not only applicable to the young man who asked the question but it went well beyond that.

If taken seriously, it was the kind of advice that could dramatically change this community forever.

What if more people got involved and volunteered – just an hour a week – to help make our town better?

What if every business got engaged and the leaders of those businesses got involved in community development and betterment for an hour a week?

What if the students in our schools all decided they wanted to give back and volunteer for an hour a week?

When Carlos Portes did this, he went from being a 9-year-old boy with no money and somebody who could not speak English to advising presidents.

What could you do?

Mike Schlesinger is the publisher of the Times-Republican. Contact him at 641-753-6611 or