Defining what it takes to make a hero has always been a difficult task. What measure of courage, dedication and good works qualifies?
Sometimes someone comes along who leaves little doubt that he or she deserves to be called a hero. Such a person is Neil Gaffney, a Glenelg resident, whose volunteer works merit recognition as well as gratitude.
Mr. Gaffney has for 10 years used his spare time to refurbish the homes of the disadvantaged and handicapped, as well as to rally local churches to house the homeless.
He is a founding board member of the Howard County chapter of Christmas in April, which pulls together volunteers to repair homes. He is also president of Churches Concerned for the Homeless, an ecumenical group that sponsors homeless families and individuals.
Two years ago, Mr. Gaffney quit his job as a United Technologies Corp. manager to start two home-based businesses that have given him more time to devote to his volunteer interests. Through those efforts, a handful of families have been housed during the last year, and 26 homes have been refurbished by hundreds of volunteers.
Those might not be large numbers, but they are impressive in a county that is known more for affluence than poverty. Mr. Gaffney has made an incalculable difference in his community by doing good for those who are needy.
So exceptional have been his works that County Executive Charles I. Ecker recently nominated Mr. Gaffney for a President's Volunteer Action Award, which was once known as the "Points of Light Award" until the name was changed by President Clinton earlier this year. The previous name was a reference to President Bush's description of volunteerism as "1,000 points of light."
Whatever its name, Mr. Gaffney deserves the honor. He joins 4,000 others nationwide who have been nominated. Only 22 individuals will be selected for the award in April.
It seems a shame that such an honor must be reduced to competition. So often with such awards, the point is made that the honor is in being nominated; we believe that, in this case, that assertion is very much true. Mr. Gaffney, whether he wins a plaque or not, is in our opinion a very deserving Howard County hero.