On July 4, most of the US celebrates Independence Day. Typical festivities include baseball games, picnics, barbecues, fireworks, and – in some places – parades.

I am not talking about the pageantry of the big events, like the New Year’s Day Rose Parade or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with their expensive, flower-bedecked floats and celebrity hosts. No – the small-town Fourth of July parade is quite a different event.

Such a parade would include perhaps the mayor of the town riding in an antique car and waving to his or her constituents. The high school band would lead the procession, often with great enthusiasm (if not great musicality). There would be a firetruck and probably some farmers driving tractors. The garden club might have a float – but not a grand one. In fact, the hometown version of a float would be a flat-bed truck with club members displaying bouquets of flowers from their own gardens. There would be children’s youth groups marching – the Girls Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Camp Fire Girls, the 4-H Club, the Town Twirlers, and the Gymnastics Club members turning cartwheels as they process down Main Street.

Local animals are involved as well. People ride horses, with flowers or ribbons braided into their manes and tails (the horses’ – not the peoples’). Children and their pets are in abundance, with the smallest kids holding kittens or dogs, riding in wagons proudly pulled by their parents or older siblings. There are balloons galore, and neighbors, dressed as clowns with garish face-paint, ride unicycles and juggle brightly colored balls.

One of my favorite parades happens in Brattleboro, Vermont. It is called “The Strolling of the Heifers”– an obvious take-off on the Running of the Bulls in Spain. Far from the risky spectacle of Pamplona, the Strolling of the Heifers is a peaceful, laid-back affair, with farmers walking their prize bulls, cows with garlands of flowers around their necks, the calves trotting happily alongside. The parade winds through town to the park, which is full of booths where local cooks and artisans offer their wares – homemade jams, jellies, cupcakes, and pies; scented candles; handcrafted quilts, shawls, and aprons; and of course, hot dogs and hamburgers.

There is small town called Aptos, California about 25 miles north of my home. Every year it offers what is called the “World’s Shortest Parade.” It is said to be only two blocks long (or at least it was originally), but it has so many entries that it lasts two hours! The day begins with a pancake breakfast, followed by the parade, and then a party in the park. The website describes the party as “something for the whole family: kids’ games, face painting, pony rides, zorbs, bounce houses, kids’ crafts, food trucks, caterers, beer, wine and local favorite band.” (A zorb is a large plastic orb, for climbing into and rolling downhill inside!)

What intrigues me about this particular parade, besides the fact that it is so short, is how it got started. In 1961, a group of women protested plans to start a cement plant in the village. Their views prevailed and the plans were cancelled. To celebrate the success of their protest, the women held a barbecue, and a parade got started, along with a cow-milking contest. The early parades lasted only about ten minutes. You can hear one of the founders talk about the beginning of the Aptos parade by clicking here.

You are probably wondering by now how I am going to connect these ideas about small-town parades to TIRF. Well, there are at least two thoughts that intrigue me about the Aptos parade. First, it started with a small group of people who had an idea they believed in and then acted upon – not unlike the small group of people who started TIRF. The Founding Trustees – Jim Alatis, Ed Anthony, Russ Campbell, Jodi Crandall, Rick Jenks, Joan Morley, and Dick Tucker – faced many obstacles in getting TIRF started, but they didn’t give up.

Second, TIRF has just finished a year-long celebration of its twentieth anniversary. The Foundation’s articles of incorporation were approved in February of 1999. It is my hope that – like the Aptos Fourth of July parade (apparently now recognized by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the top-seven U.S. Independence Day Parades) – TIRF will last for a very long time.

I would like to draw one more connection. TIRF probably runs one of the smallest midyear fundraising campaigns of any foundation in the world. Each June and July, we reach out to current and potential donors and ask for financial support. The effort is small both in duration and in numbers: TIRF currently has only approximately 100 active donors, based on the last three years of data, and there have been donations from only 40 individuals so far this year.

Won’t you please join us?? We are hoping to encourage people this year to setup a monthly, recurring gift to the Foundation. You can read our plea by clicking here.

Should you like to make a one-time donation, we would most gratefully accept your generous gift. To donate by credit card, please click here.

We can be sure that TIRF’s “parade” in the landscape of language education will probably not be the shortest ever known, and your philanthropic efforts will certainly help us maintain and grow our presence around the world. Perhaps someday we will even be recognized as being among the top-seven nonprofit foundations working in educational research, just as the World’s Shortest Parade has been in its own way. Together, we can make it happen.

Best wishes,