In today's fast-paced, narcissistic society, the value of working hard for one's community and city, of giving and serving, too often is overlooked.

It's particularly obscured in this city, struggling as it is with such overwhelming problems as a tragically mounting homicide rate.

But just as I was feeling overwhelmed with the fog of despair brought on by a week in which eight people were killed in a bloody 24-hour period, I attended a simple, moving ceremony Saturday that enveloped me with hope.

At the 60th Annual Awards celebration of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations Inc., dozens of grass-roots Washingtonians were saluted for their hard work and sacrifices, often against incredible odds, to make this a better city for all.

Listening to descriptions of their volunteer activities, it was clear that they were a group of people who share the values of uplifting the communities in which they live. They included Joseph W. Carter, for fighting for the homeless; Lawrence E. Graves, for soliciting for scholarships for students at Dunbar Senior High School; Ophelia Daniels, for outstanding efforts on behalf of consumers, including halting the planned expansion of Potomac Electric Power Co.'s Benning Road facility; and Judy and Alvin Rosenfield, for an outstanding community journal, the Palisades Newsletter.

Among 27 "Grass Roots Honorees" was Pamela Marshall of the Central Northwest Citizens Association, who cleans her block and the yards and fronts of the homes of infirm people before going to work each day, thereby inspiring others to do the same thing.

But as I looked around the room at the Capital Hilton Hotel, I was disturbed to see that only a handful of federation members appeared to be under the age of 40. The group's president, 35-year-old Ronnie E. Edwards, an employee of the D.C. government's Minority Business Opportunity Commission, was an exception. Who, I thought, would step into the shoes of this stalwart generation of men and women who are trying to keep alive the flame of civic responsibility?

But it seems I was not the only one who had noticed the absence of young faces. In part to stimulate greater interest among youth, the federation made civic responsibility the theme of its efforts in the past year. Indeed, the honorees who ranged from ages 10 to 22 were the ones who were most heartily applauded for their essays, posters, federation-generated scholarships and entrepreneurial activity.

The federation included Raymond Elementary School for designing and marketing athletic shoes that retail for only $25 a pair -- to counter the peer pressure to buy and wear tennis shoes that sometimes cost more than $100 a pair. The National Education Association called the achievement "a refreshing approach to the whole peer pressure issue."

Stuart Washington, 13, a student at Jefferson Junior High School, was one of several students who won an award for an essay on civic responsibility. "I have a formula that keeps me headed in the right direction {toward becoming a civically-aware adult}," he wrote. "I obey all the rules in my school -- even the ones I do not particularly care for. I never touch tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, so that I can think clearly and contribute positively to solving some of today's problems. Also, I never associate with people who misbehave or disobey the law. I obey the rules and follow the guidance of my parents . . . . "

But clearly much more must be done if we are going to pass to another generation this torch of caring about our communities enough to serve them.

One such effort is an interesting conference called "Compassionate Living," designed to stimulate ways of integrating "healthy narcissism and social responsibility." It is being sponsored by Common Boundary Nov. 16-18 in Crystal City. The Rev. Bernice A. King, youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is among the speakers.

D.C. School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins's broad plan of a community service component in city schools is a good idea, as is the presence of a student representative on the D.C. Board of Education.

It also is important that every citizen at each step make a commitment to be a mentor for a young person, recognizing that no one's job is complete unless we help train the young.

Perhaps each of the 60 member associations of the federation could take on at least one youth member, and the now-defunct Junior Federation of Civic Clubs should be reinstituted. Furthermore, the addition of at least one young person to each Advisory Neighborhood Council could be the start of fostering a deeper commitment later on.

If we put our minds to it, there are many other ways we can revive this important tradition of civic responsibility. In so doing, we will begin to revive our optimism that, despite drugs and murder, there is hope for the next generation.