Community Connections From Kathy Murphy

Community Connections From Kathy Murphy

Community Impact, why should we care?

We are often asked – what exactly does United Way do – aside from raise money for other charities?  At my one year anniversary here at United Way Hastings & Prince Edward, I have to say it’s been a challenge getting this to a succinct “value proposition” message given the diversity and complexity of the work and the immense needs in the community.  I’m not an expert in social services but I do understand that there is a business model for community impact.  It’s the social return on investment versus the cost of doing nothing.  It’s figuring out why we can’t turn our backs on those who are vulnerable within our community and expect our communities to be more prosperous and healthy. After all, most all of us have the inherent desire to do good by each other –knowing there is a very big cost to doing nothing.

“Improving Lives Locally” is the ambitious work of the United Way Hastings & Prince Edward.  It’s about both the logical, and also the most unlikely partnerships.  It’s a much larger contingent of businesses, social and health service agencies, and citizens at large in a movement to create an impact, and improve a life.  If someone wants to see their donation go a long way, spread throughout pillars of impact (children’s programs, inclusion, poverty, homelessness, etc.) then United Way is a great local choice that focuses on collaboration, and incorporates your voice – the voice of community.

In partnership with hundreds of organizations locally, it remains a challenge to articulate the many immediate, long term and sustainable results in an elevator pitch. So, let me try to paint you a mental picture.

Imagine you’re an elderly (or young) person barely getting by through precarious employment.  You’ve managed to find a place to live in an extremely difficult market with little housing for someone at your income level.  But, you are living without heat, hot water, electricity and it’s January in Ontario.  Flash forward as your United Way funded local community trust gives you a hand up by paying your hydro bill.  You’re now having a cup of hot tea by a warm, lamp lit room with a friend – no longer isolated and cold. Through another United Way agency, the Community Development Council, you’ve managed to get some necessary toiletries, and healthy food. You’re ready for a hot shower and a healthy meal, and maybe you’ll get to hear some music before bed.

This is the lived experience of many people within our community and this is your United Way donation at work.

Picture the same scenario where programs to support those who are vulnerable and marginalized don’t exist.  This is where we see a compounded impact whether it be on burgeoning health care costs, costs of incarceration for those who turn to crime, or lost business opportunities when a downtown sees increases in people panhandling and sleeping on its sidewalks. Business drops off when people feel uncomfortable in these surroundings – customers ask – why can’t someone do something?

Enter the game changer, the innovator, the person who sees the value in collaboration.  You – aligned – or united with your community as you improve lives through your local United Way, creating greater impact through a proven model. We work for you in convening and organizing thousands of people just like you – who care, give and want to love where we live.

United Way Hastings & Prince Edward brings together local people from a diverse range of business sectors, backgrounds, and age groups. One such group of community innovators is Youth 2 Youth, one of the many programs United Way Hastings & Prince Edward works in tandem with. This youth driven movement is where community minded young people discuss what will make a stronger, better Hastings and Prince Edward. At their recent event, 150 youth from all over Hastings & Prince Edward Counties identified eight key priority areas of importance. They pointed out the need for dialogue on:

  • health,
  • the environment,
  • sexual health and substance abuse,
  • economic development and entrepreneurship,
  • youth poverty,
  • social media,
  • filling community gaps,
  • gender equality and diversity.

Next steps include face to face activities where youth will create action to lobby for resources around critical issues.  Working groups with passionate young members of the community is exactly the impact we need to make a difference. United Way Team member Kirsten Wight sums it up by saying,

“I believe youth are our future. They will grow up to be community leaders, Prime Ministers, CEO’s, social service workers, business owners, motivational speakers; the sky is the limit. It is in our best interest to work together as a community and provide them with the best opportunities and services available to ensure ALL young people despite gender, ethnicity, background or sexual orientation, are able to advocate and foster change in what they believe in. I believe through proper coordination and partnerships we can achieve this!”

As Kirsten says – regardless of age or demographics – when we collaborate, we all win.  United Way’s mandate speaks to this hope of collective, collaborative change:

To improve lives and build community by engaging individuals and
mobilizing collective action.

So why should we care about community impact and change? Because we can’t afford not to. Because there is power that comes from a shared purpose. And because, when we collaborate we all win. Everyone has a voice, and without prejudice, we convene and collaborate to bring your voice to the forefront.  That’s what we talk to hundreds of organizations about each year – and after 60 years in Hastings and Prince Edward have we seen real change. But there is still much work to do.

We invite you to recognize the power that comes from a shared purpose. People who understand they’re always stronger together than they are alone.    So raise your hand if you’re ready to be that game changer.  Call us for opportunities to get involved – there are many!