SJ-R Column- UNITED WAY: Changing the game for the community

As originally published in the The State Journal Register.

While each of us is driven by a different passion, I can say that my experience the past few years with United Way has shown me that if we are truly going to make our community the best place to live, then we need a strong United Way and we need committed people to help fight for the basic needs, education, financial stability and health of those living in our community.

I am extremely honored to lead this year’s United Way Campaign and proud to announce this year’s campaign theme as “Be a Game Changer.” The theme embodies who our core volunteers and supporters are: people who don’t sit by waiting for someone else to step up. That’s what I am asking this year. I am asking you to be a game changer.

Last year, with your support, more than $1.4 million was raised for investment back into our local programs, and every dollar of your gifts benefited 34 local programs addressing specific basic needs, education, financial stability and health priorities. In addition, your support provided more than $500,000 in funding to other nonprofits, nearly all local organizations.

Most people don’t know or understand that when you make a contribution to United Way, 100% of your investment goes directly to the community. Due to local companies who continue to underwrite administrative and fundraising expenses, each donor has the secured confidence that every single penny of their gift goes to support the programs and services that are funded locally.

I am proud of United Way’s numbers and our impact, together. But the individual stories that make up those numbers are even more powerful. Here is just one of the hundreds of stories of hope and change made possible by your support.

When Sam suddenly lost his son, he was reeling from grief. But as the newly appointed caretaker of his two young grandchildren, he also needed to stay strong. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Sam had to balance paying his normal expenses, the mounting funeral costs and providing for his grandkids. There simply wasn’t enough money to cover everything.

That’s when Sam reached out to Holy Family Food Pantry, a funded community partner of United Way of Central Illinois. The organization provided Sam groceries for free that he could use to make meals at home. Having a week’s worth of food provided consistency in his family’s life during a difficult time and helped alleviate the financial burden Sam was experiencing.

So with this year’s campaign, I have a challenge for each of you. Help introduce United Way to one of your family members or friends. I’ll be the first to admit that a few years ago, I really didn’t understand that breadth of work our United Way did. I knew who they were, but it wasn’t until I became involved that I really understood the opportunity United Way presents for our community. And I’m willing to bet that many people each of us knows view United Way as merely fundraisers. United Way is more than the fundraisers. They are the hand raisers. The game changers. United Way looks for the problems that no one likes to talk about or seem to be too hard to be solved. No matter the obstacles, no matter the odds, United Way fights.

Everyone, no matter their age, deserves to have a safe place to lay their head at night, to not be burdened by the stress of a financial crisis, and have access to quality health care. This is why United Way of Central Illinois fights for the basic needs, education, financial stability, and health of every person in our community.

Because change doesn’t happen alone, I’m asking you to help us change the game for our entire community. I invite each of you to join me in support of United Way during this year’s annual campaign. We encourage you to visit www.springfieldunitedway.org to learn more about their work and to pledge your support. Your support of United Way and its partners is creating positive long-term change in our community. To live better, we must LIVE UNITED.

Ginny Conlee is the chair of the 2019 United Way Campaign.