“I WANT TO BE ABLE TO HELP PEOPLE WHEN I GET OLDER.”
“I DECIDED IT WAS TIME TO GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY.”
“I WAS NEVER MADE TO FEEL ASHAMED.”
“SERVING TOGETHER IS A MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCE.”
“VOLUNTEERING HAS CHANGED MY STORY.”
“LET’S GO FOR A WALK!”
“THE WORK THEY ARE DOING IN OUR SCHOOLS IS TRANSFORMING YOUNG LIVES AND I’M SO GRATEFUL TO BE A PART OF THAT.”
“WITHOUT THE [SUPPORT OF] UNITED WAY, I DON’T THINK S.N.A.P. WOULD BE AS GREAT AS THEY ARE.”
“I WANT TO HELP OTHER KIDS WITH DISABILITIES LEARN.”
“I’VE BEEN SO HAPPY SINCE GETTING MY OWN PLACE. NOTHING CAN BREAK MY JOY!”
“SHERRY AT THE YWCA HELPED ME MOVE ON AND PROGRESS. SHE LISTENED WITHOUT BEING JUDGMENTAL, AND SHE REALLY CARED.”
“BEFORE THE YMCA, I COULDN’T GET MY MIND STRAIGHT TO FINISH SCHOOL. THEY’RE HELPING TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN.”
“THE BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS GAVE MY KIDS A FREE PLACE TO GO SO THAT I COULD COMPLETE MY NURSING DEGREE.”
“I’VE BECOME MORE GENEROUS AND AWARE BECAUSE OF MY TIME HERE.”
“I’M LUCKY TO BE ABLE TO USE MY PHOTOGRAPHY SKILLS TO CONNECT WITH MY COMMUNITY AND HELP OUT.”
“I KNOW MY CALLING. I WANT TO HELP THE ELDERLY BY BECOMING A HOME HEALTH AIDE.”
“IF YOU HAVE A HEART FOR CHILDREN, YOU’RE CAPABLE OF BEING A FOSTER PARENT.”
“IT WAS VERY HELPFUL HAVING THIS PERSON IN MY LIFE WHO HAD BEEN THERE TO HELP ME DO THE RIGHT THING.”
“IT DOESN’T TAKE MUCH MORE THAN A PHONE CALL AND A COUPLE OF VOLUNTEERS.”
“WE’RE HOLDING OUR OWN NOW. OUR HEADS ARE FINALLY ABOVE WATER.”
“NOW I’M ON MY WAY. I FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF. I FEEL LIKE I CAN BE A PROVIDER FOR MY CHILDREN.”
“I WANT TO GIVE HER THE BEST START POSSIBLE BECAUSE SHE LOVES TO LEARN AND WE WANT TO KEEP FEEDING THAT LOVE.”
Put a few folks from the nonprofit sector in a room, and they’ll soon start talking about their work, their progress and their fundraising. That’s important, but I prefer when the conversation turns to people.
Take this local mom, for example. Her family’s finances are precarious — what we call ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.
Asked what that struggle is like, she said this: Being poor is having to tell your child ‘no’ all the time. ‘No, you can’t have a friend over.’ Why do I have to say no? Because having a friend spend the night is another mouth to feed. It’s having to say ‘No, we can’t go to the movie.’ ‘No, we can’t go out to eat.’ I don’t want to say ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have any more apples till payday, or any more chips, or Popsicles.’ Having no money for extra things is heart-breaking as a parent. I want to be able to say ‘Yes!’ as much as they want to hear it.
That’s the simple future this mom envisions: the chance to say “Yes!”
I think all of us in Battle Creek can embrace a future like that. And I’m optimistic it’s a future we will see.
Over the next decade, I believe we will witness major progress against poverty, financial instability and other challenges facing vulnerable children and families.I believe we’ll see a meaningful, measurable change in poverty rates, academic achievement, social and emotional well-being, health and access to care, and equity across all populations.
Why am I optimistic? Because the solutions already emerging are collective ones.
BC Vision is a critical component, one in which United Way is proud to play an active role by engaging with committees and leading community dialogue. BC Vision is a shared effort that brings together and empowers people from every sector to define the problems, dig down to the root causes and devise a path toward resolving them together. That’s decidedly different from what often happens elsewhere, when a small group of leaders decides what and how things will be done.
Unity, on the other hand, breeds optimism. The truth is, sometimes Battle Creek has been its own worst critic. Honest introspection is a good thing, but not when it becomes the sole narrative. For Battle Creek to realize a future of “Yes!” we need to lift the narrative. As a community, what’s our commitment? How can everybody play a role in our long-term success? How are we connected to one another? How are we all engaged? How are we advocates? How do we make sure all voices are heard and all people empowered?
The starting point is aspiration — taking the long-term view of what we can become and deciding how we’ll get there together. The temptation is to be satisfied with low-hanging fruit. But if we’re serious about permanent, positive change, we need to commit beyond a three-year grant cycle or five-year strategic plan.
As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We need to commit to building solutions for the next generation and beyond.
Also, we need to make sure every voice is heard and every willing hand engaged. Being inclusive, being open, being inviting — that’s the mindset that reduces barriers for all people to be connected. We want people to know that if they’re willing to help build that future, there’s a place at the table.
As a community, we can be more than we are. We can help more families become financially secure. We can help more babies survive and thrive. We can help more children read proficiently at an early age and go on to graduation and career. We can help more people meet their basic needs so they can rebuild their lives and succeed.
Being part of that united commitment is what United Way is all about. We’ve established specific, community-level goals in education, income, health, and basic needs. But what gets me excited, what lights a fire in my soul every day, is being part of a shared effort toward a future where this mom and her children, and tens of thousands like them, can say “Yes!”
(Note: This column by Chris Sargent, Interim CEO of United Way BCKR, originally appeared in the Battle Creek Enquirer.)