“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.”
Editor’s note: In the following interview, newly named President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Sargent shares his thoughts on United Way’s progress, its future and his personal passion to #ChangeTheStory. Chris had been interim President and CEO since last fall. Previously, he served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for UWBCKR, a role he assumed following the 2012 merger of United Way of Greater Battle Creek—which he led as President and CEO—and Greater Kalamazoo United Way. This month marks five years since the merger that formed United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region.
How does it feel to be the permanent President and CEO?
It’s a great feeling! I appreciate the Board of Directors’ desire to do their due diligence and conduct a national search. Knowing that I was the top choice from a competitive, national field is affirming. I’m really privileged and fortunate to be the permanent CEO.
How does your background equip you to lead this United Way?
I’ve spent a lot of my career with United Way. It’s in my DNA. United Way really works for me because I get to work at a broad community level with a number of partners, key stakeholders, donors and volunteers, all of them focused on addressing social issues in our community in meaningful, sustainable ways.
What do people need to understand about those social issues?
They’re complex, and they’re typically multi-generational. Poverty didn’t just happen a few years ago. It continues from generation to generation. So we need to bring together partners from across the region to work together and align their efforts to make a transformational difference.
What’s your vision as the new CEO?
My vision is the same as our United Way’s vision: a vibrant community where all people realize their full potential. That means we want everybody to have opportunities and supports to be successful. That’s especially true for vulnerable children and families. Like a lot of communities, we have some bright spots as well as a lot of opportunities to improve conditions for children and families who are struggling.
How does United Way fit into that work?
A lot of people know United Way historically as a community fundraiser. That’s an important role, but we’re really much more than that. In fact, we have to be more than that if we’re going to create meaningful change. We’re about driving impact. We’re about making sure there is progress on specific, lasting goals. We’re about getting volunteers to the table. Change only happens when everybody is engaged. That’s United Way’s mission today—driving impact by leading shared efforts that engage diverse people, ideas and resources.
How do you get people engaged?
There are three steps: awareness, understanding and engagement. First, we help people become aware of the issues and how they impact all of us. Second, we deepen their understanding of the need, the long-term solutions, and how they can be part of it. Finally, we connect them to the work by inspiring them, offering specific ways to get involved—whether they lend their time, their financial gifts or their voice—and celebrating the impact they have in changing lives.
This month marks five years since the merger that created United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region. What progress have you seen in that time?
It’s important to note that the driving force of the merger was the firm belief that combining our strengths would allow us to address the biggest social issues in our communities that weren’t confined by borders. These are regional concerns in education, financial stability, health and basic needs. We began the discussion eight years ago, weighing the pros and cons, holding lots of community conversations, and making the decision locally that this was the right thing to do.
Since then, we’ve seen our impact become regional even as we work both at a local and a regional level. That means we can address the unique needs in individual communities while leveraging the efforts and ideas, share what works across communities, and engage people on a much broader canvas.
Give an example of that regional strength.
I’ll point to our recent Diaper Drive. Because we could connect volunteers and partners across two counties, we were able to collectively generate over 60,000 donated diapers in just five days—and that included a weekend. In turn, we were able to distribute those diapers through 47 agencies at local and regional levels to get them to vulnerable infants and families. Had we not been a regional organization and just did a drive like that in a single community, the impact wouldn’t have been nearly that great. Now, a diaper drive by itself isn’t a long-term strategy, but it relieves a financial stress on low-income families, and it helps address a health risk to babies—both within our impact areas of Financial Stability and Health.
Where does United Way go from here?
We’re building on our impact mindset. It’s not enough to say, “We helped a thousand people here,” or even, “We generated 60,000 diapers.” Those things are important, but they’re only part of the story. The real question needs to be, “To what end?” Are we, meaning United Way and our partners, making measurable progress on our strategic goals? Are people’s lives being changed—not just for a day or two, but for a lifetime? Are we creating more financially stable families? Are we helping more infants survive and thrive? Are kids succeeding in school? Are there support systems in place for people in crisis? And importantly, when we have successes, are we making sure we’re building on them?
Impact isn’t a one-off. Impact is about radically changing conditions for all, and especially for the most vulnerable among us.
What gets you excited about United Way?
For me, it’s personal. I live here and have lived here for a long time. I’ve been part of United Way for 13 years. So I see the need in my community. I talk with the people who benefit from our work. I see the results. And that’s meaningful to me on a personal level. I go to work every day thinking, “Today, the work that I do will make a difference in someone else’s life. Children will eat tonight because of the work I do. Families will have a place to call home because of the work that I do. My community will be stronger and more vibrant for my children and my grandchildren because of the work that I do.” Not a lot of people get to say that. What’s more, it happens because it’s not just me—it’s everybody in our region coming together to change the story.