Wes, Steve, PatriciaWes, Steve, PatriciaSeveral weeks ago, I was invited by Peter Epp of the Chatham Daily News to tell the United Way story. It was a timely request, given the fact that I had recently interviewed with another local newspaper reporter about the lack of growth of the United Way campaigns over the past decade. And while there were a number of points that I would have liked to include in that particular article, there was insufficient space to elaborate.

About the same time, I also received some supportive advice from a major donor about United Way’s need to “make a better connection between the donor and the service recipient.”

With one in three residents – that’s 38,000 people throughout Chatham-Kent – impacted either by United Way partner agencies, programs and services – or by United Way’s direct services, you would think that would be an easy task. Not so much. Why? It’s because the majority of people touched by United Way are not comfortable sharing – openly – their personal challenges of living in poverty, or coping with addictions, family violence, physical and/or mental disabilities.

“Walking through the doors of a funded agency of United Way isn’t an easy thing to do,” says Steve Pratt, one of the 2016 Campaign co-Chairs. “Anyone who has ever had to ask for help with a ‘sensitive’ issue knows exactly what I’m talking about. There’s pressure to fit in – to be ‘normal’ – so you don’t necessarily want others to know what you or your family members are going through. Patricia and I are working hard with our team this year to ensure that the services are there for folks – like us – who need them.”

When you think of single-focus organizations like Hospice, or Habitat for Humanity or the Cancer Society or Community Living – some of our community’s well respected charities – we understand what they do. But when it comes to United Way – with its 21 partner programs and 13 direct services – like a smorgasbord of 34 different dishes – the image is not as clear. While the United Way brand is easily recognizable, the work we do is not – and often puzzling if you are not already an active volunteer on the United Way board of directors or one of its working committees.

So … over the next few months and weeks, I have been given this opportunity to provide answers to the 5Ws and 2Hs: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How and How Much? I’ll be writing about why donors give to United Way, showcasing personal stories of lives changed, featuring some of the folks involved with our organization, focusing on the costs associated with running our local charity and highlighting the work United Way staff and volunteers are doing to make a long-lasting and measurable change in society.

If there is a particular question that you would like answered in a future article, please do not hesitate to send me an email.

Karen Kirkwood-Whyte
CEO, United Way of Chatham-Kent