I have told this one before, but have you heard it?
Some time ago, there was a Catholic, two Protestants and a Jew all sitting around one day having a deep, meaningful conversation with a woman …
Now, before you jump to any assumptions about where this tale is headed, allow me to go right to the punch line of an incredibly powerful story. It is precisely because of the leadership of a priest, two ministers, a rabbi and a community advocate in 1887 that the world has what is known today in the United States and 41 other countries as the United Way system.
Despite any differences in their religious practices, these visionary individuals from Denver, Colo., worked together to raise critical resources to address the growing social service needs in the city about which they cared. The mission to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities hasn’t changed in all that time.
We don’t often talk about the humble and perhaps spiritual beginnings of the United Way. Yet, the movement was created by people of faith, and it seems to me as I reflect on the meaning of the holiday season, that, for many, faith still plays a role in our willingness to give, volunteer and advocate to help others in need. The call to feed the hungry, serve the least among us, and love your neighbor is as relevant and needed today as it was decades and even centuries ago.
In 1921, 34 years after its founding in Denver, the United Way of Wyoming Valley began to grow its roots as the caring spirit of our community.
Even after more than 90 years, that willing spirit of helping others is still clearly present as we wrap up the 2013 campaign. Recently, I reported to the news media that we expected the campaign would end up short of its goal by $250,000 — or roughly 6 percent below where we were in each of the past two years.
Overall, while I still think we will be down from last year due to so many economic factors beyond our control, the response we received has been uplifting. Some organizations increased their corporate pledges; several workplace campaigns responded with additional generosity; two family foundations sent in gifts on top of the gifts already made; new individual donations ranging from $5 to $1,000 came in; and we still have more opportunities to follow up with donors after the new year.
A principal partner of a large firm who gave an additional gift said, “Our firm was ‘blessed’ to have a good year and we want to do more to help the community.” Another donor told me that the market has done well and he feels “blessed” and “called” to be more charitable. A donor who gave at his office saw me at a local Christmas concert and spontaneously handed me another check for $100! It is evident to me that faith, and the desire to help others, is indeed playing a role in many of these decisions.
The United Way of Wyoming Valley will continue to work as hard as we can to close the gap before our volunteer committees need to decide the allocation amounts to our partner agencies early in the spring. There is still time to help.
For me, faith and hope are intrinsically linked. I am hopeful that 2014 will be a safer year for our community and a better year for all those in need. If you are feeling “blessed” or feeling “called” and maybe looking for a way to help others, ‘tis the season to put your faith into action. Perhaps somewhere, a Catholic, two Protestants, a rabbi and a community advocate will be sitting around in deep conversation … thankful for you.
May you all have the happiest of New Year’s.