Being part of United Way's Day of Caring taught me how to LIVE UNITED by volunteering. Now, I NEED to volunteer! I connect that feeling to two projects set up by Community Health Network, where I work.
Last month, I helped create an outdoor learning environment for kids at a day care on the southeast side of town. It was a big project involving more than 200 volunteers. My role was heading up a crew of about 26 people who built a labyrinth. Friday was our build day. At the last minute, we had to change the design when I realized the center would not be big enough for a child using a wheelchair.
The work was very precise. It involved lots of cuts, lots of concentration and collaboration. At one point, I noticed one of our executives was holding 4x4s for me!
On Saturday, volunteers painted the labyrinth red. My wife brought our own two children by to try it out. The idea is that when you get to the center of the path, you leave something of yourself there. And when you walk out, you are whole again.
Watching my children walk along that path made me realize that we gave a day and a half of our time, and left only a few hours of ourselves behind. But when the work was done, we created a memory that will always be there for us and for the children and families who use the path every day. Completing that project made us all whole.
Last year our Day of Caring project was at IPS School 14, a impoverished area that both my wife and I had worked in when we part of Wishard's ambulance crew. I spent seven years responding as "Medic 20" with "Engine 20."
Every day, we were in the homes of people near that school, but we had never thought of doing anything outside of our work to help them. We were basically battle-hardened soldiers dealing with the worst situations imaginable, and we were trained to mask our emotions and be strong.
That changed with Day of Caring. My job was painting a deck around a tree in the school yard. When I heard a little boy call it the "Learning Tree," it became not just a task, but special and important. It was a contribution to the future of the children in that school.
While we were working, a family in the neighborhood stopped by to thank us and offered us some water. These are people who don't have much. It really touched my heart that they wanted to give us something.
Now, I am teaching my children about volunteering. When an associate lost everything to a house fire, my 5-year-old daughter filled a bag full of toys to give to that child. She even gave some of her favorite toys, not just things that she didn't want to play with. "You're volunteering now too," I told her.
We need more projects like Day of Caring. Why do we have to wait another year? Why?
-- Kennon J. Thomas
Editor's note: Kennon has graduated from two United Way leadership programs and co-chairs Community Health Network's United Way annual campaign. Professionally, he is director of network supply chain management for Community.
On the kitchen table of their Fishers apartment, Natalie and Nicole, 18, proudly showed their high school graduation, step team pictures and notes from classmates to WTHR's anchor, Andrea Morehead. The twins earned their diplomas from Hamilton Southeastern High School and are on their way to college in southern Indiana.
If you think it sounds like a nice experience – but hardly the stuff of which news is made – tune in September 4 at 7:30 p.m. to watch Andrea tell the story on WTHR Channel 13. It's part of local television broadcaster's coverage of what giving, advocating and volunteering make possible, thanks to United Way.
You'll learn about the years of abuse the girls survived before putting on their caps and gowns. And, you'll see how Child Advocates, a United Way agency led by Cynthia Booth, and its volunteer, Helene Massey, provided support, love and resources for their well-being today, and their dreams for the future. Thank you!
--Mary L. Kinney, Public/media relations director, United Way
When I read the news that Indiana's homeless count was released earlier this month, two faces immediately popped into my mind: Ralph and Lakin.
The count reported a decrease since 2011 of six percent in the number of military veterans experiencing homelessness. Ralph, a U.S. Air Force veteran who overcame substance abuse and homelessness, then regained custody of his young daughter, is someone I now know personally who is represented in that good news stat.
Ralph lists at least four United Way agencies that helped him: HVAF of Indiana, for basic needs, recovery, counseling and support; Goodwill Industries, for job training; Second Helpings, for meals while in recovery; and Child Advocates, for help regaining custody of his daughter. He admits there may be others in the background that he's simply not aware were at bat for him.
His experience shows three of United Way's four priorities at work: Basic Needs, Health and Income.
Ralph's story drives home the reality that people's troubles are more often complex than they are simple. And that means they can rarely be solved by one agency or one program.
It's one of the reasons giving to United Way has such a deep and wide impact. Through it, we are engaging an entire system of human care to get at the root of people's problems, not just taking care of the crisis at hand. It's about seeing that people have opportunities and resources to make their own lives better...and in the process, our community as a whole.
Ralph's success, while a great story, is not one of a kind. Of the 400 veterans who have come through HVAF's Residential Employment Substance Abuse Treatment program, 60 percent have either secured permanent housing or a job.
To see Ralph tell his own story, tune in to RTV6 at 7:30 p.m. on September 4. On that day in that half hour, all our local stations will air short stories about how anyone who gives to United Way is helping Ralph and thousands more turn their lives around. Thank you!
--Mary L. Kinney, Public/media relations director
Remember the saying, "One good turn deserves another?" You could see it in action this week at IPS School 69, thanks to United Way volunteer Rose Marie Goodman, who took her ReadUP tutoring role above and beyond. When Rose Marie finished tutoring last spring, she decided to donate some books to the school to enrich the book collection for young readers. At the Zionsville jewelry store she and her husband own, customers are not charged for changing watch batteries, but some still want to pay. Rose Marie used those contributions – nearly $300 – to buy quality books for students at School 69. The store owner at 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville where she picked out the books was touched by her gestures. She wanted to help, so she discounted the books and even donated one herself.
Rose Marie (back row, second from right) presented the books to second and third graders. It’s all part of the goal to help them become better readers, better students, and therefore more likely to graduate as a building block to a better life. Thanks to Rose Marie and everyone she inspired to LIVE UNITED, too! See more pictures from the event here.
--Mary L. Kinney, Public/media relations director, United Way
Volunteering in the ReadUP summer pilot program turned out to be a gift I gave myself this summer. I'm SO grateful I had the opportunity to tutor and get to know 11-year-old Ryan through ReadUP at Edna Martin Christian Center (EMCC). And it was fun to watch Ryan discover that reading is fun when you're reading about cool things...like the NBA play-offs, Michael Jackson and stinky plants.
Special thanks to United Way ReadUP coordinator Judith Rosario and reading specialist Tiffani Brown for quickly assessing Ryan's needs and magically producing books and magazines at his reading level that would interest him. Summer is short. There was no time to waste!
My visits to the community center were also a great reminder of the many ways United Way makes our community a better place. With support from United Way, the Summer Youth Program Fund and others, EMCC and many other community centers across the city keep kids safe, active, well-nourished, and LEARNING over the summer.
Research from Johns Hopkins University and others tells us that two-thirds of the achievement gap between low income children and their better off peers can be attributed to summer learning loss.
Summer offers not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to close this gap, and summer readUP is a great way to do that! Plus, it's really fun!
Diane Pfeiffer, readUP volunteer
Editor's note: United Way is now recruiting volunteers for the school year ReadUP experience along with mentoring opportunities and reading to young children. Go here to get involved yourself!
Each month, we'll post updates about United Way and our agencies. There's (nearly) always something going on!
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