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Commentary-A Call To Action: Hope In A Time Of Crisis



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A Call To Action:

Hope In A Time Of Crisis

By Michael Johnston

Most of the attention about today’s economic crisis is focused on the national stage. Free falling financial markets and government bailouts capture the headlines, but the impact of the economic fallout is counted one family at a time in our local communities. Everyone knows someone affected by the rapid decline in our economy. Our friends and neighbors have lost their jobs and in some cases their homes. It’s easy in this troubling and uncertain time to think solely about our own financial security and stability; easy to become pessimistic and less caring because we are worried about ourselves.

What we are missing most in conversations today is the sense of hope. We need to be reminded that across our country when tragedy strikes, people respond. We are a generous society, with many of our social services provided through the charity of private donors and volunteers. It is what makes us as a nation stand apart from others. And our community is no different.

Let’s be clear, the problems we face are daunting. There has been an alarming increase in demand for social services in our community — from food pantries to shelter assistance to medical care for the uninsured. United Way’s 211 information center is reporting increases of 20–40 percent in requests for services. In addition, programs that are funded by United Way are reporting a 40 percent increase in the number of people lining up for food each day. The local food pantries continue to meet on a regular basis to coordinate their efforts, but donations are decreasing.

There is also an increase in demand for credit counseling, financial literacy skills, job training, and foreclosure intervention. We have heard from our housing initiative partners that these counseling services are critical for people to remain successfully in their homes. But the counseling components rely on private philanthropic efforts and we can’t keep people in their homes without this wraparound support.

We have also heard from our community partners about the profound impact of stress on families, and their ability to provide stable nurturing homes for their children. They are reporting an increase in domestic violence, an increase in substance abuse, an increase in homelessness, and an increase in mental health issues for children. In addition, we have begun to see a new phenomenon — families among our lists of past donors who are now in need of help themselves.

To put it simply, our families, the foundation of the communities we live in, are hurting.

And the social service organizations that support our communities are bracing for the worst. They are being told by government entities and foundations to anticipate cuts in funding. United Way is doing everything it can to work with social service providers across the region to collaborate, to find the most efficient way to deliver services to those in need. In this way we can make greater use of every dollar that our donors give us.

How we care for the neediest is what defines our character as a community. Right now, more than at any time in decades, the organizations that provide this care need your help. Your help, your time, and your dollars.

Despite the difficult environment that surrounds us, our experience has shown us how the power of volunteerism and hope are altering lives every day. Not just the lives of the recipient, but the lives of the givers as well.

United Way launched a new call to action this year to “Live United.” We are asking everyone to give, advocate, or volunteer for something that matters to you. Whether you donate food to a pantry, be a voice for those who cannot change things, or volunteer to spend time with an elderly neighbor, you are helping to make Live United a reality.

Giving to the United Way, which supports critical social service programs across our community, is one way to make a significant difference in your local community today. But whether you choose to give to the United Way or not, find an organization that needs your help and give of your time, your money, and your compassion. It will make a difference in the lives of those in need, and it will make a difference in your own life.

Now is the time, and together we can make a difference. Answer the call to Live United, give aid to your neighbors and help renew hope in our communities.

(Michael Johnston is the new CEO of United Way of Western Connecticut. He can be reached at mjohnston@uwwesternct.org.)

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