Community Giving with United Way
We recently sat down with the stellar team from United Way of Madison County. Hear more from Claudia and Kathy from United Way on the needs of our community and the importance of lending a helping hand throughout the year. This was an inspiring and eye-opening interview for our team. Check out the video or read the transcription below.
Megan: Okay, so typically, our video series that we show with Flourish revolves around powerful women doing She Boss series or some other promotion that we’re doing with partnerships and community. And we wanted to do something really special this year in support of our community, and the local area nonprofits that we have here. So for anybody who is in North Alabama, you probably have seen these two beautiful faces running around. But I want to tell you why we’re sitting here and talking with them today. So I’m part of the greater leadership of Huntsville, flagship class L35, best class ever, that’s what they always say, right. And one of the things that we have recently been engaged with is having our Human Services Day where we were able to get a really great sneak peek into the community organizations and the nonprofits in our area, but also learn about the community needs that we have here. And I was absolutely blown away to listen to Kathy, and learn a little bit about United Way and the needs that we have in this community. And so often, we get so excited about these amazing accolades of being the fastest growing city in the state of Alabama and the top, you know, 10 places to live if you’re a young millennial, and all of these different things, but which is great. But it’s sometimes can overshadow what was some of the challenges that we run into here as a community. And so in celebration of the holidays, and in celebration of a time when a lot of people are wanting to give and find ways they can make an impact. Rather than highlight individual organizations, we wanted to start at the source of an organization that is the lifeblood of our community, and has done such amazing things within North Alabama. But in particular, I want to talk a little bit about how that giving and how that commitment from our community leaders should be not just something that’s talked about during the holiday season, but year round. So we have Claudia and we have Kathy with the United Way here. And we’re going to talk a little bit about some of the biggest needs that we have right now. And how you can get involved and help. So thank you, ladies so much for having us. Yes,
Cathy: I love Megan, that you were talking about the idea that there are significant needs, we all in our back door, see whatever need is there, if we have hearts for our community, and many of our folks do that. But to have an organization like in a way that brings the community together every three to five years and says let’s do a Strategic Evaluation, let’s put our finger on the pulse and figure out what are the greatest needs, because if we don’t know where they are and what they are, then we can’t really be effective at responding to them. So the last time we did a needs assessment was 2019. And we don’t want to just sit on those numbers because everybody knows that since the COVID 19 pandemic has come in. And we’ve become the largest city in the state in Huntsville, that there are changes since that time. So we have really highlighted some things that have emerged in some needs that used to be pretty important now are much more important. And that’s what we were talking about it, leadership, so one of them that will touch everybody that has a child or a grandchild, or a niece or nephew or a neighbor in Madison County is our achievement gap for our children. That is learning just the upheaval they had during this whole pandemic, in trying to keep their heads above water in learning in Oh, public schools have done in private schools have done a wonderful job and are tired, you know, but they need the community to help us. And so that’s one thing that we’ve targeted in education is that we must help with those gaps that have occurred because of something that’s not been anybody’s fault.
Megan: Well, I have three kids, myself, elementary, middle and high school. And last year was crazy. And we had to just be okay with that level of effort because otherwise there was going to be tears every day and there was going to be stress. And we didn’t want to create that type of impact on things. So with an achievement gap, and what parents and children and teachers have gone through over the last year, what can a community citizen do to help with that? How can they make an impact?
Cathy: Well, they can volunteer, they can donate to support organizations that are working in that out of school homes, such important people in the community that again, like you said, are sometimes silent. People don’t realize how important it is for working parents to have a place where their kids can go safely and not just be sitting, you know, or playing but really continuing to learn in a fun interactive environment. So we are so fortunate that we have multiple agencies that are working with us and we invite folks to look at all of them on our website, but certainly the Boys and Girls Club is one that’s very well-known, Villager Promise is also maybe one that not as many people are aware of, we have a parenting program that we invest in called a Fast Program and Family Services. And any out of school time program can use volunteers that just come and sit and read, or tutor with children, even if you can’t do it every time, call them and talk to them. And maybe you just go and read to them. I mean, they’re all kinds of things are geeky folks in Huntsville…
Megan: I know we’ve got a lot of them.
Cathy: …that love STEM there’s all kinds of opportunities around STEM for any of those. And so we always encourage folks to be thinking about that, and especially even our little ones that are in pre K, and couldn’t go to pre K for a long time sometimes need that nurturing and that interaction and those kinds of things. And I would just suggest that folks learn who the United Way Partners are, and call them and say, “What do you need?” Make sure you talk to the agency, you may think you know exactly what they need, but you may not. And sometimes agencies need resources, which is why United Way is such a good choice because when you invest with us, you’re investing with a whole group of agencies targeted to those needs.
Megan: Yeah. So I love that you brought that up, because one of the things that blew my mind, and I think I represent in this aspect, I think I represent a lot of people in this and that it’s the holiday season, what can we do? Let’s clean out our kids rooms, that way, we can go buy them more crap that they don’t need, you know, let’s do a canned food drive. Let’s do all these things. And you just make an assumption about what our community needs, as opposed to starting with an order resource, like the United Way to figure out really, where can we make the big impact. And I was blown away that sometimes just like you said, you know, massive giving around a single time without really having a strategy behind what they need can be overwhelming and absolutely burdensome to an organization. And at that time, that’s the last thing that they should have to deal with. So, like you said, starting with the United Way, and trying to figure out what organizations actually need and really putting your time and focus, they’re so important. And not just to think about doing that during this time. Just because it’s the holidays does not mean this is the only time that folks need support. And Cathy, one of the things that you brought up earlier, this, this really blew my mind, when just thinking about the impacts, being a mom, being a working mom, having kids being you know, one point my life, a single mom with two kids, and really just worried, frankly, just worried about things. You know again, we celebrate all of the accolades about, our markets and our housing markets, and all of these things going great. But for that family, he was on a very fixed income to think about what that small adjustment in there and small, it’s all you know- but I mean, thinking about what that what that small change can do and what reciprocal effects that has, because now that that single mother has to move out of that apartment and potentially can’t get into another place. And then her child can’t go to the same school and she can’t, you know, commute to the job that she was working at. And so now it’s just this reciprocal thing that’s happening. And it creates lifelong generational changes. And so, again, I think it’s really, really important that as leaders, as business owners, as citizens of this community to really think about that, because as much as we want to celebrate all of this positivity, we also need to be realistic about what’s going on in our own backyard and not pretend like it’s not there.
Cathy: Yes, we’re not in a utopia. Nobody has a utopia. And we did love I mean, the quality of life is precious here and you walk into the housing authority and talk to people and they own their community. And they’re proud to live in Huntsville, Alabama. But they struggle more than many of us do. Yeah. And if you don’t walk in those circles, I will forever be grateful to people who took my hand. And I offer that for anybody that wants to come and walk with me in the community for a day. Because you get a true sense of who your community is now, and it can be a little scary, if you’re not used to moving in a circle where people struggle. But oh my goodness, you learn so much, that’s why we love the community conversations that we have during our needs assessment because we get people from different walks of life to sit down together and hear what the experiences are around need. And you know, we want to thank that everybody easily can get everything they need here. And there are a lot of resources. But we do have some challenges, just like any local area has. Yeah. And we are centered and have our arms around Huntsville, Madison County, singularly as the United Way of Madison County. And so that’s where our focus is. And we just invite people. You’re doing such a great service for the community here in just helping people get educated about what’s out there because if you don’t know, you can’t do anything about it, you know, and you can think everybody is as comfortable as you are because that’s the circle you may be in. And I have been taught great life lessons. And I know Claudia can say the same thing, from people that struggle is something that I am fortunate never to have had to struggle with.
Megan: Yeah, well, and I think that exposure, I mean, we were grown women, that exposure needs to go all the way down, if you’ve got young kids, take them out to the manor house and take them out to I mean…
Cathy: Casa garden
Megan: …oh, my gosh yeah, like, I mean, my goodness, you go and have a conversation with Brian for five minutes, and your life is forever changed or you engage with Stephanie at Girls Inc, and you just get exposed to these different things, it just truly opens your eyes to the opportunities that are out there. And again, I hate to keep saying this, but as a mom like this is where our kids should be that at a very young age, they need to get off their phone, get off social media, and be in their community to truly see what impacts they can make. Because that’s going to be the generational shift that I think we really have to focus on really have to focus on. So our big ask, from a Flourish perspective is volunteer and do all of these great things, but don’t make it just a one-time thing. So support organizations like United Way on the regular basis, both of these ladies are wearing these feathers, which may be a little bit hard to see, I asked them to story behind that. But that’s for their continual commitment to support the United Way. So talk a little bit about how folks can do that on an annual basis.
Claudia: Great, well, all these great things that are happening in the community didn’t just fall from the sky. It takes a village, as we say, every day and the programs that we provide our agencies provide, it takes funding and the bottom line is they need money to keep those funding alive. It’s been even more difficult because of the pandemic that’s hung on for as long as it has. So we do need to invite the entire community, whatever market you’re in, if you’re an employee, that’s terrific. Most of our companies have payroll deduction, we say, when you give through payroll deduction, you don’t see it, you don’t miss it. But it’s exponentially helping the agencies that you’re providing for we then say, “Hey, corporations, can you match dollar for dollar what your employees are doing? Or can you give a bigger corporate gift on top of that?” The market that we are inviting to give is absolutely every single person who resides in Huntsville, Madison County that includes retirees, professionals. Professionals meaning accountants, attorneys, dentists, veterinarians, clergy, all professions, we invite them to give, you can get cash, check, you can go on our website to give, you can go through Facebook and give, you can call my cell phone number and I will take your credit card. And so there’s so many ways you can stop in here at 71, Andrew Jackson and drop off a check. But we definitely want to say that we need you. And 22 years with United Way, 32 in nonprofit myself, I have never ever felt the stress of as far as raising money more than I have than right now. It has been incredible.
Megan: I mean, why do you think that is? You think it’s because of, I mean, partly because of the pandemic?
Claudia: Yeah, I think it’s 100%.
Megan: I wanted to make sure I really do.
Claudia: And I can tell you that in those 32 years, there have been many disasters that we’ve been involved with not necessarily directly with what’s happening in Huntsville, Madison County. But when there were tornadoes, and when there were floods and when there were hurricanes, those people in Louisiana, fled here for safety. At the time, I was met with the American Red Cross, and we had to find shelter for them. We had to entertain them. We had to feed them. We had to do all of these things that that wasn’t in our purview. That wasn’t what we normally do every day. But we needed to make sure that they were okay. But then because of the influx of new people in our neighborhood, then there were other social service needs that were happening in our agencies. So this pandemic has hung out and that and it went we took care of it. Yeah, like we always do and it went away and it was pretty quick compared to what’s happening now. This is continual. This has been continual. There’s been no breath, there was no break. And it’s like, Okay, we’re going to keep on keeping on because that is what we do. But I mean, even at the time when it first began, PPE was really hard to find for anybody. And believe it or not, we found it. And we were PPE brokers. And it was from two different states. And we went and got it. And I brokered it out of my expedition. And it was from the floor of my expedition to the ceiling. And I said, “I’m going to touch it once”. And we sold it out of it, we sold all that PPE, and it was $50,000 worth out of my vehicle and it was in our parking lot because nobody was allowed to come in to the building. And so we emailed it out and said, we have all of this and it was sanitizer was masks, it was gloves. It was all sorts of different things that people couldn’t find.
Claudia: And yeah, gowns, I mean, it just went on and on and on. And so that’s what we did. And because our nurses at Heals Incorporated, couldn’t see our children, but they were sick, their child, their families were sick, they needed to be seen. So they had to be safe or when we didn’t close them down. So those are the things that we weren’t trained for. But in the wake of what was happening, we made it our business, and we made it our priority and said, “Yes, we can”. And we did. And we were really thrilled that we were able to make that happen. I do have to say we didn’t pay for it, United Way paid for the first round, because we didn’t know what we were doing. But the agencies paid us back. And I do want to just say that those agencies were able to get PPE grants through the government. So that’s how that was happening.
Megan: I think a very common thread that you see among United Way in the partners that you have is that you don’t say no, it’s just you just figure out a solution, bottom line. And it’s really easy to say no, and just shut it down, as opposed to taking the time and figuring out a solution. And to your point as well, if you can’t afford to financially make commitment, volunteering is huge, such a huge thing. So there’s always something that you can do to give back within your community, for sure. And this is a great place to start. Cathy, Claudia, thank you both so much for taking the time. And again, our challenge for this is to get out there and do something, come to United Way, come visit these lovely beautiful women who are game changers in our community. But get your family involved, get your kids involved, give them that exposure now that way they can see how they can be become part of their community to move it forward in the right direction because the needs will not go away, they’re always going to be there and it’s we owe it to our own community to support it. So thank you both so much.