A few months ago I wrote about The Stigma of Being Poor and asked about our responsibility to change our world for the better. In that post I mentioned my personal search for a new way to become involved beyond just writing about our society's problems. I want to actively do something about them.
After several years of personal counseling through the Stephen Ministry program, and five years deeply involved in prison ministry, I have taken a two year break. I needed a breather and the time to decide where my particular talents (or, is that peculiar talents?) might lead me.
I have found the answer. The local United Way organization has invited me to be a member of a steering committee for a new volunteer initiative that focuses on retirees in the Phoenix metro area. With life skills and experiences, a desire to give back to the community, and the time to do so, many of these folks are simply looking for information and the opportunity to help.
The Valley of the Sun United Way has been serving community needs in the Phoenix area for 90 years. Within the past four years it has made a major adjustment to its approach.
Previously, VSUW (Valley of The Sun United Way) collected donations from tens of thousands of individuals and hundreds of businesses. That money was then distributed to appropriate agencies that would apply the funds to the immediate needs in the community.
After some serious research and thinking about their overall role, the VSUW moved to a model where the donated money becomes the funding for programs with the direct involvement of the United Way team and cooperating businesses, agencies, and volunteers. In this way, problems such as homelessness and hunger, increasing the financial stability of families and individuals, and finding ways to help children and youth succeed in life can be dealt with in a more comprehensive and and long-term manner.
82,000 households in Maricopa County (Phoenix's county) experience chronic hunger. One in five Arizonans lives in poverty. Tens of thousands of kids come to local schools hungry each morning. With problems this extensive a concerted effort to look for solutions must be made.
Feeding someone who is hungry or finding a family of four clean beds for the evening are vital. Helping the individuals and families find solutions to these problems to get them off the same track is even more important. The new model that the VSUW is now following, allows for both short and long term commitments to finding solutions. Other United Way organizations around the country are looking at the success of the Phoenix model and making adjustments that allow them to better serve their own communities.
I am excited and energized over the chance to become part of an organization that is doing so much good for my hometown, and has the foresight to evolve its approach to the problems that affect so many. After attending the first steering committee meeting last month I have become involved in helping the new program develop promotional materials. I am helping to secure a presentation at a major retirement community in the Valley where I hope many of the residents find new outlets for their desire to serve. At some point I have been told I will become part of a speakers' bureau, to help spread the word about Retire United.
Over the next several months I will have some additional posts about this new chapter in my volunteer life. If you live in the greater Phoenix area, I urge you to check out the Retire United group. For everyone else, I urge you to always look for ways to serve others and your community that satisfies and nourishes you.