OSWEGO, NY – For many, the United Way’s slogan – Live United – is much more than just a catchy phrase. It is a way of life.
At Wednesday’s United Way of Greater Oswego County’s annual campaign kick off, some members of the community shared personal stories of why they became involved in the United Way.
The event was held at the American Foundry, 246 W. Seneca St.
The theme of the 2016-17 campaign is “Share Your Story.”
“Our goal is to lift up our community,” said United Way of Greater Oswego County Executive Director Patrick Dewine. Our goal cannot be reached by any one man or woman; but only through the united efforts of so many dedicated people that are here today.”
Campaign Cabinet chair Dick Delaney of Novelis said that throughout his career there he has always donated to the United Way.
Comprised of a cross-section of concerned community leaders, the Campaign Cabinet works hand in hand with the United Way staff as they plan, implement and oversee the annual campaign.
One year, Delaney said, his supervisor asked him to be the campaign coordinator for Novelis. He went on to be a member of the Allocation Committee to help decide how the funds should be distributed.
“The part that bothered me the most was that there were people left out,” he said. “It’s never enough to handle all the need. This totally opened my eyes to the needs throughout Oswego County.”
Diane Cooper-Currier, of Oswego County Opportunities, shared how a scolding by her mother opened her eyes to helping others.
When she was 11, her family hosted a girl through the Fresh Air Fund.
“She had gone into my closet and taken these awesome cork sandals that I’d just bought and put on this great outfit of mine,” she said. “and, I was upset! She had violated my space and taken my stuff.”
Her mother called her “spoiled” and said she wasn’t getting her clothes back.
“She said, ‘You have enough clothes in your closet that you could give a lot more to her. Do not act like a spoiled child. In fact, we are going to give her more of your clothes.’ She pointed out that I had an opportunity to give back to people,” she told the audience. “My mother taught me that lesson my whole life – about living united.”
She read a letter from someone who was thankful for services she received from OCO.
“Some day soon, I will start to pay forward the kindness and grace and generosity of spirit that you have demonstrated. I will be a better person because I am remembering how you were,” the letter writer said.
What they do through United Way encourages others to live united in the community, Cooper-Currier said.
Eric Bresee, executive director of Farnham Family Services, said he supports United Way because he sees it as a grassroots effort that has a deep impact on the community.
“United Way is my voice and it is the voice of our community,” he said. “I choose to live united because I see my money, my donation, our efforts making a difference.”
Recently, a “hi, how are you?” turned into a conversation with a young woman who was pregnant and had slept under a park bench the night before, he said.
He was able to get her assistance through United Way agencies, he added.
“The United Way is us. It’s our money, our voice,” he said.
Farnham Family Services’ campaign coordinator Colleen Sharkey told about how she was in the hospital as a teenager, on Christmas Eve.
“I knew I was going to spend Christmas and my 18th birthday in the hospital,” she said.
Around 7 p.m., some teens from the Salvation Army came to visit her. They had a big basket full of hygiene products, a book and an angel ornament. They stayed with her and played some board games, also.
“I will always remember their kindness, generosity and the precious amount of time that they gave up on their own Christmas festivities to be with a sick teenager,” she said. “To this day, that angel ornament that was attached to the gift basket, hangs on my Christmas tree to remember and give thanks for those Salvation Army members for their thoughtfulness and generosity, but most of all for their time.”
That is why she supports and encourages others to support the United Way and Salvation Army.
Board member Clark Stanton of OVIA told of how United Way agencies cared for his son who was born with a cleft lip and palate.
“The care that he received 24/7 from the doctors and nurses was just amazing,” he said. “The people that we met were really eye-opening to us. It’s amazing how our community rallied around us.”
He said he had never really volunteered too much of himself to help others. But, he was inspired by those helping his family.
“I realized I could do something, too. I could give back. I got the opportunity to be involved here in the United Way, he said.
His son’s experience was a blessing, he added. It brought the family closer together and closer to the community.
“It made us more compassionate, less shallow … and really, it was the best thing that ever happened to our family. It is what inspired me to help the United Way,” he said.
The president of the United Way board Christy Huynh said she supports the United Way “because of the collective generosity and support the United Way is able to mobilize in the community.”
The United Way has provided more than 8,000 children with school supplies in the last five years. Fourteen hundred children will receive more than 24,000 supplies this year, up 8,500 since last year, she added.
“I am so honored to be a part of the United Way. Why? Because last year United Way provided the resources so that 1,733 people received out-patient treatment services through Farnham and County of Oswego Council On Alcoholism & Addictions, Inc (COCOAA).
Those of us who have been affected by addiction, directly or indirectly, know that that’s such a vital service,” she said.
Every single one of the encounters with the United Way has impacted members of the community in a significant way, she pointed out.
“They received food, clothing and support for their very basic needs,” she said. “I truly believe that a community can be judged on the way it treats their children, their elders and their most vulnerable members of the community. We have a strong, wonderful and committed community. I know that the United Way of Greater Oswego County is one of the many players who are dedicated to making this community, healthy, strong and vibrant.”
The campaign helps to raise funds for 30 human services programs that are provided through United Way’s partner agencies.
For more information, visit www.oswegounitedway.org or call 315-593-1900.