OSWEGO, NY – The United Way of Greater Oswego County began its annual campaign on Wednesday – and this time, it’s personal.
Melanie Trexler, executive director, welcomed the large crowd to the kickoff breakfast meeting at The American Foundry in Oswego.
“I am delighted that you have chosen to be with us this morning. Everyone here, along with our family, our friends, co-workers, and neighbors make up our community. It truly is our community and it is personal. We need to take ownership of our community,” she said. “Our common charge is to strengthen the fabric of our community and to champion the needs of families, youth and our seniors in Oswego County.”
The United Way helps to support 20 agencies and 29 programs that serve thousands of individuals.
“None of that would be possible without community members like you,” Trexler told the audience. “It is our community, and it is personal.”
Kathy Fenlon has served the United Way for more than 20 years in some capacity. She is currently president of the board of directors.
Over the years she has seen “how the United Way touches the lives of countless members of our community.”
“By joining us today, you are demonstrating your conviction to the United Way and our mission,” she said. “You are aware that it truly is our community and it is personal. You understand that through your support of the United Way that each of us can make a difference.”
Reflecting on the campaign slogan, Joe Lacy said, “For me, it doesn’t get a whole lot more personal than it already has been.”
He told of how PATH (Program to Assist the Teenage Homeless) saved his life.
“I was born in 1986 into a broken home, to a poverty stricken family with only a single mother to provide,” he said.
His mother barely made minimum wage “and back then, minimum wage was even less than it is now,” he pointed out.
Life was tough, right from the start, he admits. Other kids, he said, always seemed to have more than he did.
At about six years old he began lashing back “against the society that I believed had failed me.”
“I was too young then to understand the path that I had started to walk. By seven years old I had already had my first arrest,” he said. “By my sixth grade year, I was shuttled between five different schools because of my behavior. For many who grow up like me, we didn’t have much of a chance to begin with. But without programs like PATH, I don’t think I would have had a chance at all.”
At age 17 he participated in the program and things started to change for him.
“It gave me the chance to see that I make my own way in life. What makes a man is the things that they do, who they are and what they do with themselves from this point on,” he said.
The program gave him stability, a roof over his head, “which never was a guarantee before that,” he noted, adding, “There are so many things that we take for granted because we expect that everybody would have them. But that’s simply not the case. Until you’ve known some kind of stability in life, until you see that you as an individual can make it – it’s kind of hard to believe in things like that.”
He has graduated from high school and an electrician’s program and has given back to the community by helping build homes as part of Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s my community too and I give back to it in whatever way I can. Some of you might have been doing this long enough to have played an active role in the program that helped to save my life,” he told the crowd.
Tim Conners is an 11th grader at G. Ray Bodley High School in Fulton. He is also a cancer survivor.
He was diagnosed at age 15. The cancer stole his vision.
He received a bone marrow transplant, from his brother, to fight the cancer. He had to spend three months in the hospital.
“Even though I couldn’t go to school that year, I still kept up with my classes. My junior year I was finally able to return to school,” he said. “It definitely was a lot different. I was blind, I used a can and because I was so weak, I had to use leg braces to get around.”
It was upsetting to him because he felt so different than everybody else, he said.
“My peers and teachers didn’t feel the same way though. They were really excited that I came back to school. It really didn’t matter how different I was. That rubbed off on me and I just kind kept on going forward.”
His teachers had to find new ways to teach him; they couldn’t just write on the blackboard and have him take notes.
“My teachers had to work to adapt things for me. They did a great job and I ended up doing well in all my classes,” he said. “Also, my peers were very supportive of me. They went above and beyond what I thought they should have done. That year, I got a standing ovation at homecoming when I walked out with the football team even though I wasn’t really participating a lot with them. And also, they elected me prom king that year.”
The community support he and his family received has been wonderful, he said, adding that when he first got sick, there was so much food brought to the house that his mother “didn’t have to cook for months.”
“It was amazing to see our community really come together over one thing,” he said.
“Aurora gives me the tools I need to be successful, even though I am blind,” he said of the group dedicated to providing services for people with visual and hearing impairments.
He thanked Judy Keilb, rehabilitation instructor. There are times when he thinks he can’t do something, “and Judy does a good job of proving me wrong. I have been able to accomplish many things. I really have Aurora to thank for that.”
He pointed out that he is practicing with the football team and has been cleared by doctors to be the long snapper on kicks “because I won’t get hit.”
“We have a great story here in Oswego County. It’s compassion; we have a long history of something that’s uniquely American. We have numerous volunteers that give their money and time to live united with their own families and their own neighborhoods and their own workplaces,” said Rob Rolfe, campaign chair. “We take care of our own. That is what the United Way is all about.”
“We’re going to pursue $800,000 this year as our goal, and we’re going to blow it away,” Rolfe vowed. “We’re going to need your help.”
“They truly are extraordinary young men,” Trexler said of Joe and Tim. “In conclusion, I just want to say once again – it’s our community and it’s personal.”
To find out more about the United Way or to make a donation toward the 2012-13 campaign, call 593-1900 or visit www.oswegounitedway.org