Resolve to join efforts to help people in our community
Despite the economic downturn, guest columnists Jon Fine and Dan Fulton find many bright spots to consider. Their examples of community efforts helping people are just a few of many opportunities people can embrace to help their own communities.
Special to The Times
IT has been a turbulent year. A remorseless economy has stripped more people of their jobs and homes. Politics have further polarized. Blame and recriminations have ricocheted.
But turn off the TV and walk out into the neighborhood and there's probably a different, brighter picture. Through our work at United Way, we often get to see this brightness. We get to see a community brimming with creativity about how to make things better for those who are struggling. We get to see a community that with its time, its muscle and its money has perhaps never been more generous.
Consider a cannery in Kent that was sitting idle a day or two a week. Meanwhile, Northwest Harvest had produce that was going bad before it could get to food banks. Bring these two together, stir in volunteer labor and funding from United Way and the Church of Latter Day Saints, and you have a recipe for less food going to waste, more hungry families able to eat and — maybe most important — a community reminding itself that we can pull together and get things done.
Here's another example: something called the Community Resource Exchange. In space at Qwest Field donated by the Seahawks, this periodic event (held most recently in September) gathers in one place, on one day, all the services and resources that can help you if you've become homeless, or are about to.
Area nonprofits bring info on housing and job opportunities. Public health workers give flu shots. Volunteer dentists do checkups, even emergency extractions. Volunteers from Virginia Mason distribute coats and socks and backpacks. Stylists from Gene Juarez give time to cut hair. Employees of AT&T take the day to help people make phone calls (often emotional ones). People from Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser help serve meals prepared by FareStart.
This September's Community Resource Exchange benefited 2,400 diverse people facing homelessness, not a few of them veterans and families. And it may have done equal good for the hundreds of volunteers, who had a chance to pitch in and tangibly help: person to person, making community.
A last example involves something called Parent-Child Home. It's a program geared to getting kids from severely disadvantaged backgrounds on a footing equal with other kids — and well before they reach kindergarten. The families it serves have very low income, and often are recent refugees or immigrants from places torn by strife or war.
The program provides a parenting coach, who in twice-weekly visits gives moms and dads the skills to use books and toys in nurturing their 2- or 3-year-old. The program came to Seattle as a pilot project only recently, after showing elsewhere that it boosts participants' high-school-graduation rates by 30 percentage points. Clearly, it's something extraordinary, and needs to reach every kid it can benefit.
This year, United Way agreed to take on the work of scaling the program up in King County, though frankly, we had anxiety about doing so given the economy. Yet we shouldn't have: Individuals and companies have stepped up with extraordinary support, ranging from continuing support by the Business Partnership for Early Learning, to a million-dollar commitment from Microsoft, to thousands of workplace contributions.
A cannery taken over by volunteers so that food banks can have more healthy food, 2,000 people who are homeless literally surrounded by concern and compassion, a fledgling program for low-income kids given flight by an outpouring of philanthropy: a few of many reasons to be up, though the economy may be down.
Here's a suggestion for a New Year's resolution: Get closer to efforts like these, and dozens of other around the community, that draw people together and give hope.Dan Fulton, left, is president and CEO of the Weyerhaeuser Company and board chair of United Way of King County. Jon Fine is president and CEO of United Way of King County.
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