United Way is about offering hope and help

Published 6:12 am Sunday, July 8, 2012

Column: Live United, by Ann Austin

Our country just celebrated the establishment of our independence. During Fourth of July festivities we grill out and watch fireworks, but do any of us actually read the “Declaration of Independence?” I admit that I have not made this a habit in the past, but find it valuable to do as a reminder of the values our country was founded on.

The following line is said to include some of the most potent and consequential words in American history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Ann Austin

Email newsletter signup

Reading further into the document, the authors of the declaration state how King George III of Great Britain and Parliament were not upholding such values, which is why they were choosing to dissolve and form a new governing system. The Declaration of Independence is about our ability as residents of the United States to have choices. Watching the news lately, we recognize how other countries have been striving to have the same opportunity.

The choices we have are outlined in our Constitution, and though we tend to focus on the topics we disagree on, which is part of having a healthy Democracy, we may not often realize the choices most of us have every day that we do not need to assert: whether we wish to take a hot or cold shower, what we would like to eat for breakfast, whether we drive a car or ride our bike to work, what time we would like to go to bed at night.

With freedom comes the ability to make choices. But there are people in our country, in our community, who do not have choices. There are people in our community who are living without water and without electricity; there are people who don’t have a choice of purchasing healthy food because it is not accessible to them or they cannot afford it; there are people who can’t work because they don’t have transportation to get there; there are people who don’t feel safe to go home at night.

Many times the people who do not have choices also do not have a voice or a vehicle to make their voices heard. We are thankful to have so many local organizations that help to give people a voice and provide them with choices.

United Way exists to extend choices to people who otherwise don’t have the resources the rest of us have. United Way volunteers work hard to ensure the greatest needs in our community will be met. It can be a challenging process, especially as need increases and funding from other sources is not available.

Every year, volunteers perform an extensive review of local programs to determine which ones will best serve current needs in the community. For programs to receive United Way funding they need to meet criterion including: operating as a 501(c)(3), providing programs within Freeborn County and having a board of directors and good financial practices. Goals and outcomes are discussed to ensure programs are serving an identified community need and are helping people who are truly struggling.

The need for 2013 has been set at $660,000. Actual amounts paid out to programs in 2013 will be determined at the end of the 2012 campaign. We are thankful to raise over $600,000 in a community the size of Freeborn County — this is a phenomenal accomplishment compared to communities of similar sizes.

But the work does not end with the funding of local programs — United Way volunteers work year-round to determine how we can create better systems of delivery and encourage meaningful collaborations. We are focused on solving community problems through developing a common vision and working with all organizations which have the same vision.

It takes time to get to the root of any given problem, but we are committed to doing what it takes to truly help people live better lives. We are committed to identifying all of the resources that exist in our community to help give people a hand up so they can have more choices in their lives.

The human resource is our greatest resource of all. You are part of the solution, whether you choose to give, advocate or volunteer. You have a voice and you have a choice to get involved and make a difference. Thank you for your commitment to making our community a better place and upholding the values that we all believe in.


Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.