Video shows what United Way funds do

Published 5:11 pm Saturday, September 21, 2013

Column: Live United, by Ann Austin

We’ve all probably either heard of or played Hasbro’s The Game of Life at some point as a child or parent, showing how the choices we make can impact our lives in good and bad ways. And there are things that happen beyond our control that can irrevocably alter our future.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

Of course, with The Game of Life, the scenarios are played out in a safe environment— there is no real risk when losing a job or having a life-threatening illness.

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There are so many games like this that allow the player to simulate life experience; everything from Oregon Trail (a favorite of my school days) to Sim City, to a more grown-up version of Life called Spent. (Play it at:

In these games we can become obsessed with do-overs, trying to get to a better life. But real life is not a game and there are very few chances for do-overs. We must work through whatever challenges we face.

Sometimes there is a perception that one can just roll the dice to make things better, but in reality that choice will only often make things worse. Yet, life is not so desolate. Thankfully in the real world, there are people available to help out if someone is dealt a bad hand.

During the Leadership Program (offered through our Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and Riverland Community College), we have the opportunity to work with other local nonprofit organizations to do a Game of Life simulation where people are faced with real-life challenges and are asked to identify community resources to help them out.

The situations they face include being a single parent with medical issues, an older couple with an adult child who has a disability, a family who experiences a house fire, parents with a teen who has chemical addiction problems, etc.

This “game” has been eye-opening for many members of our community who have not needed to seek help from local programs. They recognize how many resources we do have here and how often they work together to help solve problems.

We put together a day-in-the-life video to help illustrate this dynamic. It can be found on our website, along with a lot of other good information:

Here is a rundown of a day in the life of your investment in United Way:

• It’s just after 8 a.m., and a single father drops his toddler off at an early childhood center. Because it’s a United Way agency, he knows his child is receiving quality care and education. And because of United Way funding, he receives a partial scholarship for the cost of the center.

• It’s almost noon, and a homebound senior is receiving a nutritious meal and a visit from someone who cares. More than 9,500 seniors get help every year from United Way through at-home care, transportation, chore services, advocacy and family supports.

• It’s 3 p.m., and a man starts his work day. He’s one of 50 people with developmental disabilities who receive help every year to maintain employment and live independently in our community.

• It’s 5:30 p.m., and a single mother returns to her apartment in a homeless shelter at the end of a long day. She has been living at the shelter for the past month after her home was foreclosed. She is receiving job and financial counseling. She is glad to have a safe place for her children to stay while she gets her life back together.

• It’s a little after 7 p.m., and a counseling session is underway for a family with a child facing behavioral issues. United Way supports several programs that provide counseling for mental illness, addiction, emotional issues and other challenges.

• It’s just before 9:30 p.m., and a family is going to bed with their tummies full — because their dad stopped by the food pantry on his way home from work. Every year, United Way invests more than $80,000 into programs that help meet basic needs.

• It’s the middle of the night, and a family is getting help after a fire burned down their house and threatened their lives. In the weeks to come, United Way and its partners will be there to help them get back on their feet.

Thank you for investing in our United Way — thank you for living united!


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