Guest Column: Focus on the good happening in community

Published 8:18 pm Friday, June 29, 2018

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin


There’s a good quote somewhere that talks about how we shouldn’t dwell on what is going wrong, but rather focus on what is going right. I can’t quite find the right one, but I’m sure everyone has read something similar.

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As human beings, it is easy to focus on what is going wrong. We often live in our limbic system — with a “fight, flight or freeze” reflex. It’s easy to go to this place, but it’s not a healthy place to live for long.

A lot seems to be going wrong in our world right now — and there is much we are not in control of. However, when you think of how we live on a planet in the middle of a solar system on the brink of an ever expanding universe, it really puts things into perspective.

What we are in control of is our ability to adapt to the circumstances we face and celebrate when things go well.

I was talking to a friend this week who said she hasn’t been herself lately; her memory isn’t working as well as it usually does and she is struggling to be her usual energetic self. I responded to her that she needs to be patient with herself — we are going through a really hard time as a community and as a society right now. It’s hard not to be distracted, especially when our attention is directed to all of the things that are wrong.

Yet, there is so much that is going right. We are having the conversations we need to have — many of them are hard and many of the discussions make us vulnerable, especially if we need to communicate the ideas and concepts that make up our personal world view. There is a lot that appears to divide us. But, there is even more which connects us.

I attended the United Ways of Minnesota conference last week. There were many new faces and many old friends who have been great support over the years. We discussed our mutual concerns within the United Way system — and the obstacles — but the common thread is we are committed to our work, and we all have hope for our communities to pull through and be stronger.

I came away from the conference encouraged and re-engaged in our work. There are so many people who care about creating better systems and truly helping address the needs of our communities. United Ways are part of a larger network, but we are all focused locally.

United Way of Olmsted County is doing remarkable work in partnership with schools in their area — addressing the full spectrum of needs that students and families struggle with. They have a larger staff and are able to do more outreach, assess data and respond to the various needs that exist to ensure student success.

Our United Way operates on a smaller scale — we rely on community partnerships, the collaboration between providers and other community groups who are interested in addressing the considerable issues that exist.

We have encouraged collaboration with funded partners, and have directly engaged in collaborative work focused on addressing mental health needs, disaster response, and more recently — addressing the child care access issues that are reaching crisis levels.

I am encouraged by groups like First Lutheran Church, who embrace the vision and mission of helping community members recover after a disaster. They give me hope for our future.

I am encouraged by individuals like Sue Loch, director of The Children’s Center, who advocates tirelessly for her staff and the children they serve — as well as the ones who are on a waiting list to be placed in child care programming. She gives me hope.

I am encouraged by community leaders like Tom Jensen, Freeborn County administrator, who is willing to have the hard conversations and join together with nontraditional partners to find resolution to the issues we face. He gives me hope.

I am encouraged by the committee of devoted and persistent community members who successfully pull off big events like Wind Down Wednesday, to engage us in a sense of community. We are community — and we need to see and hear and engage with each other regularly. That committee of outstanding volunteers gives me hope.

There is so much good going on in our community. Let’s focus on this and build on what is going well and the opportunities we have. We are stronger together.

Live United.

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