Guest Column: Committed to addressing issues of community

Published 10:57 pm Friday, August 3, 2018

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin


At our United Way we have various committees that help us make decisions regarding the programs we invest in, the focus we take in the community or the messaging we relay to represent the work we do throughout Freeborn County.

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We have some of the best volunteers in the area — people who are thoughtful, who see the big picture and are truly focused on creating a stronger future for everyone who lives and works in the area.

We continue to focus on investing in programs that provide opportunities for people to be successful — whether it’s our children, who deserve the best start in life; our families, who need support from the community to make it through challenging times; our workforce, who need continuing education, stable living situations and reliable transportation to get and sustain employment; or our senior citizens, who need

us to ensure they are safe and healthy in their homes.

This is community. Our United Way builds community. We are the glue that holds everything together.

We not only provide funding for programs, we look at addressing the issues that cause the problems in the first place. If we aren’t addressing the source, it doesn’t matter how much money we put into solving a problem. The problem will persist; and many have.

When organizations are struggling, they look to us to help navigate the challenges. When there are significant issues to address, like the child care shortage, we are able to bring people together, create new partnerships and leverage our connections so we have a better chance to find resolution.

This is deep work — it’s not fancy and it’s not always fun. But it helps create a sustainable future. We won’t bring new business into town, or keep the businesses we have, until we address turnover at workplaces. There are many factors that influence why people leave workplaces, but we do know that lack of child care is one of the major contributing factors at this point.

There is a fantastic child care coalition that has formed, which includes local agency representatives, child care providers and leadership from both the city and county, who are committed to this work. That helps a great deal.

This is where we can have impact, so this is where we are currently focusing our efforts to convene people around an issue and find resolution.

The last several years have been challenging for our United Way, with businesses being sold to outside entities and no longer running campaigns or giving any corporate donations; workplace turnover driving up our uncollectible allowance (when people pledge during the campaign at their workplace, and then leave the company, we no longer receive a donation from them); and online giving trends, which divert people’s attention away from local charities.

With all of these challenges, the problems persist. And we are committed to finding a resolution.

We are fighting for our community. We are all in this together. And, though I do admit I am jaded at times (it’s challenging not to be in this work), I truly believe we have the right people and this is a good time for solutions to be found.

I believe in all of you, too. I believe we all have a still, small voice inside of us that, if we listen hard enough, will drive us forward to take action when we need to take action. If we recognize that true power only comes from the love we have, that power will help us have the energy to continue when times are hard and push through whatever obstacles we face. Because, often, the obstacles are ones we’ve created. And the barriers we’ve put up are made of fear and anger.

A wise woman told me last year, “If you need to be right, you won’t be effective.” I was focused on finding proof, or some point I could make to drive people to take action on issues I could see, but they couldn’t. I wanted to address transportation barriers — but it wasn’t the time; and the problem was with me. I wanted to be right; so I wasn’t effective.

So, early this year, I opened my heart and listened, really listened to what others were telling me. Child care is a crisis, but it’s one we can solve — because people see it and they are talking about it. And, now, convincing people it’s a problem isn’t hard. The people we invited to be involved stayed committed. The people we continue to invite are adding fuel to the engine that drives us forward in the work. It’s exciting and it’s purposeful. It’s good work.

The reality is, this is one issue to address; but there are many more we need to focus on. Child care is an issue that impacts everyone from every background and socio-economic status. It’s an economic development concern. And it’s a growing problem across our state and our nation. We can see it; we can feel it. It impacts us personally.

But there are other issues we need to address — ones our United Way is committed to solve.

We committed ourselves to creating the drug drop box and putting a system in place to sustain it, so medications weren’t accessible for people with an opioid addiction, or flushed down the toilet, contaminating our water source.

We committed ourselves to creating a volunteer housing rehab effort called Rocking the Block, which helped stabilize local residents and their homes.

We committed ourselves to ensuring refugees who worked here, moved here — which sustained their employment and stabilized a portion of our workforce, also adding to our tax base, which helps sustain our local services. The growth we have experienced here is largely due to the increase of our wonderful refugee population.

We committed ourselves to creating connections for local mental health providers and addressing the stigma associated with mental illness, so more people will get the help they need.

We committed ourselves to jumping in to address immediate and long-term needs with flood response, and continue to focus on helping to create a system of response for future issues.

We are committed to resolving the local child care crisis.

We will continue to commit to addressing the issues that are impacting our community’s stability and long-term success. It is who we are. It is the work of the United Way.

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