Guest Column: What is giving a mouse a cookie all about?

Published 10:32 pm Friday, January 31, 2020

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


In the early 1980s, a children’s book called, “If you give a mouse a cookie” by Laura Numroff came out. It’s a sweet, silly story about if you give a mouse a cookie, then he’ll want a glass of milk. When you give him a glass of milk, he’ll want a straw to go with in. If you give him a straw he’ll want — well, you get the picture.

My children love this book and the others in the whole series. “That silly mouse!” they say. The poetry style of the book has seen several variations, including one that resonates with mothers of young children. “If you give a mom a muffin, she’ll want a coffee to go with it. Her 3-year-old will spill it, so she’ll wipe it up. When she wipes it up, she’ll see the dirty socks and remember she must do laundry. On and on, until her coffee is cold and the pattern begins again.”    

It’s the classic story of ongoing cycles and distractions. Cynics have used the book as warning about the welfare system and creating dependency on assistance. Self sufficiency is the battle cry that has been going on for decades. Roosevelt’s New Deal, Johnson’s War on Poverty,  The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 and today’s debate regarding food stamps and Medicare for all.

It’s a political hot button that’s for sure. I tend to think that ultimately people want to see one thing: the power of community and a better quality of life for everyone. Despite the wide range of varying opinions on how to make that happen, no one wants to see someone living on the streets. No one wants to see a child go hungry. No one wants to see someone without access to health care.

So where does United Way come in? Believe it or not, United Way is all about self sufficiency. Many believe that we’re just another social service program, or that we fund social service programs that just perpetuate the cycle. In fact, our mission is to do the opposite: to break the cycle. It’s our mission to ensure that each program funded by United Way is strategically planned with short term, intermediate and long term outcomes. It might not always be obvious what that outcome is when hearing a short presentation, but I assure you that the team of community volunteers are carefully looking at the long view. Would you like to know more? We’d love to sit down and talk with you about the programs, or even set up a tour for you. Just give our office a call.

I can talk about this all day long because that’s my job. My job is to listen to all these wide ranges of opinions and funnel that down into ideas and programs that can have an impact on our community. In the last week, I’ve heard frustration about mental health services, lack of housing and how to get help for people that don’t qualify for our current services but are still struggling.

Some people say that talk is cheap. Talk is cheap, but our thoughts and feelings are worth way more than the penny in the cliché. This past few months, the United Way staff and board members have been listening. Community needs assessments have been completed or are in the process of taking place. Now it’s time for all that talking and all that listening to be translated into action.

The United Way of Freeborn County board of directors met this week. Our one hour meeting turned into a two-hour discussion. I was so very grateful that these busy professional leaders in our community took the time to truly understand our budget, our challenges and most of all, our possibilities. Travel didn’t stop two of our board members either. One participated by phone and while our vice-chairwoman was on a plane during the meeting, she took the time to spend a couple of hours prior to the meeting to make sure she was in the loop, and provide feedback.

Some important decisions were made, and I’ll be moving forward to act on those decisions in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, the timing of this article doesn’t line up with the timing of sharing all the details, but the United Way team was celebrating our accomplishments. While this is our last article until the end of the legislative session, be on the lookout for us to share news on our Facebook page. I have high hopes of talking the managing editor of the Tribune into an article when it comes time to share our big news.

In the meantime, thank you for living united with us and lastly something to remember and consider. Sometimes giving a mouse a cookie is just about giving a cookie.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.