Live United: Go forth and tell community members you’re proud of them

Published 8:45 pm Friday, July 22, 2022

Live United by Erin Haag

As I walked by a booth at Wind Down Wednesday, I waved hello to an acquaintance. She immediately started to get up from her chair and called something out to me. With the hustle and bustle of the street, I couldn’t hear, so I stopped and stepped to the side of the tent. She came up to me, took my hands and paused, looking at me intently with her blue eyes, making sure she had my full attention. She said, “I’m proud of you. I’m proud of the articles you write and the work you’re doing.” She told me that I was made for this job. Well. That got me right in the feels. We talked for a few minutes about our personal beliefs, my kids and their friends, and then I had to hustle to go pick up said kids.

Erin Haag

What she doesn’t know is that I had a rough day the day before — the kind of day that’s hard to shake off and tends to follow you until things get resolved. I was overwhelmed with a variety of things all happening at once. Alongside the frustrations of no copier/printer at work, learning new software and needing the world to freeze so we can organize our work environment, I’m also hip-deep in the murky waters of parenting and working through new challenges. Because I know my readers will call and ask: Both kids are absolutely OK. Last year, my little family built a chicken coop and raised four chickens. We lost two of our much loved chickens to a predator last weekend, another is injured and recovering in our makeshift hospital. That has evolved into the biggest life questions about life and death and reconciling that. It’s hard when our babies have to grow up and find their place in the world, and it’s hard as parents to walk that fine line between supporting and knowing it’s something that everyone goes through for themselves.

Throughout the day, I kept thinking of how that sweet lady made me feel. Her words grounded me. It was a moment of true authenticity, and I know it’ll stay with me. Everyone deserves to feel that grounding and pride in their work. I’m going to challenge myself and others to bring that grounding and pride to others that might not hear it. It’s more than a random text or comment. Even a handwritten note can seem like a note of obligation if you’re not careful with the intention behind it. What can we do to be intentional about the praise we give? What recognition provides value to the person receiving the praise? 

This isn’t the first time that someone has shared something complimentary. What made this different? The timing of it, coming on the heels of a rotten day? I thought about other times we’ve received praise or been made to feel good. I know for me — I have a board member who will send me cards. Christmas cards, get well cards. She’ll also send me a text on Mother’s Day and celebrate all the days in between. Another board member sent our office a Christmas card, and goodness, we got excited about that! We admired the Christmas photo of his dogs, and hung it right up in the front reception room. In our little office, we have a tendency to give each other presents. A sticker, grabbing lunch for each other, a graphic T-shirt. We pick up little things along our journeys to leave for the others. Last week, we walked into the conference room for a team meeting. The conference room is shared by other groups. Written on the whiteboard was, “The ladies of United Way are an asset to our community.” Heidi, Nikolle and I were so touched by that note left for us to find. 

Here’s my Live United challenge of the week. You know a nonprofit worker who might not be seen. We are tired. We are burned out. We are stretched to capacity and struggling to take a deep breath. It might be an executive director, a board member, a program worker. It might be a pastor, leading our faith-based communities while dealing with their own emotional whirlwinds. Think about who that is, and intentionally share something to lift them up. Think about what might work best. Often for our executive directors or program managers it might be a note that gets written to their board of directors, letting them know that you’re seeing the good work they’re doing, a letter to the editor at the Albert Lea Tribune or drop off some sweet treats. 

Here’s my one little caveat though. This column is written to the general public. If you’re in a position to do something about what makes their life challenging, make sure you’re not choosing a token thing to compensate real change, otherwise your gesture will backfire. If you’re reading this as a member of a board, or an employer or any other position of authority, take the time to ask what would make a difference in the day-to-day lives. For example, if my boss told me I would have to make do without a copier because of budget cuts, and then tried to celebrate staff with a pizza lunch, there would be some raised eyebrows. Initiate real change — and that takes consideration of what would make a difference. It might still be that recognition. Or it might be buying a new office chair because your program manager has one that is breaking down. Now go forth and make a difference — and tell the community you’re proud of them, and help them do the work, so they feel renewed and inspired. As always, I’m happy to brainstorm and give specific ideas. If you have someone in mind, and need my help to make it happen, such as an address or helping pass it on and make sure it gets to the right place — give me a call, and I will make it happen. 507-373-8670.

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