Live United: What can you dream about, reimagine for our community?

Published 8:45 pm Friday, July 1, 2022

Live United by Erin Haag

The word of the day is “reimagine.” 

In this week’s edition, there is what I’m sure is a fantastic article written about the Welcome Pantry at the Armory, highlighting the work that Nikolle and Heidi have been passionate about and focused on for several months now. I’m anxious to read it — I have to tell you that as I listened to both of my team members be interviewed and share their passion for food insecurity — I definitely had tears in my eyes. Two years of hard work has led us to this opening of the Welcome Pantry. It’s not done yet. July 7 marks a big day for us, but it’s just another step on the journey for United Way. So now what?

Erin Haag

Now, we figure out where we’re going next. We have ideas of course — not just mine, but the ideas of Nikolle and Heidi, of our board members, of our program directors, of our community members that chat with me in random places. I just got out of a meeting where I was asked, “who’s your target audience?” The easy answer is “Freeborn County.” That’s true of course — but not entirely. I think about the motto of Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS): Better moms make a better world. That’s often what we try for — when we live united, when we help others, we all do better as a community, and that ripple effect goes out. 

When we drill down to it though — who needs the help? In this particular meeting, I explained our co-design process for food shelves. For this next particular category I’m considering, I wondered if it would be best to have a co-design process for that. Let’s call the category Teapot Designing, just to be fun and silly so I can share without oversharing. The meeting was a one-on-one conversation with an expert in this field. He offered models of solutions that he’s seen implemented in other counties, in other states. He has the advantage of knowing the other programs very well, and led me down a path of things to consider, questions to ask and challenged me to identify the outcomes. He felt that this field changes so very quickly, it would be best to select one micro aspect of the community issue and work to solve that.

Teapot Designing is a problem that needs a community wide solution. There are current programs addressing it, but it’s been a struggle to clearly articulate the outcomes and identify the gap. There’s a lot of variables with it, and a lot of needs. Therein lies my dilemma. If I bring this to the board of directors, what role should we play? Do we play the role of convener, supporting others in the research and development of strategies, and ask partner programs to execute it? That’s what our goal was with the food pantry — and look where we are now. Or do we execute it ourselves, working collaboratively with other programs doing the same work, focusing on the gaps in services? 

I’m left with some questions to answer for myself — questions to bring to my team members and questions to bring to the board of directors. Ultimately, the board of directors makes the final decisions, but it’s my job to bring them things to consider. We’re not going to solve the whole program of Teapot Design. Can we solve the problem of glass teapots? (Fun fact — according to the Art of Tea, there are four different types of teapots: Yixing, glass, ceramic and cast iron.) 

Glass teapots are fragile, but bring so much to the table. By bringing a different perspective to the world of tea we are enriched and enhanced. Within these glass teapots there is an inherent fragility, as it’s prone to breakage. United Way — or any other organization — cannot stop glass from breaking, but we can work to provide support and care and ultimately make it stronger. 

My word of the day is reimagine. Can we reimagine our community with glass teapots that have the care and handling their beauty deserves? Are there ways to restructure our existing programs to expand capacity and have a greater impact? If there’s ever a topic you’d like to dream about and reimagine, give me call at 507-373-8670. I’ll buy you a cup of tea and we can dream a little bit together. It might take a couple of years, but I promise that our work is having an impact — and we’ll see that live and in action next Thursday. In the meantime, thank you for your support in living United and have a safe and happy holiday weekend. Yes, I’ll eventually tell you what Teapot Design really is all about. 

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