I’ll be the first to admit, I grew up in a fairly sheltered environment. I had the advantages of two loving parents who are still married to this day, I lived in a nice neighborhood in a small town in western North Carolina, and attend the “good” schools all my life. My family did everything possible for me, growing up, to make sure that I was well taken care of and that I never was in need of anything. Needless to say, when I moved away from home at age 18, the real world was a new awakening.
For the first time in my life, the world was unfiltered and no longer child-proof. I remember vividly, within days of arriving on campus at NC State University, while walking down Hillsborough Street, I encountered a homeless person for the first time in my life.
As time went on, I would gradually notice the struggles that others went through on a daily basis. Whether it was the homeless crowd on Hillsborough street or the hopeless faces at the bus stop each morning that I passed on my way into school. My immersion into this foreign world was tempered by the fact that I was still surrounded by like-minded individuals at school and in the dormitory. My “shelter” was still there.
It wasn’t until 10 years later that I began working at United Way of the Greater Triangle. I took the job after years of dealing with corporate web design clients and small businesses looking for an edge over their competitors on the web. I looked at the opportunity as not only a change of pace from what I had been doing, but also as a way to give back to my community. Little did I know, that I was in store for another epiphany about the community I had already been living in for almost 15 years.
Upon my start at United Way, one of my first big projects was to revamp the website content. While combing through the years of pages, I kept seeing statistics that made no sense to me: “1 in 4 people in the Triangle are helped by services from United Way, 559,825 individuals who were hungry or malnourished accessed the food they needed last year, 20,914 senior citizens maintained independent living in a safe home over the past twelve months,” and many more just like this. How could these numbers be right? I never knew there was such a need. Here in Raleigh/Durham? We’re constantly rated as one of the nation’s best areas in which to live, work, and play.
Totally amazed, I began to wonder. If United Way’s network was helping this many people year in and year out, imagine the big picture, with all of the other non-profits and charities in the Triangle doing their best work. The needs are obviously far greater than I could have ever imagined. Over the next two years, I quickly saw the “on the ground” work that our agencies were doing, and it turned on a switch somewhere deep inside me.
That switch has taken the filter of sheer ignorance off of my daily perception of the Triangle, and allowed me to really see why non-profits exist. Working here has changed me as a person, and has certainly instilled a new level of compassion and caring within me that I never knew I had. If you ever get the chance to work for or volunteer with a non-profit, even for the shortest amount of time, I would recommend it highly. It will, in fact, change your life.