BY Sarah Williams – Community Engagement Fellow
One of my favorite books of all time is Milton Mayeroff’s “On Caring” where he says that in order to care, one must KNOW and GROW the person, idea, or thing that one cares about. This is a framework I’ve adopted for my life, work, and community involvement. I believe that in order to care, we must know and grow the people, work, and community we are involved in. That is why I was drawn to the Community Engagement Fellow position. As a newbie to North Carolina (I moved in May after finishing grad school), I knew this position would give me a chance to learn the area and make an impact – to know and grow the triangle.
So far in my time at United Way, I’ve been deeply saddened and surprised but also excited and encouraged. First, I was saddened and surprised to learn about all the issues that are happening in this amazing place. My husband and I moved here excited to live in the area that is ranked #1 for young professionals, #4 happiest in the world and a place with so many fun things to do and places to see. However, I’ve learned at UW about how this same area has 2,000 homeless people every single night, the poverty rate has increased nearly 100% since the year 2000, and there are 100,000 children hungry every single day… all in this community with all of its growth, innovation and prosperity.
While those are heavy and sad stats, I ultimately feel excited and encouraged because I’ve been able to be a part – at least in a small way – of what the UW is doing to address these issues. My degree was in Community Development and Action so I studied community, collaboration and collective impact in graduate school. I learned that we truly are better together, stronger than the sum of our parts when we come alongside of one another to work on issues and that is what United Way of the Greater Triangle is doing. I learned about how this UW is 1 of 5 UWs trying this collaborative approach – out of roughly 1,300 UWs in the country. It is exciting to be a part of an organization boldly trying a new approach to be better and make a stronger impact toward more transformative change for these issues in our community. I am so energized by their new approach and grateful to be able to see all these ideas that I studied in grad school being lived out.
I’ve also been excited to work with so many great people. The other fellows have become fast friends and we have enjoyed getting to know one another. It is such a neat program because it pulls people together from all walks of life but who are united in our desire to help our community. I’ve had the chance to get to know people with such interesting backgrounds – a former teacher, someone who worked with food-insecurity, a former YMCA staff member, a blueberry farmer and luxury goods marketing professional, a recent political science graduate. This team of fellows is proof to me of the better together, collaborative approach. We all have different strengths, knowledge, and abilities that we bring to the table.
I’m looking forward to working alongside of them and the other UW staff as we attempt to better know and grow our triangle community. I know that this position will help me in the future because it has already allowed me to meet these great people (and I know I will have the chance to meet more!) and it has allowed me to learn so much about the area and the issues but also the opportunities for improvement that we have. Further, this job has allowed me to grow myself through wonderful trainings, a chance to learn new skills, and the opportunity to participate in meaningful work that will help UW and our community. I’m looking forward to the next few months as I continue this Community Engagement Fellowship!