“Hitting them right in the feels.” While it’s not the most eloquent saying, I think about that quote several times a week. It was said back in July during our Community Engagement Fellows Orientation at United Way of the Greater Triangle. As a Community Engagement Fellow, I run workplace giving campaigns at about 40 of our corporate partners, presenting the work of United Way to employees in an informative and compelling way. That being said, this saying applies to my work just about every day, because our daily operations as Community Engagement Fellows are driven by the idea that impacting people emotionally helps translate into action.
Yet, not everyone can articulate an idea like Mad Men’s Don Draper. Not everyone has a storyteller’s voice like Morgan Freeman. Not everyone can move others to feel an emotional connection in a five-minute presentation. It is often more impactful if the audience can experience the material, rather than just hear about it.
Recently, we’ve developed an activity that allows employees at partner companies the opportunity to experience the needs in our community and understand who we are and what we do at United Way. The “Changemaker Challenge Experience” is a drop-in event, designed to reach employees on their own time, which is important at many of our larger partners. For example, we recently ran the event at First Citizens Data Center, which has an employee base of over 1,000 people.
On entering the experience, employees select one of three real-life family tracks based on the experiences of the Hughes, Martinez, and Wilson families, all of whom faced serious challenges in their day-to-day living. The employees walk in these families’ shoes for two activities before being debriefed by United Way staff about how our work is helping to address the difficult choices made by families in low income households.
One of the challenges requires employees to allocate a limited amount of groceries to certain days of the week in order to feed their family. At the end, United Way staff explain how our collaborative partners walk alongside these real-life families and help them find real solutions to the challenges they face every day.
Throughout the day at First Citizens, employees showed a wide range of reactions to the experience. Some came in fairly happy and upbeat, only to grow more serious as they continued through the activity. Others were able to use their own life experience to problem solve some of the challenges they faced.
One interaction I overheard stuck with me for a while after the event. An executive was explaining the event to one of her co-workers. She explained the experience was a bit of a downer. When I first heard that, I felt a little conflicted. Our goal is never to make people feel sad or negative about our work, so I didn’t like hearing that it was bringing people’s spirits down. However, at the same time I was glad, because the experience inspired an emotional response from employees and, I believe, helped them think a little differently about life experiences.
For many people in the Triangle, facing these challenges is reality, but it can often be out-of-sight, out-of-mind for so many of us. I can confidently say it was that way for me prior to working at United Way.
At the end of the day, First Citizens staff said they had a greater appreciation for the struggles of some of our neighbors, and that appreciation translated into action. The United Way Volunteer Committee at First Citizens excitedly announced they reached their campaign goal on the first day, in large part because of the Changemaker Challenge Experience. After encountering the many challenges that members of our community face daily, employees said they were grateful for what they had, and could share. I know I am!
– Jordy Prince, 2016 Community Engagement Fellow
For more information about how United Way of the Greater Triangle works in our community, visit http://bit.ly/UWGTdirection
To learn more about hosting a simulation, contact Natasha Wayne at UWGT, 919-463-1367.