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Sneakers or Heels?

“I believe we can end childhood hunger. I believe we can end homelessness.”

I say this every day as I present to companies as a Community Engagement Fellow with United Way of the Greater Triangle. And honestly, I really do believe that. We live in such an “informed society.” With the touch of our finger we can read up on almost any world issue. So, when I talk about issues like hunger, homelessness, and poverty, no one is shocked and no one gasps – we all know they exist – though they may be “invisible” to some. But solving them all together? Now, that’s shock worthy.

I grew up as an activist, always involved at the grassroots level—attending protests and candlelight vigils as a kid. I’ve gone door-to-door raising money and collecting signatures as an advocate for social justice in our community. Because of this, I was aware early on of the issues in our community and the determination it takes to solve them. But when I started as a Fellow at United Way, I was about to experience advocacy in a whole new light – and it involved corporate America. I was used to putting on my sneakers and hitting the pavement, but this time I put on heels and a blazer as I walked into offices.

At first I wasn’t sure how to act. How could I speak about what’s really going on in our community in a way that didn’t sugar coat anything or gloss over reality? I followed my mother’s advice to share what I knew, speak poignantly and state the facts. I found people truly cared. In fact, I found a lot people are looking for an opportunity to get involved, and just needed to be asked.

I’ve spoken with groups of anywhere from 10 to 100 people. I’ve been in rooms with all women, and have also been the only woman in the room. At the end of each presentation, people came up to share their stories with me.

This one really stuck with me:

“We didn’t have any books in my house growing up. I used to go to the book store after school just to read. Once I found one I liked I’d go there every day until I finished it. I’d even hide it in a secret spot so no one would take it.”– Corporate Partner Employee

It’s been an amazing opportunity to talk with people who work in all different industries in the Triangle and have passionate conversations about what’s going on and how to get involved.

Everyone has a story.

Everyone can connect with the issues in our community in their own unique way – whether wearing sneakers or a suit and tie.

At United Way we believe in collective impact and collaborative partnerships engaging community members with unique skill sets and experiences to work together to spark transformative change and solve community issues. So, whether I’m wearing sneakers or heels, I can truly say with confidence that United Way’s collaborative approach is why “I believe we can end child hunger. I believe we can end homelessness.”

– Jillian Riley, 2016 Community Engagement Fellow