The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

December 10, 2012

Gary Duncan: Invest in region’s future by choosing to live united

At almost every turn, we hear about economic problems that will affect our community and our country.

The “fiscal cliff,” $16 trillion in national debt, a high unemployment rate and other factors are in our face every day. If we are paying attention, it seems clear that the current economic conditions could cause the flow of federal funds coming into our area to diminish.

How will we react? How will we cope? How will we continue to have a community that is strong and caring? In Southwest Missouri, we know how: Teamwork.

We see it all the time on the field, in the office and in our neighborhoods. Success is all about teamwork. More can be achieved by a group working together than could ever be accomplished by any one individual working alone.

So here is my question for you: Are you on the team?

Each year the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas, as well as other United Ways across our state and country, conducts fundraising campaigns. The proceeds support local nonprofit organizations that provide programs and services to individuals and families faced with crises in Jasper, Newton, Cherokee and Crawford counties.

During the past year, more than 121,000 individuals in our area received assistance from one of 35 partner agencies supported by United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.

Here is where the teamwork comes in: United Way partner agencies work together to provide a variety of services to individuals in need. But one agency cannot do it all, so clients are referred to other agencies for assistance. A shelter program refers a client to a medical clinic for care. That same client may then be referred to a counseling program or for emergency financial aid. Working together means no one agency needs to do it all, but each one does its part.

That’s the defense, and it makes this community a better place to live and work. We provide the offense in the form of contributions, volunteer time, in-kind donations, etc. And, like any good team, it all works smoothly until someone “drops the ball.”

As a community member, the most rewarding part of my work is coming in contact with individuals who understand that being part of a community is to get involved. Once fully informed, most everyone I know will spring into action the best they can.

On the other hand, the most discouraging part of my work is hearing people say “that’s not my problem,” or “I can’t do anything to help.” The dollar in your pocket won’t even buy a bottle of soda, but in the hands of a social service director, that dollar turns into more than $20 worth of local services. That is quite a return on your investment.

Being part of the community team means everyone is involved at a level that fits their lifestyle and budget — everyone does something. United Way steps in to provide a great way to join and be part of the community’s team. Giving through United Way gives the donor an opportunity to support multiple programs, multiple individuals and multiple issues impacting the community all at the same time.

This ability to solve complex issues with other community partners is unique. They mobilize volunteers and convene partner agencies, corporations, community leaders and policymakers to make broad, systemic changes like no other organization can on its own. Programs supported through the United Way help people in crisis get back on their feet, prevent future problems and build a stronger community for all of us.

We all have a vested interest in the financial, physical and mental health of our community. Whether you are a concerned individual, employee of a local company, an organization that could provide corporate support or a retired citizen who just wants to help, we need you on the team. It doesn’t take a lot, and it’s certainly not hard. All it takes is a commitment and the willingness to do the right thing.

As you make decisions in the coming weeks about your family and personal future, keep in mind that giving through the United Way is the most effective way to help our whole community.

So, join our community team and live united by calling our local United Way office and pledging your contribution. The result will be a better community that continues to be a great place to live and work — a place you can be proud to call home.

More information on how to support the community and agencies funded through United Way can be found at unitedwayswmosek.org or by calling 417-624-0153.

Gary Duncan is the recently retired president and chief executive officer of Freeman Health System. He lives in Joplin.

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