By Nick Spencer, United Way of Broome County Board Member; Smith Brothers Insurance
Throughout 2019, I had the privilege and honor of participating in a variety of United Way of Broome County volunteer events. Day of Action, an event geared towards promoting summer reading and childhood literacy, particularly set itself apart.
Throughout the month of June, United Way of Broome County and its Community Partners held a county-wide new book drive. At a local bookstore, I looked for books I used to enjoy, or ones I would read to my niece, McKenna (which is something that brings me great joy). Yet, as I continued to research, it became apparent that receiving the newest, most popular children’s books is a luxury many of our community’s children don’t have. It was a striking reminder of the reality faced by many children in our community – where 23% live in poverty.
As we packed over 750 new books to be distributed to our youth, we discussed the impact the books would have on the child, the family, and the community. Nationwide, low-income families do not have age-appropriate children’s books in their homes, but for those of us who don’t live that day-to-day reality, it’s an experience that can seem remote. That is, until a real-life experience opens our eyes. I’m no stranger to volunteer involvement and their power to open people’s eyes to the needs of their community. Standing in the United Way Board Room, surrounded by hundreds of brand-new children’s book, I was reminded of the power of volunteerism, and the power a book can have on an individual.
That’s why I am incredibly proud of the efforts United Way of Broome County has taken to expand its volunteer offerings and implementing year-round civic engagement events, giving corporate groups and individual volunteers new opportunities to work within the community.
In its over 100-year history, United Way of Broome County has distinguished itself by providing an accessible way for countless people to contribute to the improvement of education, income, and health in Broome County. Yet philanthropy can mean different things to different people, so as we look to the future – to expanding United Way’s impact – we must also work to provide a home for those who want to go beyond payroll deductions and campaign contributions and work hands-on in on the community.
It’s not just individuals who seek these opportunities. Businesses are discovering the value of civic engagement in today’s workforce. Workers who participate in volunteer activities practice valuable skills and demonstrate improved job performance. Their companies report greater employee engagement, recruitment, and retention. As more millennials advance in their careers, the value of employee community engagement campaigns is likely to grow.
Of course, interests vary, and fortunately, United Way offers a diverse menu of volunteer opportunities – from MLK Day “day on” opportunities, meaningful projects that contribute to youth and childhood success, to even the largest volunteer event in Broome County – Day of Caring, conceived as a remembrance to those who lost their lives during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. I had the honor to participate as a volunteer in United Way’s Day of Caring 9/11 Flag Display, where 2,977 flags were displayed to honors the victims of 9/11, as well as the Day of Action Book Drive, providing books to hundreds of Broome County children, as well as the Winter Wonderland event at the Lee Barta Community Center.
As a commercial insurance agent, I recognize the professional advantages of investing in my community, but every volunteer experience I’ve taken part in has been incredibly rewarding on a personal level as well since it has brought me closer to the spirit and the people that make our community an amazing place to live in.
For United Way, the benefit of all this is obvious – community engagement feeds community impact. Broome County is full of caring, passionate and driven people.
Ensuring that they have the opportunity to channel their passion into action is a surefire way to get the needle moving on the issues that matter most to Broome County’s future. And that pays off in a big way – whether you’re an individual volunteer looking to make a difference in your community, a business owner investing in the workforce of tomorrow, or a child discovering a love of books for the very first time.
I am fortunate to have gotten involved through United Way of Broome County’s Emerging Leaders Society (ELS). I encourage you all to find your passion and get involved. If you are an early-mid career professional, interested in improving the lives of those in our community and getting involved, check out ELS and see what we are all about!