The Power of Connected Communities

It’s an inspiring feeling to walk into a room of people who are connected- not just by their relationships or networks, but by their desire to help others. That’s exactly the kind of energy that was felt at United Way’s annual Red Tie Gala on Thursday, February 27.

The Edmonton Expo Centre Ballroom at Northlands was alive with the buzz of our collective achievements and recognition. Uplifting music played and confetti cannons heralded the largest fundraising achievement ever for our United Way: $23.3 million. But more importantly, amidst our own diversity and differences, there was an energy that can only be found in communities that are connected and ready to power ahead for the same cause. In this case, our cause is to end poverty in the Alberta Capital Region.

When I think back to September, it really does feel like such a short time ago that we gathered as a community for the Campaign Kick-off. At that event, we were inspired by our key-note speaker, The Maestro, Mr. Boris Brott, to step up and be part of the show.

As one of Canada’s most celebrated conductors, he speaks to groups about working together to achieve their collective goals. In his address, he provided everyone in the audience with a tone bar – which are single notes of a xylophone - and a small mallet. We all had a note to play and, together, we were the orchestra, following his lead.

We knew that we each had a special part to play – and that all of us, together, playing our part, made something amazing. We didn’t have to know one another – we didn’t need to sit by one another – we didn’t even need to have a musical bone in our bodies. We just needed to be inspired by something greater than ourselves – and to believe that we are all connected – in some way or another.

Just like a musician in an orchestra, each of us has a part to play in this community. We don’t have to know one another – we don’t have to live next door or even in the same neighbourhood. We just need to believe that together, we each hold an important role to break the cycle of poverty.

Poverty is a thief – it steals your dignity, independence, pride and hope for success. And it can affect any of us at any time – all it takes is one misfortune – one unforeseen circumstance.

No one should have to suffer the embarrassment and vulnerability that poverty brings. Not families. Not individuals. And especially, not children.

Nearly a year ago, United Way initiated some very big plans with a very ambitious goal. On June 18, United Way hammered a public stake in the ground and declared, with our 60 partners across all sectors and, most importantly, all of you, that together we would create pathways out of poverty for our most vulnerable.

Of course we all know it won’t happen overnight. However, at United Way we believe this is a goal we can achieve.

And it’s clear, after all that has been demonstrated, that this community also believes in this ambitious goal.

I was honoured to serve as the 2013 Campaign Chair, and as I reflect back on all the tremendous experiences, I have to say, that the word “humbled” doesn’t really cut it. More accurately, I am moved by the power and collective spirit that exists in this community. You are all the true champions of change.

At the beginning of the campaign, United Way appealed to this community to join us in our work because we know that, together, we have strength and skill. Together, we can make change happen.

I’m happy to say, that even in that short period of time together, we have made incredible change possible. Our campaign achievement is the largest in the history of this United Way - $23.3 million – and it’s already being invested where it will have the most impact. Here’s a little glimpse of what your support in 2013 is already doing in our community:

  • Your contributions and hard work during this campaign helped provide nearly 400,000 nutritious lunches on school days to more than 2,000 children. Educators reported that children were more attentive in class and participated more fully – because they were able to focus on their school work and not their hunger.
  • Nearly 5,000 children and youth in our region were provided with safe places to participate in productive programs and healthy, mentoring relationships. This support helped kids resist situations that lead to trouble and inspired them to keep working hard, stay in school, get that grade 12 diploma and maybe even go on to post-secondary.
  • Already, you have made it possible for more than 800 pre-school children and their families to take part in programs that will help them get ready for school and shape their lives for success.
  • This past year, emergency funding was provided when Bissell Centre’s Thrift Shoppe was extensively damaged by fire on September 2, 2013. This funding helped them move to a temporary location effectively keeping this community resource operating for the nearly 6,000 people who shop there each month.

The collective efforts and contributions to the 2013 United Way campaign are already making a difference for so many. And this is what is so impressive and inspiring to me: the dedication of so many people working to help others.

Most likely, we may never have the chance to hear the grateful words of thanks from the people we have helped, the lives we have touched and even lives that have been saved. But I know that our impact is real and meaningful.

This has been a very memorable year for me and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for your support, commitment and generosity to your community.

I plan to remain very involved with United Way, as an advocate and a supporter; this is a cause that I strongly believe in. However, my role as 2013 United Way Campaign Chair has come to a close and I’m pleased to announce that Ruth Kelly, President and CEO of Venture Publishing, will take over as 2014 Campaign Chair.

Ruth – I wish you all the best in this exciting and inspiring venture into these very well-connected communities.