(EDITOR'S NOTE: Lycoming County United Way is proud to serve the community we call home. Through this column, which will be published on the third Sunday of each month, the organization wishes to bring to light the many definitions of the word "community."
True story. The year was 1887. Two ministers, a priest and a rabbi saw that working separately to make changes in their community was working against them. They founded the Charity Organizations Society, which conducted a single fundraising campaign for 22 agencies.
Sound familiar? Our local United Way, serving the community since its inception in 1922 as the Williamsport Welfare Corp., Lycoming United Fund, Lycoming United Way and now as the Lycoming County United Way, believes that mobilizing resources can help improve lives. But we cannot go it alone.
Did you see the homeless gentleman on the corner of the city street this morning, asking for something hot to drink? Or did you notice the new mother struggling to find work after dropping out of school at the beginning of her pregnancy, feverishly filling out applications as you picked up your morning cup of coffee? At the grocery store this morning, I overheard one couple discussing their young son's autistic behavior and their struggle to find someone to help.
As much as we hate to admit it, struggling individuals exist in every community. Community, by definition, is a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. But does that really get to the heart of what a community can do when its members come together?
According to the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Strive, a nonprofit subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks, is on to something in Cincinnati. Local leaders are coming together to tackle the student achievement crisis and improve education. This core group of community leaders "abandoned their individual agendas in favor of a collective approach to improving student achievement."
The idea of collective impact is changing communities across the country. The approach unites individuals from different affiliations to solve a specific social problem.
Lycoming County United Way is proud to work with volunteers from all walks of life. Traditional and non-traditional, young and old, black and white - community impact sees no boundaries.
Providing funding each year in support of more than 35 programs in the county, United Way sees, first-hand, the needs of individuals in the community. When we visit program providers to see the growth of a child involved with the local autism program at the Children's Development Center, and we witness the disabled individuals making it to work each day to be a part of Hope Enterprise's workforce, the word community takes on a whole new meaning.
Our community is diverse, but hard times do not discriminate. Your neighbor, Melissa, was given hope for a bright future when she received her GED through the Lycoming County Library System's Learning Center. Bob, a local senior, got back on his feet after a divorce and retirement left him alone and depressed thanks to the senior program at the River Valley Regional YMCA, Williamsport branch. And that young mother you saw? She is well on her way to earning a degree from the local college and now has everything her baby will need to be raised in a safe, healthy environment, thanks to Nurse Family Partnership.
These successes, however, couldn't happen without the support of the members of this community we call home. Community is not just a place in which we live, nor is it just sharing a common interest. No, in fact, it couldn't be further from the truth.
Community is the help we get when we are hungry, the hand that reaches out to help us off the ground and the warm blanket offered on a cold winter's night. But more importantly, it is the confidence that someone, not that far away, is looking out.
Lycoming County United Way is on a mission to improve lives, but that can't happen without a willingness to change. Those who join forces with the United Way know that what they have to offer is nothing in comparison to what is received when they look into the eyes of the person passing on the street.
For more information, visit lcuw.org or call 570-323-9448.
Wertz is the Lycoming County United Way director of resource development and communications.