It truly takes a village to LIVE UNITED

We often say at United Way that “Great things happen when we LIVE UNITED.” This month, I wanted to give a few examples of what that really means and why, for our community, it is an important concept.

This past month, we hosted our third annual “United We Sleep to end Hunger and Homelessness” event at Nashua Community College. Yes, it was a great fundraiser and, yes, it was a very impactful learning experience for all involved. However, more than that, it is worth considering what it takes from the community to pull together an event like this and, equally important, how the funds raised truly uplift the community.

For the first part, what it takes to pull off this type of event, I think people would be amazed to think about how many different moving parts there are for United We Sleep. There is the venue … we need a loud, visible, uncomfortable place to sleep. The front lawn of NCC is perfect because of its proximity to Amherst Street. Next, the event needs boxes, of course, if you are going to sleep in a box. We are eternally grateful to John Nolan from Able Moving and Storage for providing upward of 100 boxes for our participants to sleep in. John did this now for the second year in a row. We also are grateful to College Bound Movers for providing numerous boxes for us to use in marketing the event and collecting socks for the homeless. We needed help with promotion and could rely on our fantastic partners, The Telegraph and WSMN Broadcasting, to help promote and publicize the event. Then we needed some food for the event, and we are grateful to Aldi’s for the donations of basic supplies as well as to my wife, who made a humongous pot of soup for everybody to eat. To be effective, the event also needs presenters … and we were blessed to have presenters from AnneMarie House and Habitat for Humanity to tell their personal stories. Peggy Gilmour – one my personal local heroes – told the group why this subject is near and dear to her heart … and for the second time took up the call and slept overnight in her own box. We also were lucky to have conversation facilitators from Harbor Homes, Child and Family Services, NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Nashua Public Health and Nashua Public Welfare to share their expertise. Of course, you need participants to have an event, and this year we had more than 60 of them. Many represented organizations and businesses, including Enterprise Bank, Peoples United Bank, Triangle Credit Union, Bar Harbor Bank, Liberty Utilities, Etchstone Properties, Arlington Street Methodist Church, One Greater Nashua and others. And, of course, it takes donors. This year, more than 600 donors contributed more than $60,000 to the cause. I’m sure that I’ve left somebody off this list, and for that I apologize, but as you can see, the event is truly expansive and could not happen without so many great participants and supporters.

For the second part, what the funds raised do in our community, that is an interesting question. Our belief at United Way is that it takes MANY organizations, working in concert and collaborating, to truly make lasting change happen. I often tell community members that breaking the cycle of poverty is a cradle to grave, complete family approach that must consider health, education and financial stability to be effective. For example, when we think about the child helped in an after-school program like Girls Inc., Nashua PAL or the Boys & Girls Club, that child might also have a younger sibling who needs an early childhood program, like one of those provided by the Adult Learning Center or Southern New Hampshire Services. Also, they might have an older sibling who gets themselves into trouble and needs the support of an organization like the Youth Council. All these kids and their parents need access to health care, which is why we support the Medical Van at St. Joseph Hospital and dental care, like that provided by the Greater Nashua Dental Connection. After all, the No. 1 reason why a child is likely to miss a day of school is still for an untreated tooth ache. What happens if the family is homeless and needs a program to regain their financial stability? For that, we can turn to the Front Door Agency and AnneMarie House. Is there an older family member living in the house who has developmental disabilities such as Downs Syndrome or perhaps dementia? They can receive quality daytime care from the Gateways Adult Day Program while giving caregivers respite as well as the opportunity to care for their family needs. What happens if a child is sexually abused or a mother is physically abused? These events can alter a person’s trajectory for life and lead to poverty, mental illness and homelessness, so we have programs like the Child Advocacy Center and Bridges as strong community supports. In our community, we also have elderly who are shut in and without means, so we partner with St. Joseph’s Meals on Wheels to make sure that nutrition supports, and human connectedness are intact. And what happens at the end of a person’s life when it comes time to die with dignity and love? We have the Community Hospice House, but it’s expensive, so we provide the resources for people to use this resource when they are low income. Believe it or not, ALL of this is what I mean when I talk about the United Way and how we approach the full community. We also know that there is a need for young families to get a great start on life, so we host a community baby shower. Families need access to food, so we support community farming as well as providing food for pantries, especially in the summer when need soars. And we also care for low income, homebound seniors through our shoebox project and its focus on memory care. All these events require as many participants and contributors as our sleep out, so again, it truly takes a community effort. The proverbial village.

In the final analysis, we live in an amazing community. We are a community that recognizes the needs of all its residents and finds ways to pitch in to uplift all of us and create opportunities for us to live up to our full potential. For this reason, I am proud of our supporters and can see how great things really do happen, when we LIVE UNITED!

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.