Sponsored employee finds home in United Way role

Paul Mayne // Western News

Research ethics officer Grace Kelly said being this year’s Western United Way sponsored employee has been an amazing experience. “It’s exactly where I’m supposed to be right now,” she said. Kelly will help launch the university campaign at noon Monday, Oct. 24, at the McKellar Room, University Community Centre 290.

She has planted gardens, painted lines in parking lots and swept out horse barns – all in the name of helping United Way of London & Middlesex. Now, Grace Kelly is trying something new.

“It’s been the best experience of my life,” said Kelly, at the midway point of her four-month secondment as Western’s United Way sponsored employee. “I was told by our previous sponsored employee that I’d laugh and cry as I began meeting so many wonderful people. I said, ‘I won’t laugh or cry in front of them.’ Then you begin to hear the stories and it is just so emotional. Even talking about it now I get emotional.”

Kelly has been involved with United Way pretty much since she began at Western a decade ago. She was initially hesitant about applying for the sponsored employee post, concerned she did not know enough about the non-profit sector. However, a new understanding of the community has come quickly for the Research Western ethics officer.

“There is so much out there you don’t understand is happening in our community. There has not been a single day where I have not laughed and cried. Even the tough guys are crying,” Kelly said. “I’ve had such an amazing time with this. I feel it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.”

Formerly known as the Loaned Representative Program, the United Way Sponsored Employee Program is a 16-week, full-time position that starts at the end of August and runs through the campaign’s close. Thirteen institutions from across the region – like 3M Canada, the City of London and McCormick Canada, among others – participate by seconding an employee or providing sponsorship. A seconded employee’s salary and benefits continue to be paid by their employer; day-to-day management is the responsibility of United Way.

“This opportunity serves the community by providing additional resources to United Way to support the fall campaign and provides a career development opportunity for a Western employee to develop their skills and be part of a short-term community project,” said Jane O’Brien, Associate Vice-President (Human Resources). “As a proud member of this community, Western recognizes the important work of United Way and we are always excited to see our people as a part of this effort to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Last month, United Way of London & Middlesex announced a campaign goal of $9.17 million. Last year, United Way eclipsed its goal of $9.1 million by raising $9.113 million.

Western will announce its 2016 United Way campaign goal on Monday. Last year, the university campaign raised $717,858, bringing the university community’s total contribution since its first organized campaigns – dating back to the 1990s – to nearly $11 million.

Being able to see United Way “from the other side,” Kelly has gained a greater appreciation of the organization’s campaign.

“I’m always so amazed by how many different agencies United Way has a hand in,” she said. “For me, that is huge. My eyes have just been opened so wide to all the wonderful things United Way is doing in the community.”

With the chance to visit such community organizations as My Sister’s Place, Changing Ways and Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre, Kelly said each day provides more first-hand stories confirming the transformation United Way brings to the community.

“I met a number of people who have benefited from United Way which, in fact, actually changed my life immensely just hearing about their hardships and how United Way turned things around for them,” Kelly said.

United Way is focused on three areas – mental health, poverty and beginnings/transitions – that touch nearly everyone’s life in one way or another. Kelly said it is safe to say you know – or you are – someone who has benefited from United Way services at some point.

“There are a lot of people that think ‘this will never happen to me,’ but in a blink of an eye your life can change and you can easily find yourself needing these services,” she said. “It’s not just the people we see on the street asking for change – it could be our neighbours, it could be you, it could be me. At any point, we may need to access these services, which is why it’s so important to help United Way toward their goal.”

Preparing to launch Western’s campaign next week, Kelly admits to nerves as she prepares for the university’s largest community fundraiser. However, those anxieties are lessened by the fact she has so many people in her corner.

“There are dozens of campaign champions in the faculties and departments and thousands of volunteers on campus,” Kelly said. “When I look at it that way, I know I’m not alone. I’m enjoying knowing we’re all in this together to make lasting change in our community.”

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Join the fun as Western announces its 2016 United Way campaign goal at noon Monday, Oct. 24, in the McKellar Room, University Community Centre 290. Last year, the university raised $717,858, bringing its total contributions – dating back to the 1990s – to nearly $11 million. Visit unitedway.uwo.ca for details.