Alumna Christy Bacik wants you to be able to connect the dots – with a little help from her team.
“For a long time, the United Way was just viewed as a fundraising organization – a giant thermometer downtown,” explained Bacik, BA’92 (Political Science). “We didn’t tell enough stories about the impact the money had. We talk about that now. We talk about how we are building a strong, vibrant community and what that means.
“For people to be able to say, ‘Yes, I donated something through a workplace campaign and here is where it goes,’ really connects the dots.”
Bacik, Managing Director of Freedom 55 Financial, was tapped this week as Chair and Chief ChangeMaker for the 2019 United Way Elgin Middlesex campaign. It is a challenge for which, she said, she has been preparing her whole life.
Her introduction to volunteering came as a young girl when her mom, Judy Walsh, was part of the United Way board in London. Exposed to numerous events and community initiatives, it was natural for her to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“Volunteerism builds a skill set – especially when you’re in leadership. You are bringing together a collective of people – people who do not get paid, people who have different skill strengths – and you have to be the one to say, ‘Here’s the goal, here’s the vision,’ and then get that engagement quickly.”
Today, heading up such a major campaign is nothing new for the St. Thomas native. She started her career with Great West Life in Windsor where she led that city’s United Way campaign in 2009.
Upon moving to London a decade ago, she found herself immersed in the fundraising culture once again, joining the allocations committee for United Way and becoming her company’s workplace campaign leader.
“What a great way to re-learn my community than to go back to United Way to understand our partner agencies and what they’re doing in the community, what sort of funding they need, what sort of volunteers they need,” Bacik said. “You think of poverty or homelessness as priorities – and these are critical issues – but since merging with the Elgin County campaign, there are different needs in different communities.”
In 2017, the London and Middlesex United Way and its Elgin-St. Thomas counterpart merged operations.
“Consistent across United Way organizations are phenomenal staffs, folks who are really engaged, who know their communities well,” said Bacik, who also volunteers at St. Joseph’s Hospice in London, a partner agency of United Way. “I care deeply about this community. I believe United Way is the best way to have the most impact locally. That will never change.”
United Way Elgin Middlesex funds 56 partner agencies and 96 programs focusing on poverty, mental health and beginnings and transitions (children and immigrants). Funds are primarily raised through the annual community campaign, which includes donations from company payrolls, corporations and individuals.
These funds are then allocated throughout the community, including the more than 4,000 households that access basic needs supports such as food, clothing and health vouchers; 10,000 children who take advantage of United Way free or low-cost summer camps and after-school programs; and 7,000 people who receive individual counselling or group workshops to address mental-health concerns.
“There are so many ways United Way impacts our community. What people may not realize is what’s raised locally stays locally,” Bacik said. “There are so many funded partner agencies that support our friends, neighbours, colleagues and families in our community who, without that support, would be left to their own devices.”
While fundraising is key, so too is educating Londoners on the positive differences in people’s lives United Way makes in the community. Having partner agencies and their users share personal stories puts a face on the campaign, Bacik said.
Bacik also knows first-hand how important Western has been to the campaign over the years.
With the $611,866 raised last year, the university has now contributed more than $7 million to the overall effort in the last nine years alone. The university has consistently been one of the largest single donors and the largest employee-only donor to the overall campaign.
“Western is such a strong partner. In its students, we see young people wanting to make that social and corporate responsibility connection to their communities very quickly,” Bacik said. “We think anybody can be a ChangeMaker. Everyone should want that.”