The United Way Campaign, an annual campaign that promotes involvement and volunteerism with the Middlesex United Way organization, kicked off on Oct. 3 and will be running until Oct. 31. The campaign will center around increasing student awareness of the volunteer and donation opportunities provided by United Way, and encourage students to get involved.
United Way supports and funds 46 different organizations operating within and around Middlesex County. Its central purpose is to support volunteer-based, non-profit organizations so they, in turn, can support their local areas. It incorporates four main areas of focus: education, income, health, and housing, and works with a range of organizations to fund services oriented towards these specific areas. In addition, United Way has continuous assessments of the organizations it supports, ensuring money from donations are used in the most effective ways possible.
Senior Associate Registrar Paul Turenne is the Campus Coordinator for the 2018 United Way Campaign, and he works with co-chairs Associate Dean for Student Academic Resources Laura Patey and Adjunct Professor of Spanish Octavio Flores. In addition to Turenne, Flores, and Patey, Department Coordinators also promote United Way donations and volunteerism within specific departments. Likewise, many individual faculty and staff are involved and regularly donate to or volunteer with United Way, while many other faculty and staff members work with a variety of other community outreach programs.
There is a multitude of organizations supported by United Way that have major ties to the University, according to Turenne.
“The Mayor’s Youth Cabinet came up with an idea to have a summer series of family movies for free on Foss Hill,” Turenne said. “So we now have Films on Foss, which is a free family event over the summer, and it takes place on campus, and is partly funded by the Middlesex United Way…. A Wesleyan alum created Oddfellow’s Playhouse, which is also supported by Middlesex United Way. A lot of people who work here, and our friends and families and neighbors, are helped in ways by United Way.”
In addition to these community programs, the United Way is involved in other facets of students’ day-to-day volunteerism. Likewise, Flores notes that organizations supported by United Way mix well with students’ university education.
“What I can see is that United Way compliments Wesleyan’s academic majors,” Flores explained. “We are always teaching our students to go beyond the classroom, and they are always very excited that they can make a difference. We go to the soup kitchen, we go to the food pantry, and also we send interpreters wherever the community needs, and most of these places are funded by the United Way.”
The University has had a long-standing relationship with Middlesex United Way. Since 2001, University employees have donated a total of 1.8 million dollars to United Way, and multiple employees are involved with the University’s Board of Directors. President Michael Roth ’78 was, at one time, the campaign chair for the county. Likewise, the campaign kick-off for 2018 was held in R.J. Julia.
“There’s a real sustained partnership between Wesleyan and the United Way,” Turenne explained. “Every year we try to learn a little bit from what we did last year and try to figure out what exactly our community would respond to, and how we message it and emphasize it.”
This year, the donation pledge form can be reached via WesPortal, rather than in print-form, which makes it more accessible for students and staff to donate. Payroll deduction is also a new option.
“That way, the bureaucracy of it doesn’t get in the way of everybody’s good intentions,” Turenne noted.
Within the next few weeks, there will be efforts via United Way to get students involved in the campaign outside of encouraging monetary donations. This year’s campaign will focus on increasing student awareness of the many facets of the campaign, both to encourage student volunteering, and also to increase student knowledge of the services provided via United Way that they themselves have access to. Upcoming information sessions will be occurring in Usdan to let students know what opportunities are available.
Flores explained that his involvement stemmed from an appreciation of United Way leadership, both on campus and off.
“Around seven years ago, a colleague approached me and said ‘I’m the United Way coordinator, but I can’t do it this semester, Can you do it for me this semester?’’ Flores said. “And ever since then, I do it every year. Because I do want to do it. I do want to be the person who encourages my colleagues to donate. I became a co-chair because when they invited me, I knew that Paul Turenne was a leader, and I trust his leadership…. And I also trust the United Way leaders—they are really compassionate and they really care about the community. So I didn’t have to think about it twice. I said, ‘With this kind of leadership, I’m in.’”
Patey, who serves on the Board of Gilead Community Services, a mental health organization funded by United Way, noted that her reasons for working with United Way were rooted in experiences.
“I have a long history of involvement in community-based services,” she wrote in an email to the Argus. “My wife and I are the very proud parents of two young men. Each of our sons came to our family through adoption and the community services that supported us through the process were incredibly valuable. As a family, we are committed to giving back—since we each recognize the gifts that we have been given. I spent many years providing support and education for people interested in adoption and foster care.”
Turenne echoed his commitment.
“This is something we’re all committed to, and we really want to be a part of something that’s more than, for me, helping you register for classes,” Turenne added.
Turenne and Flores both noted that within the organizations supported by United Way, there were some that they were particularly dedicated to.
“For me, the most important one is homelessness,” Flores said. “I know Middletown is really big on taking care of our homeless….I know that all the funding, all the money that we collect, is going to be helping United Way through all their groups. They have what they call the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. What they do is they find chronic homeless, meaning that they have been on the streets of Middletown for more than five years. They ask us to furnish a house, apartment, and we managed to have ready a house for Brian, a guy who has been on the streets of Middletown for 18 years. And now he has a place that he can call home.”
Turenne noted that the lasting legacy and effort of the University United Way Campaign is to strengthen the relationship between the University and the Middletown community.
“This really is an extension of our mission here at Wesleyan, to have an impact outside the classroom, outside the campus gates—figurative gates,” he explained. “We take a real pride in being a part of Middletown, and the stronger Wesleyan is, the stronger Middletown is, and the stronger Wesleyan will be. We all benefit.”
Flores noted that he felt that it was the University—and especially the students’ dedication to activism—that inspired him to get involved.
“I did not consider myself an activist before coming here. Wesleyan students made me an activist,” Flores said.
Turenne, too, noted how important United Way has been for him.
“The small part I’ve played has been really meaningful,” Turenne said.
Emmy Hughes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @emmyughes.