United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region


Tag: United Way

Staff Leaders Conference

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Posted on behalf of Rick Chambers

 I want to share my perspective on the recent United Way Worldwide Staff Leadership Conference in Indianapolis. And I’ll start by pointing to the stars.

There’s an incredible episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine titled “The Visitor”—don’t watch it without tissues nearby; you’ve been warned! The main character, Ben Sisko, counsels his aspiring-writer son, Jake, to find a balance between his writing and reality:

“I’m no writer, but if I were, it seems to me I’d want to poke my head up every once in awhile and take a look around, see what’s going on. It’s life, Jake! You can miss it if you don’t open your eyes.”

That quote neatly sums up the value of the Staff Leadership Conference. It was an opportunity to poke our heads up from the day-to-day work of United Way—as valuable as that work is!—and consider the greater impact of our collective efforts:

Children learning to read and reading to learn.

Families achieving financial stability.

Communities with access to quality health care.

And on and on….

True, SLC spent plenty of time on the details of fundraising, relationship building and broad-based partnerships. But it was the stories that stood out, whether it was the familiar tale of Verona Elementary (adroitly delivered by Jennifer Nottingham) or the advances in collective impact happening in places like Salt Lake City and Kansas City.

For me, that was the takeaway. The work that each of you does every day goes far beyond the work itself. You are writing a powerful story! You are changing lives!

Attending SLC with the singular goal of learning new ways to work is a bit like reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes just to find out how the Brits spell words. There’s some value in that, but it misses a much bigger and meaningful picture.

During one of the general sessions, Principal Salome Thomas-El, author of I Choose To Stay, quoted Maya Angelou: “People don’t remember what you do. People don’t remember what you say. But people will remember how you made them feel.” What sets United Way apart is that it covers all three of those metrics—and leaves our community forever remembering how you changed the story.

And that really is life!

Motivating Monday: Ernest Lanier, A Personal Passion for Community

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Story provided by Kathy Jessup

There were a handful of times during Ernest Lanier’s life when someone he barely knew offered a piece of advice or a modicum of encouragement that propelled him forward.

Now Borgess Health’s chief diversity officer pays those examples forward—mentoring young people, working on projects for a variety of community organizations and spreading the mission of United Way.

One of 14 siblings who spent their childhoods raising and harvesting crops, Lanier said his clothing came from Salvation Army, and a college education was little more than a dream for someone like him.

Now 62, Lanier has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s in public administration, both earned after the Kalamazoo man began taking college classes at age 30.

“As I reflect back on my life, I can think of four or five times when someone took the time to help me find my way,” he recalled.  “As a kid growing up, I got some important support from people I didn’t even know.  That’s why I think United Way’s programs are so important today.  You don’t forget where you come from.”

Lanier is considered among the Greater Kalamazoo United Way’s most persuasive advocates.  Three times he’s been “on loan” from Borgess, lobbying new companies to join the community giving program and helping United Way maximize collaboration and diversity.

The Kalamazoo man mixes stories of his own meager beginnings with examples of how United Way has made a critical difference in the lives of local individuals when he visits prospective, new contributors.  Lanier’s stories brought a secretary to tears during a visit to one company and prompted two-thirds of the employees to become first-time donors.

Today, that company’s CEO not only matches his employees’ United Way contributions.  He devotes his own volunteer hours to community projects, all because Lanier’s “giving back” message.

“I consider I’ve been successful when I can help someone else succeed,” Lanier said.  “I’m proof you don’t have to be some high-level, wealthy person who went to private schools to be able to serve the community.  All you need is the passion in your heart.”