I’ve been the CEO of the United Way of Western Connecticut for a little over two years now – still new enough for me that I learn something new everyday. I guess people are still learning about me as well because when I speak publicly I get a lot of inquires about my background.
You see, I spent more than 20 years working on Wall Street before coming to the United Way. Most of my friends and former colleagues are baffled by my decision (to put it mildly). For them (and for me before I left that world), success in life is measured by money – how much you make, how much you manage, etc. They feel a sense of pity for me; a sense that somehow the once high flying financial executive has fallen.
Yet, here is what I know – money and worldly possessions are ephemeral. Now I realize that I am not the first person to have this moment of epiphany. Most of the world’s major religions came to this conclusion thousands of years ago (okay, perhaps I’m a little slow on the uptake). However, in the last two years I’ve come to understand the idea in a more personal and direct way through my work.
Every day on this job I hear stories of remarkable generosity, tragedy and kindness and I am reminded that what I’m doing now is far more important to me than what I used to do.
I recently attended an event put on by the Center for Children’s Advocacy celebrating “Champions of Children” – organizations and people that care for and protect the lost or needy children in our community. There, I heard this story that explains better than I ever could why I do this work.
There was a young, low income, single mother with two kids. This young woman had no surrounding network of friends and family to support her (as most of us do) and was struggling with issues of mental illness. One day, her world became too overwhelming and she needed hospitalization. With no where else to turn, she left her two children with a wonderful and caring non-profit organization called Kids in Crisis whose mission is to assist needy and often voiceless children and teens in our community. In addition to caring for her kids, the organization provided a network of support for the mom to use when she returned from the hospital.
Out of the hospital and on her two feet, the mother returned to pick up her kids and sent a simple note of thanks to the workers at the organization.
“When I couldn’t be there for my kids, you were. Thank you.”
What more is there to say? What would have happened to those children without organizations like this in our community? I am proud to say that the volunteers who make the funding decisions for the United Way have long funded organizations like this, because they understand the power of their missions.
Thank God that there are organizations and caring people throughout our community who make it their mission to give voices to the voiceless, lift up the fallen, clothe and feed the needy and make sure that no human being ever falls through the cracks of our society.
Without dedicated people and organizations like this, we would be a lesser society.
That is why I’m on Main Street and not Wall Street….. And I couldn’t be happier.