Julie DeSeyn is vice president of community impact for the United Way of Southwestern Pa. She oversees a $14.5 million budget, all community impact grant-making and initiatives, United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline and a team of more than 20 people who work to implement preventive strategies and find long-term solutions to make the most vulnerable people in our community stronger.
Has the United Way’s mission changed over the years? United Way has always been about bringing leaders and community members together to address vital human services needs. We work with community leaders to identify critical needs and develop strategies to help solve them. We mobilize thousands of volunteers and leverage the donations of tens of thousands of individuals to meet immediate needs and to solve complicated systems-level problems as well. So, while the way that we do business is constantly evolving, our focus on improving the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors remains a constant.
Are there hands-on ways for volunteers to get involved? Absolutely! Our United Way engages nearly 12,000 volunteers every year. Individuals, employee groups and families can get involved with short-term activities such as food and diaper drives, helping young people with disabilities brush up on interview skills, and repairing playgrounds. Longer term commitments include mentoring middle school students, helping seniors with everyday tasks so they can live independently longer, and helping low-income families prepare their income tax returns to make sure they access all of the tax credits that they’ve earned. For more information you can visit our website at uwswpa.org/be-a-volunteer.
Why should people give to the United way? Whatever the economic climate, there are always people struggling to make ends meet, to live with independence and dignity and to overcome barriers to success. We can all play a role in helping our neighbors. When the most vulnerable of us are stronger, the entire community benefits. Donations not only help us meet people’s immediate and urgent needs but also improve systems and policies to make long-term change. Pittsburgh is such a generous community. It always amazes me to see how many people give their time and treasure.
What is one thing people might not know about the United Way? United Way is not just a funder. While we do invest millions every year—raised from more than 60,000 of us here in southwestern Pennsylvania—to support critical human service agencies, we also mobilize corporate and community leaders to commit their time, their thinking, and their passion to tackle complicated community problems. There are many outstanding nonprofit agencies in our community. We support strong collaborations among these agencies to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, to pilot innovative programs that can grow to serve a broad population, and to maintain a positive and prevention-oriented focus. Together, we drive change.