by Jon Persson
There are volunteers from all walks of life at the fall United Way campaign kickoff, but the message of the day is clear: “Live United.” This theme of unity has been the focus of this Southeastern Connecticut organization throughout the years, a call to bring many hands together to bring relief to the many who are in need.
The September 18 gathering, held in the early morning under a clear and cool sky, begins with a hot breakfast served cafeteria style in a tent at the Gales Ferry United Way facility. Later there will be work to do, and feeding people is a great part of what the United Way does. Before the work begins, there are brief speeches by the leaders of the organization and its agencies, who praise the contributions of the legion of volunteers present, and those who are already out at work thoughout Southeastern Connecticut.
Brian Orenstein, CEO of Charter Oak Federal Credit Union who himself volunteers on the United Way Campaign Cabinet, notes that the organization “feeds 20,000 people in New London County each month,” adding that “22,000 find help through the 211” phone service. He emphasizes that the United Way is “a community of people, not bricks and mortar. We are a community of people that take care of each other and strengthen each other.” He asks the assembled volunteers to live by the creed and question, “What have I seen that needs to change, and what am I going to do about it?”
Seated to the right of the speakers is Gemma Moran, now 89 years old. It is the food center bearing her name that supplies the basis of meals for 20,000 New London county people each month.
The 2012 United Way Campaign raised $5.7 million, monies used prudently by experienced volunteers to provide for the health and human needs of New London county’s most distressed people. This included funding for 115,568 individual services for “thriving children, basic needs, community wellness, and independence,” according to spokesperson Jill Dovall.
After the morning’s activities, the volunteers disperse to carry out their part of a nationally orchestrated program; to bring adults and children together for the reading of a book with a positive message. Otis, written by Loren Long, is to be read to more than 1,200 students in more than 50 classrooms. The story, which takes place on a farm, is one of perseverance and true friendship, important lessons for the young elementary school students.
A free copy of the book and associated art supplies are left with each classroom.
As people begin to organize for the day ahead, Gemma Moran observes, “We’ve come a long way. It’s a wonderful community; these people really care.” She reflects, “We started in 1973. We were nothing, really, then. Yes, we’ve come a long way.” Told that the volunteers are about to form the words “Live United” for a panoramic photo in the neighboring field, she quips, “There’s a good place to be. Meet all the VIP’s!”
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