United Way sees positive response following Day of Action

What does impact look like? Last week on our annual Day of Action, we saw more than 350 of our neighbors out in the community giving their time and sweat equity to projects all over the community. They probably wore their shirts that said Live United. They were lugging shovels. They were swinging weed eaters. They were stretching paint rollers to high ceilings. They were happily chatting, wearing smiles as big as the sponsor logo on their shirts from Camden Clark Medical Center (I’m subtle, if nothing else, right?). But seriously, they looked happy. They look sweaty and busy and productive. They were working with teams from their own workplace. They looked engaged and involved in the tasks that had been assigned to them. The impact was clear to any naked and untrained eye. The work being done was measurable. The progress was to bear witness to. Impact was happening all over our community and this is what it looks like.

What did it feel like? What did this kind of impact really feel like? Of course, for the organizations who were hosting the projects, it felt exciting. Work was being produced that might never happen accomplished without these teams.

For our United Way, who had organized the service event, spending unending and countless hours matching teams to projects, we felt proud. We love seeing so many people giving of themselves for the greater good. The fact that the project hosts and the organizing groups would feel proud and excited comes as no surprise to anyone. What was a surprise, and some instances a gut punching, stop-you-in-your-tracks, didn’t-see-that-coming kind of surprise… was how the impact felt to the volunteers themselves.

The day started around seven for many of the teams and most were wrapped up by five that afternoon. Throughout the day, as I would visit the worksite, the volunteers would have casual conversation telling me how they enjoyed the project, thanks for getting involved, etc. They seemed to be having a positive and quite normal reaction to that sense of altruistic pride felt when we help someone beyond ourselves. The day ended and tired and content, I headed home to settle into the weekend. Then slowly and steadily the texts began to buzz on my phone. The email notifications began to light up. The unusual ringing of the phone started to happen. The streaming river of feedback began to pour in.

Overwhelmingly the feedback was coming from the workers. The very people who had taken a day out of their busy schedule and stepped in many cases far from their own comfort zone. It was the bodies that went home tired and dirty and sweaty and blistered. They wanted to say “thank you.” They wanted to share their feelings of being humbled by the service they performed. They wanted to express what they had learned about our community needs and even more importantly about themselves. Many were startled by the feelings that the day of service had stirred inside their own core. These were not young teenagers experiencing community service for the first time. These were seasoned professionals, many of whom had lived in this community for decades. Trained, educated individuals who are aware of their surroundings and believed that they understood the mechanisms both good and bad of the community where they live.

Yet many of them felt as if some sort of epiphany had occurred during their hours of work. They had come to see our community and their own neighbors through a lens they didn’t even know they possessed. Dozens of volunteers, before they even had an opportunity to launder the dirt and grime from their clothes, were reaching out and saying “how can I do more?” and “what else can I do to help?” Reports were coming in to me about teams who went above and beyond the scope of the project they were assigned to. Teams recognized that some organizations had such restricted budgets that they couldn’t even buy the supplies to do all of the work that needed done at this time. Uplifting stories simultaneously came in of heartwarming stories of volunteers who went out and bought additional supplies and equipment to bring these pipe dream projects to fruition in one short day. Amazing tales of big problems met by even bigger solutions!

It’s easy to see people with shovels and rollers and coordinated shirts and know that they are out doing good. It’s easy to recognize that this is what impact looks like. What is a little more challenging to see is what impact feels like. Driving by last week you might have seen 300 people splattered across our community and you may have recognized that it was what impact looks like. While that is so exciting, the real deal, the true game changer… that comes when we understand what impact FEELS LIKE. When we fully realize that the ability to give of ourselves holds the potential of changing ourselves, that is when we begin to unlock the full potential of impact. That is when actually begin to know what impact really feels like… and it feels amazing!

Stacy DeCicco is executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, located at 935 Market St., Parkersburg.