A couple of days before Christmas, I got to witness and be part of something remarkable.
Each year, there are thousands of individuals from throughout the Wyoming Valley who support the powerful work of the United Way. We are grateful to every single donor and, for decades, we have held an incentive drawing to recognize and thank all those who support our annual campaign.
It is always fun and exciting to tell a donor that they won one of the dozen or so prizes we raffle off at the end of every campaign. Thanks to the outstanding partnership we have with Motorworld and Toyota, for the past five years our grand prize has been a two-year lease on a new car or a $10,000 cash prize.
This year, not only was it fun to give away our grand prize, it really was a bit magical. Of the thousands of eligible donors, this year’s top winner is a remarkably unique story.
Tatiana Simmons is 21 years old and lives in the city of Wilkes-Barre. She is a full-time employee at Mohegan Sun Pocono making $9 per hour as a housekeeper. She is one of 10 siblings, lives with her brother and his young family, and also works part-time at Movies 14 to help them out. Her co-workers tell me that she is a very kind, compassionate and friendly young lady who works hard and is well-liked by the hotel staff.
I have also learned that she never misses work. This statement is truly impressive when you learn that Tatiana must coordinate transportation every day because our lucky winner does not own a car nor does she yet have a driver’s license. She walks to her second job at the movie theater.
When Tatiana’s name was announced in front of a crowd of coworkers, you could have knocked her over with a feather. “Surprised” is an understatement. As the disbelief wore off, tears of joy, excitement and laughter consumed her and all of us who witnessed her good fortune.
Tatiana immediately called her mother to share the news. With great enthusiasm, she loudly told her mom that she won a car! Not sure she heard her daughter correctly, her mother asked “What do you mean you won a car? How did that happen?” Tatiana’s quick reply was profound. She said to her mother, “I won a car because you taught me how to be generous!”
Tatiana told me that she has $880 saved and one day, hoped to buy a car and get her license, so she could begin her education at Luzerne County Community College. She said she had more saved, but, at the time, her family needed the money more than she needed a car. As a result of the transportation barrier and the lack of financial resources, going to school was not possible for her.
Despite her relatively low wages and the needs of her family, this young 21-year-old learned about the childhood poverty work of the United Way and, through payroll deduction, committed to contribute $5 per week for a total of $260. For many people, that is a generous donation. In Tatiana’s circumstances, $260 is extremely generous.
Perhaps it was the magic of the holidays, but of the thousands of entries eligible for our drawing, picking Tatiana’s name somehow feels like it was more than coincidence. For whatever reason, I would like to believe it was meant to be. She is now preparing to get her driver’s license, has already met with administrators at LCCCe and has taken her entrance exam to start her college education.
As we concluded our discussion three days before Christmas, Tatiana told me that being generous and helping others is always the right thing to do.
I have said dozens of times in my editorials that generosity changes lives. This time, the life of the giver will also change and whether it is happening because of luck and coincidence, fate, or it was just meant to be, to me, it’s all pretty remarkable.
Bill Jones is President and CEO at United Way of Wyoming Valley. He can be reached at 829-6711 ext. 1230.