Nearly 300 years ago, Benjamin Franklin, one of our country’s most influential Founding Fathers, was obsessively worried about how well the residents of the city of Philadelphia responded to and fought fires. He often wrote about these concerns in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.
At the time, many homes and business structures were made from wood and, given the technology of the day, were heated by fireplaces and illuminated by candles. As such, widespread and damaging fires were common. After another extensive fire in 1736, Franklin called on community leaders to address this issue and on Dec. 7 of that year, the Union Fire company was formed. It was the first all-volunteer fire department in America.
In his writings about the dangers of fires, Ben Franklin used a phrase that is still well known to all of us today. He said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If residents could be more mindful and careful, he thought, property damage could be prevented and lives could possibly be saved.
The phrase, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” was first coined by an English cleric and jurist, Henry de Bracton in 1240. Over the centuries, the phrase has resonated with every generation because of its very simple, yet very profound, wisdom. I recall my mother frequently using this phrase when I was young to get me to take medicine or vitamins and even to wear a hat when I went out to play to prevent colds and illness. I have no doubt many of us can share similar stories.
Preventing a problem from happening is always easier, better, or less expensive than trying to resolve it after it happens. Whether it is fire prevention, healthcare, flood protection, public safety, or even an oil change and car maintenance, there are countless examples of how prevention efforts are much better options compared to dealing with the problems created after-the-fact.
The United Way of Wyoming Valley is entering its 97th annual campaign to support the community we call home. Much has changed since our first campaign in 1922, but our desire to have a stronger, healthier Wyoming Valley has not.
Since changing our model several years ago, we are focused on the critical issues of childhood poverty because we believe preventing human and social service problems is far better for people and our community compared to dealing with the problems afterwards. The cost of the ‘ounce of prevention’ is always less and more beneficial than the ‘pound of cure.’
For example, supporting parents to help children fully develop in the first few years of life can prevent children from falling behind and struggling in school and in life. Educating children as a pathway to self-sufficiency is much better than trying to meet the needs that are often experienced by those who may not graduate. Strengthening families and preventing the trauma associated with the abuse and neglect of children is far better than the effects of foster care or growing up in an institutional setting. Helping older students avoid drugs and risky behaviors and helping them be hopeful about their future is certainly better than dealing with them later in life as adults with addictions, criminal histories, or limited employment skills.
These are just a few of the examples of the critical work the United Way tackles every day in the Wyoming Valley. Together, with funded agencies and many other partners, donors, and volunteers, we are, in a sense, putting out human service fires before they even start.
As we start our fundraising campaign season, supporting the work of the United Way is a long-term investment in the lives of children, families and our community. Your gifts benefit all of us and I am willing to bet a hundred bucks that Ben Franklin would not only approve, he would even write about it in his newspaper!
Bill Jones is President and CEO at United Way of Wyoming Valley. He can be reached at 829-6711 ext. 1230.