What do a Catholic priest from California, a local school teacher, and the Beatles all have in common?
Other than this sounding like the start of a corny joke, as the United Way of Wyoming Valley begins to prepare for our 97th annual fundraising campaign, I am thinking about the very meaningful words and thoughts from each that I believe reflect on the work of the United Way.
The United Way’s campaign kickoff event will be held on Sept. 13 at Mohegan Sun Pocono. It is always a great event and, and if you truly want to be inspired, I invite you to attend. Our keynote speaker will be Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest from Los Angeles. He is the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest employer of gang-affiliated and previously incarcerated individuals in the country.
Homeboy Industries was started in 1988. Today, it is one of the most comprehensive and most successful gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry programs in the world. Every year, more than 10,000 individuals participate in Homeboy’s programs. The success of the organization is based on understanding, relationships, connection, kinship and compassion.
Father Greg, or G-Dog, as he is known by the “homies,” tells us that, “There is no force in the world better able to alter anything from its course than love.” These are powerful words that are even more powerful when put into action as they are at Homeboy Industries. Their amazing results over a long period of time speak volumes.
As I think about those words, I recall, with a bit of pride and joy, a comment made by Kathleen Maffei, a teacher in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District a few months ago. Kathleen is a very passionate teacher and works with a large number of low-income students and families. She was the recipient of the United Way of Wyoming Valley’s Anthony and Sarah Kane Award this past May. Shortly after receiving the award, Kathleen sent us a note that read, “…what an outstanding organization the United Way is! I never really understood until today the effort and love that is given to the community and our children …”
At the United Way, we probably do not articulate “love” in words as well as a Jesuit priest does, but I truly believe we put love into action every day in our efforts to reduce childhood poverty in the Wyoming Valley. Our donors, volunteers, staff, and partner agencies do all they do because they value the mission of the United Way and recognize that all kids deserve hope and opportunity. Together, we are altering the course of young lives.
This year’s campaign will be my seventh as the United Way of Wyoming Valley’s President and CEO. By now, what is obvious to me is the passion that exists for our community and the compassion that exists for children, our neighbors, and others in need. We conduct annual campaigns because there is a cost to provide services, of course, but it is “love” in the form of kindness, connection, generosity, and caring service that really propels action and drives lasting change.
In his books and talks, Father Greg Boyle encourages us to “stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than in judgement of how they carry it.” He speaks of the power of relationships and kinship and often says, “There is no us and them. It’s just us. We belong to each other.” I would like to believe that these thoughts are at the very heart of the United Way’s slogan LIVE UNITED, and when we support the community and those in need, we are really supporting one another.
I do not know if Father Greg or Kathleen Maffei are Beatles fans, but I would bet both would agree that Lennon and McCartney had it exactly right. “All you need is love.” Love changes lives.
I hope to see you at the kickoff or on the United Way campaign trail. Thank you for putting your love into action.
Bill Jones is President and CEO at United Way of Wyoming Valley. He can be reached at 829-6711, ext. 1230.