The United Way: Never has the need been so great

During times of economic uncertainty, it is the most vulnerable people in our society who are the first to feel the effects of reduced support to charities and community service agencies.

Today marks the launch of York’s 2008 United Way Campaign and the University has set an ambitious goal of raising $200,000 for the United Way Toronto. Donations made through York’s campaign support a network of more than 200 health and social service agencies in their efforts to deliver programs and services to people living in every part of the City of Toronto.

"We often talk about the economic downturn in abstract terms – movement in the stock markets, the value of the dollar, the price of a barrel of oil. But this downturn has a human face too; people in our own community are affected by rising prices and job losses," said York’s President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. "Fortunately, there is something we can do to help: give generously to the York University United Way Campaign."

The services supplied by United Way member agencies are essential to those affected by rising prices and job losses. Member agencies focus on alleviating unemployment, hunger and homelessness; assisting troubled neighbourhoods, newcomers and people struggling with addictions; and helping those with AIDS/HIV. As well, the United Way member agencies offer important support to people with disabilities, women who have been abused, seniors and young children. For 2008, the United Way has identified three priority areas: strengthening neighbourhoods, creating opportunities for youth and helping to fulfill the potential of newcomers.

Throughout the month of November, colleagues who have volunteered to canvas for the University’s campaign will be contacting their co-workers to talk about ways of supporting the United Way. An integral part of York’s annual effort is the Leadership Campaign. This year’s campaign co-chairs understand the importance of services provided by United Way agencies in building a stronger, safer and healthier Toronto. Joanne Duklas, University registrar, and Eileen Fischer, professor of marketing at York’s Schulich School of Business are this year’s Leadership Campaign co-chairs.  

Right: Yvette Munro (left), York’s United Way Employee Campaign chair, with Eileen Fischer and Joanne Duklas, York’s United Way Leadership Campaign co-chairs

Leaders inspire others by their example and form the foundation upon which the community draws strength. Both in their professional lives and in the community, Duklas and Fischer say they know the importance of work undertaken by United Way agencies in the Greater Toronto Area and the essential role played by leadership donors to the annual campaign.

York University’s United Way Leadership Campaign members contribute at least $1,000 annually (about $1.43 a day). They are the base of a strong network of support for the communities that benefit from the United Way. Together with Yvette Munro, York’s manager, community relations and the University’s United Way Employee Campaign chair, Duklas and Fischer are intent on spreading the message to the community about why it is vital that they support this year’s effort.

"The need for leadership donors is pressing," said Fischer, who is returning in her fourth year as a leadership co-chair. "The thing that has become really clear to me is what an important role the Leadership Campaign plays in the overall fundraising for the United Way."

"Giving has a cascade effect in terms of the community and especially the community that neighbours York University," said Duklas, who is new to the role as a leadership campaign co-chair.

"This year it seems particularly striking to me that we need to participate in the campaign. In terms of the economic downturn, there is a concern that people will not give to the United Way. I am more optimistic because I think people realize that now, more than ever, it is important to give and give more," said Fischer.

"What I’ve realized over the years is how my involvement with the United Way connects me to the communities I walk or drive through every day; thanks to the United Way. I am not as insulated or isolated as I otherwise would be," said Fischer.  

"For me the United Way is one of the most comprehensive giving organizations, so it has the potential to have the greatest impact because it is so well organized," said Duklas, praising the agency’s research into poverty. "The Poverty by Postal Code research conducted by the United Way is groundbreaking and helps align our perspective, inform policy, drive through change and really give a face to those who are in crisis and need the services it provides.

"The time to give is now, especially when there is a crisis," said Duklas. "Now more than ever if someone has the capacity to give more, this is the year to do it."

"York University wants to enhance its role in the United Way Campaign," said Munro. "President Shoukri has entered into a friendly challenge with Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University to see which university can do better.

"The United Way is turning to postsecondary institutions to give a bit more this year because of the downturn in manufacturing and the private sector," said Munro.

This year, leadership donations will be matched by the Robert Harding Leadership Challenge Grant. "Those who give at the leadership level are able to leverage the matching program and increase the impact of their donation," said Fischer. "Donations go to alleviate distress and just as critically help people move beyond the crisis into full and productive lives."

Those interested in making a difference should contact Munro at ext. 77529. Visit the United Way Toronto Web site to find out more about how donations are used to support social services and health agencies in delivering services.