Building Bridges By Putting Community First

Building bridges with community first
Community first — one gumdrop at a time

What does United Way do? When I tell someone that I work for United Way of Rhode Island, that’s usually their next question. After three years with United Way, I’ve simplified our philosophy into two words: community first.

One way we translate this philosophy into our everyday work is by matching volunteers with local nonprofit agencies. Last April, I joined BankNewport at Meeting Street for a morning of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities. I was assigned to a small group of children and given one instruction: let them experiment with the materials and go through the trial and error process.

Their first activity was building a bridge using gumdrops, toothpicks, and Popsicle sticks. At first, they worked individually, each constructing their own bridge. A few minutes passed; then, I asked them to consider combining their ideas to build a single bridge. After a brief design discussion, they began joining their partial bridges together — except for one girl, who continued to connect gumdrops by herself.

I sat next to her and offered to help; she nodded, handing me a few supplies. We began connecting gumdrops and toothpicks, throwing in an occasional Popsicle stick for good measure. When our pile was gone, I asked if she wanted to test the bridge by laying it between folding chairs. Cautiously, we carried our fragile bridge to the testing area, held our breath, and placed it down. After swaying for a moment, it steadied — and held. Joy spread across her face as she hugged me, her gumdrop hands sticking to the back of my shirt.

Strengthening our community

When people ask me what United Way does, I wish I could show them the smile on that little girl’s face, or have them feel the excitement in her hug. We meet people where they are, listen to their needs, and work alongside them to change their lives. Sometimes, this takes the form of working to ensure every Rhode Island family has a home they can afford through the Homes RI Campaign. Other times, it takes the form of building a gumdrop bridge and helping a child realize that she can do anything she puts her mind to.

Both efforts bring us closer to one another and prove that we can accomplish far more together than we ever could alone. It all starts with two words — community first. Will you join me?

Interested in volunteering? Visit us online, or contact Janice Pothier Pac.

By: Alicia Schubert, Communications Coordinator