NOTE: This story originally appeared in the Tulsa World, Nov. 23, 2022
By Alison Anthony
During the last days of our fall United Way fundraising campaign, a TV news reporter interviewed me in our lobby to help get the word out that we hadn’t yet hit our stretch goal.
With the camera rolling, an older gentlemen walked in to write us a check. The reporter asked him why he decided to make a donation.
“The spirit moved me to do this,” Mr. Smith said.
I asked how long he had been contributing to the Tulsa Area United Way.
“I was a bus driver for Tulsa Public Schools for 35 years and donated every year because I saw the needs of those kiddos. I’m 80 years old now, retired, and imagine there are still a lot of kids out there on those school buses who need our help,” he said.
Then Mr. Smith handed me a $400 check.
When we announced that the community had come together and raised $25,202,719 this fall during some of the most difficult economic conditions many of us can remember, my heart was full of gratitude.
The theme of this year’s campaign for me was connection. I thought of Mr. Smith and the connection he still feels for the children on school buses today, even though he retired many years ago.
I love how United Way company fundraising connects teams of employees who might disagree on some issues but who come together on common ground in compassion to give their hard-earned dollars to help a neighbor in need. Top leaders join together with their employees, like the Williams executive team who all dressed up like Elvis for their fundraising celebration.
When the emcee asked for the real Elvis to stand up, they all did — just like Williams stood up for its community, contributing more than $1 million to the Tulsa Area United Way for the 32nd year in a row. This year they blew past their goal, giving more than $1.7 million, knowing that many in the community would not be able to donate as much this year.
We haven’t yet hit the goal of $25,913,704 announced in late August. Entering this campaign, our team and courageous campaign chair, Peggy Simmons, knew we faced an uphill climb. But we recognize that our nonprofit partners are experiencing increased demand and higher costs to deliver their services.
Simmons serves as executive vice president of utilities at American Electric Power, and she knows that true leadership is taking on a job that needs to be done, even if you don’t have ultimate control over the outcome. Leadership also means reflecting on ways we can reach more members of our community in a changing workforce. We want everyone in our community to experience the joy of improving lives and strengthening their community.
Despite challenges and changes, Simmons and the United Way’s devoted staff, campaign team, volunteers and donors stepped up to raise critical funds that will allow our 59 partner nonprofits to provide acts of service more than a half-million times in 2023. More than 900 companies and thousands of donors connected to weave a safety net, knowing we all need help sometimes.
This campaign was hard, but I’ll remember the QuikTrip Store employees who gave more than $740,000 and the person who walked in off the street to hand me a $5 bill. He said, “I know it’s not much but I want to help too.”
I’m grateful and moved by the past campaign chairs and retired employees who made calls, asking for donations for the community they love. And, of course, I will forever be connected to Mr. Smith. In fact, we are planning a surprise birthday party for him, complete with a yellow school bus full of kids who will join me and this community to thank him for living united.