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Guest Editorial – Making Guelph a Better Place

On a bright, sunny fall day 12 weeks ago, I stood at the top of a 30-foot-tall scissor lift outside city hall. Swaying in the breeze below was a banner announcing the $3.2-million goal for the 2012 United Way fundraising campaign. It was perhaps one of the strangest places my time as United Way campaign chair has taken me. Since accepting the role to head the 2012 fundraising campaign for United Way, I have travelled from Aberfoyle to Orangeville, meeting with people and asking them to give to this worthwhile cause.
In truth, I am asking them to invest in many worthwhile causes.  This year, our local United Way is funding 85 social service programs. Among these programs are names I am sure you are familiar with – Action Read Community Literacy Centre, Hospice Wellington and Canadian Hearing Society, to name a few.  You may have a housebound neighbour that benefits from the Canadian Red Cross Meals on Wheels program, or received first aid at an event from the St. John Ambulance brigade, two other programs benefiting from United Way.
It is easy to see that no matter who you are, United Way is there for you, your family and friends in times of need.
We often can’t foresee when someone we care about will need programs like those supported by United Way. Life takes unplanned turns every day.  Most of these turns are minor; a detour on our route to work or an appointment that runs late. However, sometimes life’s turns are bigger than that. Someone you care about faces a serious illness, a job loss or a mental health issue.
That’s where United Way comes in.
United Way provides for basic human needs of food, shelter and employment, helping people move out of poverty.  It builds healthy people and strong communities by improving access to health-related services, welcoming newcomers and engaging volunteers. And it helps kids grow to be all that they can be, through education, mentorship and employment support.
By working with local experts who volunteer their time, United Way ensures that the social service programs it funds respond to the unique needs of our community. For example, we know that many people in our community continue to face tough economic times. Consider that one in eight children in Guelph lives in a family that struggles to pay for the most basic of needs, and that in any given month there are over 6,300 visits to local food banks. United Way supports programs like the Welcome in Drop in Centre that respond to these immediate, urgent needs.  More than that, United Way funds programs that address the root causes of poverty, offering long-term solutions to make real and lasting change.
In my travels as campaign chair, I have had a chance to see the impact of United Way-funded programs first-hand.  I have met the clients who benefit from these programs.  Because of United Way, women and their children facing domestic violence find a way out, seniors remain active and healthy through exercise programs, and families have the supports they need to give their children a good start.
United Way touches just about everyone in our city, bringing together social service providers, businesses, local leaders, the labour movement and individuals to make Guelph a better place. With the end of the 2012 fundraising campaign just around the corner, I hope you will consider making a difference in the lives of people in our community by giving to United Way.  Together, we can make change start here.
Jim Jarrell is president and chief operating officer of Linamar, and he chairs the 2012 United Way fundraising campaign (unitedwayguelph.com/519-821-0571).

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