Community leaders stressed the importance of giving to Ithacans in need of educational resources, medical assistance and food and shelter at Friday’s annual Cornell United Way of Tompkins County kickoff event.
UWTC President James Brown — who has served with the organization for 40 years — explained that family connections were the inspiration behind his involvement.
“My mother was a volunteer and I became aware of United Way through her, and seeing that it can make a difference in people’s lives,” Brown said. “It can really change communities by changing people’s lives.”
According to Brown, his mother was actively involved in United Way programs that supported retired women and children in foster care. He said her experience “made [him] see the difference that one person could make” and inspired him to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
Brown said he is currently focusing on encouraging students get involved in service at a young age and begin a lifetime of lasting impact.
“[Cornell UWTC is] one of the few United Ways in the country that has programs that range from middle school through university,” he said. “[These programs are] the most rewarding because you see people becoming engaged … and that engagement will carry over a lifetime.”
In addition to empowering students, UWTC has several outreach programs and goals that focus on aiding medical patients and the starving homeless — all of which depend on generous donations by members of the Ithaca community — according to Sara Gibbons, a Cornell United Way director.
The UWTC’s Cancer Resource Center had a significant impact on Gibbon life by buttressing her ability to care for her aging father, she said.
“I am not a person in need, per say, but I have tapped into the services of United Way for my aging father, for people that I know have had cancer,” she said.
Gibbons said she utilized the Cornell Campus-to-Campus bus — a service that UWTC provided to her free of charge — to travel to New York City with her father for cancer treatments as well as the Meals on Wheels program to deliver meals to her father when he was unable to cook for himself during the treatment.
“Cornell campus to campus bus provides free transportation to New York City for treatment that I have used for my family members and friends,” Gibbons said. “The Meals on Wheels provides meals to people that have trouble either making meals for themselves or actually getting access to food.”
Gibbons also noted that the resources provided by United Way are not only for the needy.
“You don’t have to be poor or in need to use these services. We pay for my dad, so we’re not getting it for free but we still use the services,” she said.
Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 also reflected on his involvement with the UWTC, which began 10 years ago when he was an undergraduate at Cornell.
“Working with United Way and finding a way to give back … gave me my life’s purpose,” the mayor said.
Myrick stressed the importance of sustainable UWTC outreach programs that empower members of the Ithaca community, saying, “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
Presenters at the event added that these programs support local Ithacans regardless of their financial status, but require a considerable amount of funding each year.
“We are the only United Way in New York State that has exceeded its [funding] goal for the last 12 years,” Brown said.
The UWTC has set its fundraising goal at $2,037,800 for the 2016-2017 campaign year. Last year, the Cornell community raised 36 percent of all funds, according to Brown.
Adam Shelepak ’17, president of the Cornell chapter, said the organization’s Homecoming 5K run on Sept. 24 and the a Capella United concert on Sept. 25 will both support the UWTC.
Shelepak emphasized the significance of the county’s success as a means to ensure Cornell’s continued growth and development as well.
“For Cornell to succeed, we need Tompkins county to succeed,” he said.