Southington is the kind of town where citizens enjoy getting involved. Many attend fundraising events; others financially support nonprofit organizations and then there are those infamous volunteers.
If it were not for volunteers, the town’s Apple Harvest Festival would be a memory, no matter how much town money was spent. Volunteers started the Italian Festival and they keep is going after 14 years of constant challenges.
If it were not for volunteer parents and friends with the Middle School group who raise money each year to keep sports alive at DePaolo and Kennedy, the Board of Education would have plenty of explaining to do. Volunteers coach athletic-minded youngsters every weekend.
The Joe & Kay Calvanese Foundation is a great example of people meeting to donate money annually to deserving groups of people who need assistance just like Bread For Life and the town’s Community Services.
The local churches, Jaycees, Lions Club, Rotary, Sons of Italy, Falcons, Elks and UNICO are devoted to helping others, either with manpower or money. Yet, volunteers aren’t just teenagers but people either headed for retirement or there already.
Southington has a big dinner this weekend and after the night is over, lots of money will be raised to help others, specifically Southington people. The Southington United Way organization came to realize that many people were not aware of what the organization did for others and who the volunteers are. Now, the theme of the United Way of Southington is, “Best Kept Secrets,” emphasizing who they are and what they do.
Officially, the organization is the only United Way organization unaffiliated with any United Way in the state. Begun in 1926, this organization survives solely on volunteers and financial support.
Why do they and others do this? Many take volunteers for granted. But, each year United Way faces financial challenges from 11 agencies that serve our neighbors.
When I became involved as an officer of this organization, I was sincerely impressed with the motivation of a dozen or more local citizens who sit on the United Way board. They meet each month around supper time; some of them have been doing this for more than three decades. I realized they take the responsibility very seriously. They don’t sit too often. There’s too much work to do.
Here’s the challenge. Raise over $100,000 a year and then give it away. Sounds depressing. Jack Eisenmann is the only paid official and he’s part-time. Jack landed in Southington after a glowing career coaching basketball at the University of Ottawa in Canada and then with his former high school teammate Geno Auriemma at UConn.
“I want to give back to our town,” says Eisenmann who believes it was fate he would end up in this medium-sized community with a famed sports tradition. He and the others spend time collecting food, selling ads, tickets and raffle donations for just about the entire calendar year. The year’s highlight is a special “allocation afternoons” meeting face-to-face with representatives of those 11 agencies who are granted those funds that volunteers work so hard to earn from generous citizens.
In two days of meeting these representatives, United Way officials have the chore of deciding if each of these agencies are eligible for more money or less money, since all are dependent on funds to continue providing service to Southington people. For example, United Way provided over $48,000 to an out-of-town social agency to provide transportation for those who cannot travel to a doctor, a clinic or even the hospital. Thanks to the Main Street Community Foundation, a wonderful and cherished agency that helps United Way with critical funding, the local group is able to boost agencies that are focused on one goal: helping Southington people who cannot help themselves.
It took a few meetings before I decided to emulate my fellow volunteers. We have no meeting room but meet at the Chamber of Commerce office. Eisenmann’s office is a bit larger than three closets, not much larger. We used to have sandwiches at meetings but would rather save the money for postage expenses and perhaps some bottled water.
Friday’s dinner will thank contributors who once again will be asked to help or donate again. The dinner is the result of volunteers selling ads for a new ambitious booklet that will be available throughout the United Way year of giving, raising, asking, working and sometimes crying with happy tears when we see what our donations are doing to help others.
It’s a Christian endeavor. It’s a darn good feeling. It’s a long year with little or no applause. The dinner and the new booklet will highlight what a nonprofit organization does and why it charges for a ticket, for an ad, for a donation. Then there’s eight more events to host.
I’m always proud of Southington. We have good people here.