August 15, 2017

A community story

Behind the scenes at United Way's brand anthem video shootEditor’s note: To view the new video, “A Community Anthem,” click here. To learn more about Mahogany Jones, click here.

United Way has been part of Southeastern Michigan for 100 years, so to share our vision for the next century, we looked to our community for help. 

“We know a million ways that we can tell our stories, but sometimes, we’re too close to the work,” says United Way Video Specialist Charles Ashley, who helped lead a new storytelling project that highlights our work in the community. “We wanted to see what other people could see in our organization.” 

With the vision of creative agency Imagination the Americas, we put out a call to Detroit-area poets to write about our work in Health, Education and Economic Prosperity. One poet, Mahogany Jones, was a perfect match. 

“Mahogany’s poem stood out far beyond the rest,” Charles says. “She really understood what we were trying to get at. 

The result, released later this week, is a poetic and visual journey. Viewers visit high schools we serve, work sites filled with Michiganders learning new job skills and communities we’re making healthier. 

“It feels very authentic and genuine,” says Yann Caloghiris of Imagination, who directed the video. “There’s a confidence that comes across from Mahogany. You can’t help but want to stand up and walk with her.” 

Behind the scenes at United Way's brand anthem video shoot
Behind the scenes at United Way's brand anthem video shoot

In the community

Like our work, creating our brand anthem took the coordinated effort of our partners, staff and individuals from the community. 

When searching for actors, we drew upon our own employees. The reason? They’re out in the community doing the work, and it helps to build excitement for the video’s release. 

“We wanted them to know that they’re important to the work,” Charles says. “We wanted everyone to be a part of this mission and have a hand in creating this project.” 

Staff said being in the film helped them feel even more proud of the work they do. 

“One of my favorite things about working at United Way is the fact that there are so many ways I get to give back to the community,” says United Way for Southeastern Michigan 2-1-1 Call Center Projects Director Hassan Hammoud. “Sometimes we get stuck in the grind of our daily work. This project gave me a reality check and made me see the bigger picture of why we do what we do.” 

Our Registered Dietitian Lily Doher, who teaches community nutrition workshops as part of her job, said participating in the video made her feel valued as a part of United Way. 

“I felt like using staff in the video was a huge employee engagement opportunity that I haven’t experienced in a lot of my previous jobs,” she said.  That was such a cool way to make staff feel like we’re a part of the message, and it made me feel recognized for the work that my team does.” 

Behind the scenes at United Way's community brand anthem video shoot
Behind the scenes at United Way's brand anthem video shoot

Putting it all together

The project had a relatively short timeline, and Yann says United Way’s community connections were key to pulling it together. 

“As a director, one of the big challenges is logistics—getting locations, getting extras, getting permissions,” he says. “United Way is very well networked and their staff are used to moving mountains. I found that really empowering.” 

All told, more than 100 people were involved in building our brand anthem. And after three months, four days of filming, hundreds of hours spent in pre- and post-production and thousands of cups of coffee consumed, we’re more than a little excited to share the final product. 

“I feel invincible,” Charles says with a laugh. “This was my very first time leading a project this large. I’m really excited because it’s a powerful piece that’s going to help us move our mission forward.”