Justin Henderson began his day surrounded by school supplies, but he wasn’t in school.
Instead, the third-grader joined his father Ron Henderson and dozens of other community and corporate volunteers to pack 400 classroom kits as part of the kickoff for United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 2019-20 Community Giving Campaign.
“It’s so much fun,” Justin said as he buzzed around the Ford Resource and Engagement Center (FREC), a southwest Detroit community hub and first-time venue for the kickoff. “I love helping people.”
Campaign Chair Joe Hinrichs, president, automotive, Ford Motor Company, recapped last year’s successes. Under Joe’s leadership, we far exceeded our goal by raising $47.4 million and accumulating 36,000 volunteer hours.
He also laid out this year’s goals. The target is 40 and 40 in 2020: $40 million in donations and 40,000 volunteer hours for the 2019-20 campaign.
“It’s an honor to be a part of helping to make our community better one dollar, one volunteer hour and one idea at a time,” Joe said.
But it’s about more than dollars and hours — it’s about the individual lives we touch.
In our region, 44 percent of households struggle to make ends meet. That means they have to make impossible choices. How do you choose between paying bills or putting food on the table?
“Our best day will be when we’re able to say we got that number down to 40 percent, then to 35 percent and to 30 percent and so on,” said Dr. Darienne Hudson, president and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “We know it’s possible.”
The room erupted in applause as Darienne shared the story of a waitress named Carolyn. Darienne met Carolyn recently at a restaurant, and Carolyn became emotional when she learned that Darienne worked at United Way. Carolyn told her she’d been waiting a long time to say thank you for the assistance United Way provided when her family was in need.
Darienne also reflected on a time early on in her career when after a car accident, an apartment fire and accumulating student loan debt, she found herself working four jobs and barely making ends meet.
“We’ve been here for more than 100 years and still there’s not a day that goes by when one of us doesn’t need help,” Darienne said.
Our annual community giving campaign helps power partnerships and programs across Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.
Last year, with the help of 400 agency partners, we served more than 1 million meals to children. We also introduced 3,000 high school students to careers and helped 30,000 individuals increase their earnings and gain financial know-how that will help them keep more of what they earn.
Greg McPherson, adult and senior programs director at Matrix Human Services spoke about two Detroiters who would soon become first-time homeowners thanks to a pilot program created in partnership with United Way and the Detroit Health Department.
“Working with the Detroit Land Bank’s buyback program, we’re able to set these individuals up for long-term financial stability and wealth,” Greg said. “It’s fulfilling part of the American Dream to own a home and have something to pass down to your children.”
The 2019-2020 campaign marks the second and final year of Joe’s commitment as chair. It also signifies another milestone – 70 years of partnership between Ford and United Way.
In 1949, Ford helped organize a fundraising drive in Detroit, the first campaign of its kind in a major U.S. city and an effort that led to the first ever payroll deduction plan.
“Giving back is part of Ford’s DNA,” said Rene Palileo, employee engagement manager at Ford. “It’s more than just dollars, it’s about putting the work in.”
A team of Ford employees was onsite to fill the classroom kits. Each box included essentials like dry erase markers, cleaning supplies, paper and binder clips and more.
The kits were then packed into Penske Corporation’s trademark bright yellow trucks and delivered to six schools in southwest Detroit. Penske is the official sponsor of Seasons of Caring, our year-round volunteer initiative.
Emily Badanjek, a credit analyst at Comerica, was looking for a way to give back when she decided to volunteer.
“My hope is that these boxes will allow teachers to spend more time doing what they’re meant to do – helping the next generation – and less time worrying about not having enough supplies,” she said.
For all his help, Justin was given a kit to take to back to his classroom. Thinking about his classmates he said, “They’re going to think it’s cool. They’re really going to like it.”