Yale staff and the United Way: A personal story of change

The following reflection is by Stacey Bonet, communications assistant in the Office of Public Affairs and Communications and a United Way contributor.

I did not expect a shocking revelation to be part of my morning at the informational breakfast about the United Way held at the Meade Visitor’s Center this summer.

I went into the meeting expecting to hear about the good work the United Way of Greater New Haven (UWGNH) does throughout the year — work I support with my weekly contribution.

United Way President Jennifer Heath laid out the UWGNH’s goals, including ending chronic homelessness in our region this year and ending families-in-need homelessness by 2020.

Suddenly on the screen behind Heath was the image of a woman who often handed me my coffee or donuts for my kids at our local donut shop. Her name, I learned, is Christina Hedglin.

I did not know that Hedglin was chronically homeless and that when she left work each night, she slept in her car — a car I had often seen parked in a local lot.

I never imagined someone I witnessed working could be homeless, let alone chronically so.

Hedglin is a UWGNH success story, an example of how the organization brings together support services to help improve the lives of people in need.

Heath explained that someone who is chronically homeless — who has experienced long-term homelessness — usually has a disability, some kind of chronic health issue — whether it’s a mental or physical health — or an addiction.

Because United Way was able to arrange the correct combination of support services, said Heath, Hedglin would receive the keys to her new apartment before the end of June.

In the course of my everyday life, probably a lot like yours, I unknowingly met one of many people in the community benefitting from my weekly payroll deduction and Yale’s growing contribution to the United Way. 

Over the last five years, contributions to the United Way from Yale community members have grown 38%.  Not all of those donations are huge sums of money either.

Take, for instance, the $3 per week I donate. I have a spouse, a house, a couple of cars, a few kids, a pet, and bills — lots of bills. I live paycheck-to-paycheck, and big expenses are always concerning. I am a C&T and donating a large sum would be beyond my means.

My $3 per week adds up to $156 per year. About one out of every $3 UWGNH raises each year comes from Yale contributions: about 1,600 other employees at Yale donate approximately $1.2 million per year, and the university makes a matching contribution of up to $100,000 each year to UWGNH.

During her presentation, Heath said, “When we work together we can change what’s possible.” The Yale community is a striking example of that.

The UWGNH region includes the towns of Orange, West Haven, New Haven, East Haven, Branford, Guilford, Madison, North Branford, North Haven, Hamden, Bethany, and Woodbridge. 

The organization changes what’s possible in communities with programs focused on education, financial stability, and health.

One successful program recruits volunteers to complete almost 5,000 income tax returns for low-income families, thereby bringing $9.1 million in tax refunds back to the local economy.

UWGNH, along with other United Way chapters around the state, supply funding for Infoline, 2-1-1, a free program open 24 hours a day. Last year, Infoline fielded more than 46,000 calls in the Greater New Haven area, connecting people in need with local services.

UWGNH helps to support programs such as the local shelter and soup kitchen. But, according to Heath, the organization focuses on the services that have a long-term impact in the region. For instance, she said, housing one chronically homeless person like Hedglin saves the community $16,000 per year. The UWGNH has housed almost 200 chronically homeless people over the past two years.

Last year, they also placed 88 children in Head Start programs. 

Toward the end of her presentation, Heath shared a favorite quote from Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

The Human Resources website says there are 9,000 of us on staff here at Yale. We all have the ability to use the Yale United Way website and can donate a dollar or two per week. All of our donations together will change what’s possible in our community because “together we can do so much.”

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