This summer I am lucky to have the opportunity to work as an intern for the Chenango United Way through the Upstate Institute Summer Field School. The United Way is a global nonprofit organization that works to strengthen communities in three areas: health, income, and education. The United Way in Norwich serves townships in Chenango County, fundraising and then reallocating donations to the most robust local nonprofits and programs. The United Way is unusual in that it does not serve one specific population or problem. Instead, the organization focuses on entire communities and addresses the ever-changing issues that a town or village may face within the three focus areas. Although it is most known for its work in fundraising, the United Way also helps organize community efforts to tackle big problems. By developing community impact teams for health, education and income, the United Way unifies the talent of community leaders to discuss and address area-specific issues. The United Way also works with other community groups, such as the Building a Healthy Community Coalition and the Housing Counsel Coalition, to work on issues like high rates of obesity, widespread substance abuse, persistent homelessness and insufficient affordable housing options. Rather than just giving money to different worthy causes, the United Way is an active participant in every step in long process of community improvement.
Each year the Chenango United Way runs a fall campaign, visiting local businesses like Chobani and NBT Bank to collect donations and recruit donors. Most of the money is raised through payroll deductions, in which workers sign up to give a small amount directly from each paycheck without taxation. In the past, the Chenango United Way sought new donors by giving presentations with tools like PowerPoint, but they are currently looking for other ways to reach potential donors. My project is to help develop a video for the upcoming campaign season. The video will reach farther than traditional presentations as more and more employees shift from office work to working from home. Additionally, the video will be used across online platforms like Facebook and the Chenango United Way website to further spread the United Way’s message during this year’s campaign.
Equal parts informational and emotional, the campaign video will inspire donations because viewers will know how the organization works, and they will know that their dollars are much needed, well spent, and that their money stays within the community. Creating an effective and believable campaign video requires including a variety of footage, especially interview content from United Way partners. In order to capture both the problems United Way fights against and the various successes it enables, a big part of my project involves travelling to different partner sites and speaking with executive directors, staff members, volunteers and even program participants. Featuring a range of voices will create a more thorough narrative of the United Way’s mission.
As a creative writing major and sociology minor, this project is the perfect opportunity to exercise my storytelling abilities while also learning about and combating systemic inequality in this area. I wanted to be a part of the Upstate Institute this summer because I wanted to use my analytical and creative skills for meaningful work while also developing them in a real-world setting. I come from a small town in the area, and so the work I’m doing this summer impacts and benefits the communities surrounding both my college and my hometown. I hope that in my time here I will be able to hone my skills as a communicator and advocate. The most important thing I believe I can contribute to the United Way this summer is a narrative that embodies the ideals of United Way, explains its process clearly, and inspires the Chenango County community to care about its neighbors and friends, its children and its elderly, so that the region can heal and grow as a whole.