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John McMillin: Giving is addictive everywhere

John McMillin • Updated Jun 27, 2017 at 6:00 PM

By now, most people who read this column realize United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland is in the business of helping people. Our office staff would tell you that actually being able to help folks is very addictive. Recently, we were able to expand the ability to help to 11 more counties of our 13 county service area.

I’m talking specifically of our first allocation process held in the Upper Cumberland to benefit agencies and their programs that serve specifically people of that area. I would say that the majority of our donors enjoy giving, but they want their money to remain in their own counties and they want that money to help local people. This statement is just as true for the counties of the Upper Cumberland as it is in Wilson County.

To review, for those unaware, United Way of Wilson County was contacted by United Way Worldwide about three years earlier concerning whether we were interested in taking on the service area of the Upper Cumberland. Our board of directors readily accepted the challenge, and our campaign in that area has grown ever since.

Our initial campaign released a little more than $50,000 to a handful of agencies. This year, our first, fully staffed allocation panel oversaw the release of more than $43,000 to 11 programs serving the Upper Cumberland while designations from that area pushed the total to more than $128,000.

Local donors representing their communities and participating companies such as Cummins, UPS, SunTrust, Pepsi, Flowserve and elsewhere met at the Cookeville Wilson Bank & Trust branch(also a participating company) for over five hours. During this time, these allocation panelists heard pleas from passionate staff members and volunteers from agencies meeting needs in nutrition, income assistance, educational support and other human resource needs.

Although the most recent panel meeting may have been a tad bit different than our local process, the pains of allocation panelists were the same as were the rewards. In every allocation meeting over the many years I’ve been privileged to work with United Way, panelists love hearing the stories about their communities, the agencies that lend assistance and the sometimes miraculous stories of lives saved or changed for the better because of the financial help from donors. At the same time, panelists expressed their regret that they simply didn’t have enough funds to help a few more people.

It’s interesting to me to see how alike we all are than unalike. Our neighboring counties also share many of the philosophies about giving as we do in Wilson County. Basically, people like helping those who help themselves. I had to smile when one of the panelists stated that he enjoyed being able to help someone learn how to fish rather than just giving them a fish. I’ve said the same thing many times. In the end, after an exhausting day, everyone I spoke with shared that they were glad they were able to be a part of the process and help just a few more folks.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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