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John McMillin: Nonprofits’ good work is both rewarding and difficult

John McMillin • Updated Mar 28, 2017 at 6:00 PM

This is my second attempt at a column this week. I was all but finished writing when I received a phone call from someone needing help and, as I do on occasion, I had to regroup. I don’t know anyone who works in the nonprofit world helping our neighbors who doesn’t occasionally have to take a breather at some point. 

I consider myself in a position to find help or offer help to people who truly need it to be one of the most rewarding things in my life. However, when you’re unable to help, it leaves the social worker at a loss. 

It’s rewarding simply because it feels good to help folks. It’s taxing because you can’t help everyone who truly needs help. Some people don’t want to talk about it, but, of course, there are people who will work any system to take advantage of someone’s generosity. I can’t say I see a lot of that. Let me just say that at United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland, our main concerns are identifying what the real needs of our communities are and offering donors and companies a way to easily and safely target financial resources to help these people in need.

For many folks, their needs are simple. They may have a temporary setback like a job loss; they may have a minor health concern or need help paying a utility bill to get them back on their feet. For these reasons, we depend on our partner programs. They can’t fix every problem. They can’t pay every dollar of a $300 electric bill or provide food every day for a lengthy time. There simply isn’t enough money to fund everyone who needs help.

I can’t emphasize enough that our partner programs do an amazing job. In the coming weeks, about 40 local volunteers will, in Wilson County alone, decide where our donors’ unallocated funds will be best spent this coming year to help as many people of Wilson County as possible. I can tell you today, there won’t be enough money to fund every need.

Our donors’ dollars will help in utility assistance, food and clothing and medical assistance for those who can’t afford such basic necessities. Those dollars will also help anyone make the most of our educational resources because education is the best defense against poverty and social ills. We’ll also fund our own initiatives like the 2-1-1 call service where you or anyone can call and ask for help or volunteer help in times of emergency. We have some other, basic, initiatives like prescription drug discount cards, two Early Learning Trails and mini-neighborhood libraries to supply books for those who might consider a book a luxury.

Here at UWWUC, we will continue to campaign for donors’ dollars because there will be a phone call or a visit from someone who seems to have done everything right. They’ve worked hard, they set some money aside, they’ve lived a good life, but one or two tragic things happened which leaves them drained and in need. Going forward, our greatest reward continues to be when your dollars allow us to help these people, our neighbors.  

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

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