More than just a cause: How United Way has impacted the Dal community
Erin Stewart - October 19, 2012
For Julie Clements, administrative assistant in Dal’s Department of Theatre, the United Way is a lot more than just a cause to donate to once a year.
Seventeen years ago, at the age of 29, Clements was a new mother and was unable to work.
“I didn’t plan for her, or to be a single parent, but sometimes things happen in life we don’t expect,” explains Clements. “I didn’t have a clue, at 29 years old, and I think most people don’t have a clue with their first child. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. If you don’t have the financial worries, then it’s a bit easier on you. You don’t have to worry about diapers, or where your next meal is coming from, you can focus on caring for your baby.”
Support in the community
Clements found the support network she needed in the Single Parent Centre, a facility in her neighbourhood that receives program funding from the United Way.
“I went there every day,” says Clements. “They had daily programs for the parents and for the children. They really became an extended family for me.”
The Single Parent Centre was able to provide a haven for Clements and her daughter, Miah. Along with being space where single parents could interact with other parents and staff members, the centre provided daily scheduled activities for both parents and their children, as well as special support at various times throughout the year.
“They gave us support at Christmastime,” remembers Clements. “You’re a single mother with a two-year-old, getting a Christmas tree is a big challenge. I can remember when they had Christmas trees for all of us. I was so happy – it was perfect. I picked it up and carried it home myself.”
Clements continued to visit the Single Parent Centre until she started working, but still requiring child care, she turned to other community supports that also have United Way connections. She credits the Boys and Girls Club, in particular, with making her career possible.
“They gave my daughter good child care, a safe environment and allowed me to afford to go to work.”
The mother and daughter were also able to participate in programs offered through the YMCA: swimming lessons and exercise classes made more affordable through the support of the United Way.
Dalhousie's United connections
In 2004, Clements started working at Dal, beginning her career here part-time in the Engineering Co-op program. The woman who hired her, Anne-Marie Coolen, director of Engineering and Computer Science Co-op Education, also has strong connections with the United Way: she completed her first co-op work term with the organization in 1982.
“It wasn’t my first pick of a co-op job,” admits Coolen. “I wanted to work at Shell or someplace like that . . . but then this job came up and up until that point, I really knew nothing about United Way.”
Thirty years later, Coolen now knows a thing or two – and continues to be actively involved with the United Way. She has previously held the position of co-chair for Dalhousie’s campaign. She also served as a board member for Alice Housing, an agency that receives funding from the United Way, and continues to offer her support to the Dalhousie campaign, coordinating and canvassing her area on campus.
“There's something about United Way . . . a number of people don't understand it but think they do, and the story that they tell is a negative one,” says Coolen. “When I reflect on my experience with United Way, the thing that stayed with me for 30 years was visiting the agencies and coming to understand the work that they did and consequently understanding what the United Way does in the community - and the impact it has.”
Clements reiterates that sentiment.
"I am a proof that it really works. I felt like I was falling, I couldn't get up – but they [United Way] contributed to this better way of life. You can't always get better on your own, and [giving back] is my chance to say ‘thank you.'"
Learn more about Dalhousie's United Way Halifax campaign – including information on how to donate – at its website: dal.ca/unitedway