I believe that each of us has a responsibility to give back to the communities where we live and work. There are people all across Canada who are struggling to meet their daily needs such as food and shelter. It’s heartbreaking to know that one in four children in my community of London, Ontario live in poverty.
That’s why I immediately raised my hand last fall to become 3M’s sponsored employee. It was an opportunity to help in any way I could with the United Way of Elgin Middlesex campaign.
The sponsored employee program is a development opportunity offered to one 3M Canada employee each year, to join the United Way in a four-month secondment role. I was one of 15 sponsored employees from companies across the London, Ontario region to join the United Way Elgin Middlesex campaign.
I knew that being a sponsored employee would be a challenging, eye-opening and educational experience—but I was not prepared for the life changing perspectives I am so grateful for.
Highlights of being a United Way sponsored employee.
On my first day as a sponsored employee, I was assigned a development officer by the United Way, Kelly, who supported me through the entire process.
Kelly explained part of my role was to develop relationships with several workplaces in the area. I conducted outreach to workplace volunteers who were coordinating their company United Way programs to assist them in reaching their fundraising goals. This part of the role was inspiring, as I was able to see how local companies were thinking outside the box in order to give back to their community in the midst of a pandemic. It was also a chance to exchange ideas and provide input on what has worked in previous workplace campaigns I have been involved in at 3M.
"In my time at 3M, I have seen an active and authentic investment in nurturing healthy communities around us. As an employee, knowing that I’m encouraged to give back creates an overwhelming “feel good” culture and makes me incredibly proud to work here."
- Laura Nelligan, Sponsored Employee 2019, Strategic Sourcing, 3M Canada
Through these connections, I developed new relationships with changemakers in our community with a common bond of improving lives.
One of the eye-opening moments came during a walk around our downtown core. We visited some of the local agencies that are funded through the United Way, including a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, and second-stage housing for women.
I will never forget a man we met who had been staying in and out of local shelters for two years. He had been living on the street, grappling with a drug addition. But thanks to the support of local agencies, this was his last day at the shelter. He had found a job and was moving into his own place the next day. He told us without the support of the shelter and people in the community who cared – he would not be alive for his second chance at life.
These are the kinds of stories that serve as inspiration and keep me driven to give back.
What I learned from the experience.
Through my experience as a sponsored employee, I came to a new level of awareness of the privileges my family and I benefit from. My daily routines involved my commute to and from work, generally sticking to the neighbourhoods and areas I was familiar with. This sheltered me from witnessing the poverty, homelessness and other issues in the city. Many of us live in bubbles like this, unaware of the struggle of others in our communities.
During a simple walk-through of downtown London, it became clear that the need for support was great—support that the United Way offers through funding local agencies, and organizing volunteers like you and me. Their impact is real and can be life changing.
Before my sponsored employee experience, when I came across an individual experiencing homelessness, I was afraid to make eye contact or to engage. Now, I realize how misguided this common reaction is. Stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness, poverty, addiction, and the circumstances that lead to these situations, can result in further isolation and disconnection from fellow community members. No one chooses to be homeless, it’s something that happens to them. It is important to show people who are struggling the courtesy and respect we afford others in our daily lives. Offering a smile, or a polite greeting can make a difference in someone’s day – just as it does in yours.
I’m proud to work for a company that cares so much about the communities it operates in it. Providing the United Way with a resource for four months, while creating a personal development opportunity for their employee is an incredible gesture that makes a difference.
This experience helped me understand how my own bias and experiences had affected my perception of disadvantage in my community. Most of all, it highlighted the life-changing results that can come from individuals joining together in support, to help build a stronger, more empathetic community. If presented with the opportunity, I highly recommend becoming a sponsored employee. It was an eye-opening experience that will stay with me forever.
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