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What is your Why?


I was raised in a family that valued helping others.  My grandfather, an Air Force colonel and Lutheran pastor, along with my grandmother, often took in those in need.  They built churches across the world, cared for international seamen docking at Morehead City, fed more people than I can imagine, but most importantly, they practiced the principles of true service to others. 

Executive Director/CEO of United Way of Cumberland County, Amy Navejas

When I was in high school, my mother was a nurse at a migrant clinic.  One day, a young woman named Isabella came in and found out that she was pregnant.  She decided to place the baby she was carrying for adoption – a truly difficult decision for a woman whose culture frowned upon adoption.  She already had a daughter in Mexico, and a 4-month-old infant son with her in North Carolina whom she could barely afford to feed.  Her son lived with her and another migrant family in a cinderblock room where he had no toys other than a cucumber from the fields. 

Before I knew it, my parents brought her home and she and her son moved into our spare bedroom to ensure they received proper healthcare and enjoyed safe living conditions during her pregnancy.  Not having infants in the home anymore, my parents reached out to our church members to borrow baby equipment like highchairs and a crib for the infant.  Isabella was able to quit working in the fields, and we enrolled her in ESL classes at our local community college. We enrolled her son in Head Start, a program designed to prepare children for school, and we helped her gain skills for better employment.  She and her baby boy became family to us.  We cooked meals together (I am still not a fan of molé), took her grocery shopping and on vacations, and she even went to high school football games with me.  

Initially, her infant son would not interact, smile, roll over or otherwise engage in age-appropriate milestones.  By the end of her stay with us, he was laughing, enjoying his bouncer and crawling all around!  Talk about seeing progress … it was remarkable. 

Isabella was not much older than I was, a teenager.  She helped me practice for Spanish tests and chuckled with me when she ran into other migrant workers in the community who asked if she was pregnant.  Her reply was always the same. “No.  Solomente gordita.” She took a nod from me and became skillful at asking my parents for new shoes and other teenage wants.  We became particularly close, and she later asked me to stay with her in the delivery room when she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. 

Isabella learned that we cared.  Not just about this new baby she was bringing into the world for a new family to love, but about her.  At 16, I learned how wonderful it can be to help someone in need.  It planted a seed. 

Do I think we made a positive impact on Isabella? Absolutely.  But she made a much greater impact on me.  Today, I still have the same fiery passion to help others in need.  Through working at local nonprofits, I have seen and helped others in similarly difficult situations. It doesn’t have to be opening your home.  Every person in this community has a gift that they can share to help others.  It may be volunteering.  It may be monetary support.  Maybe it is opening your home, but every one of us has a gift to share. 

The United Way is one avenue for us to come together to share our gifts, to lift up those in need, and to create a better community and a better future.  The vision is simple – come together for the greater good. 

I’ve served as the executive director of a small nonprofit.  It is a role that is difficult, and the exhaustion is real.  Constantly having to raise money means hosting event after event.  It is no easy task.  Clients like Isabella motivate them.  Don’t believe me? Ask a nonprofit employee.  I have hundreds of stories of incredibly humble, grateful clients at Better Health who walked away with tears of joy and motivated me to do even more.  They are my why.

When individuals and businesses give through United Way, they support the “fundraising arm” of local nonprofits, if you will. Someone has to raise the money.  If not United Way, it falls to the nonprofit staff members who are working so hard to care for clients like Isabella.  With our help, we can allow those nonprofit staff members to focus on what matters most – on Isabella, or the neighbor you didn’t realize has a substance abuse problem, or your uncle whose home caught fire, or your child’s teenage friend who has fallen victim to online predators.  Giving makes a difference.  Whether you donate, show up to build a wheelchair ramp, or mentor someone in need, give.  Our community needs you, and our children need to see us giving back. 

Giving has changed a lot since my grandfather’s time, but the needs are still there.  Personally, I think our children need to see us giving and sacrificing for others.  We can teach them empathy and caring, but we have to practice what we preach.  Join me in making a difference.  Let’s come together, united.

To learn more about your local United Way’s efforts in the community, contact Amy Navejas at director@unitedway-cc.org.

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