United Way — Live United
The Power of a Long Term Goal
by Mandi Cromar
I am Mandi Cromar and I'd like to tell you a little about myself. I am the product of United Way programs. I want to get you thinking about how supporting United Way helps your friends, family, and coworkers be successful, and how we can set this community up for success. United Way, of Lane County, works to create opportunities for a better life for all. Without the support of my community, I wouldn’t have had the foundation that I needed to become a successful individual, here sharing my story with you.
As a Loaned Executive, Sponsored by Royal Caribbean, I learned a lot about the programs that are funded by United Way of Lane County. We went out into the field and were able to see the programs in full effect - what they were doing, who they were helping, and the goals they were trying to achieve. As I learned about these programs, I reflected on myself. I am a member of this community, so how am I giving, advocating, or volunteering? I know that I grew up in a low income household, and now I am in a position where it’s my turn to give back to the community.
The United Way programs fall into the three building blocks of a good life - education, income, and health, which all impacted me when I was younger. Knowing how hard my childhood was, and learning about these amazing programs made me remember that I was in the newspaper when I was little. I did a little digging and found the newspaper article in the archives of the Oregonian. I was on the cover of the Oregonian as an 8-year old girl in poverty. That’s humiliating. We were living in a cheap weekly motel, infested with cockroaches, to make ends meet and have money left over at the end of the month. The article goes on to talk about how the low income families are fighting the real fight, and the children are suffering.
We moved a lot as we looked for the next best housing option. I bounced from school to school every few months; it was rare to stay at a school for longer than a year. I couldn’t keep up with my education, the teachers couldn’t keep track of me, and it was hard to have friends. United Way looks for opportunities to assist families in these kinds of financial situations. When the working poor can’t afford to live in stable housing, they also can’t afford the various other things needed for a healthy and successful life.
At the time of the Oregonian article, my current teacher knew of a program that gave clothing vouchers to kids. She took me shopping for new school clothes. It was the best day of my life! I remember buying a pair of gaudy pink pants, I thought they were amazing and I couldn’t wait to wear them to school to show them off. I had brand new clothes which was important for my success in school. I was ready to sit in the classroom and I felt good about myself. Without these kinds of programs, children are not prepared for success. United Way funds the kind of programs that focus on education not only for the children, but for the families; Programs that foster collaboration between home, school, and the community.
A few years later, I was about 10 years old, my brother and I were home for the holidays just like all of the other children. It was Christmas Eve and we didn’t think we would have a Christmas because we didn’t have a Christmas tree. There was a knock at the door, and a group of people were standing there, in a storm, holding a Christmas tree and boxes full of wrapped gifts. For a 10 year old and an 8 year old, this was huge! They not only literally saved our Christmas that year, but they saved our mental health. This meant we were getting to participate in the holiday festivities just like all of the others kids. United Way seeks to invest in the health of our community; whether it is mental health services, medical, or dental. They seek to create the opportunity for the health of the whole person and the entire community.
The generosity from the community has hugged my family, over and over again; it truly starts with the community and ends with the community. I can whole-heartedly say that programs supported by United Way are reasons why I am a successful individual today.
Today I am healthy, happy, and living a life I love. I went on to college where I studied marine biology. Since then I have fulfilled the dream of being in the water first as a snorkeler, now as a certified scuba diver. I volunteer as a scuba diver at the Oregon Coast Aquarium where I worked for a short period of time. Since then I have had a passion for giving back, and am now in a position to do so. I recently accepted a new job opportunity as the Human Resources Hiring Coordinator in the corporate office of Market of Choice. I am very excited for this new opportunity. Being a Loaned Executive has been truly amazing and inspiring. Everyone at United Way of Lane County has been so supportive and understanding. The fact that I feel successful means I am successful, and I am grateful for the hand up in this. The people in this office work every day to help someone else with whatever the need is, this office helped shape my childhood and my future.
What is unique about United Way of Lane County is that it is the glue that our community needs. United Way looks for the short term and long term goals and I was a long term goal. Without the programs that United Way funds, I would be in a very different place right now. Children and families in this community need your support, I needed your support. By working together, we can ensure that families and children right here in Lane County have the resources and tools they need to strive.