Be the Helpers: A Perspective on United Way’s Virtual Town Hall

By Dan LaVallee, director of social impact at UPMC Health Plan, chair of United Way’s Butler County Board of Directors and member of United Way’s Next Generation

You don’t need me to tell you how tremendous the need in our region is. More people are unemployed than ever before, families are struggling to put food on the table and our safety nets are wearing thin. But you know what? I have hope. After attending United Way’s virtual town hall last month, I know our most effective and compassionate leaders are working together to put our region back on track. And United Way is, no pun intended, leading the way.

Hosted by David Holmberg, President and CEO of Highmark Health, “Our Community in Recovery was an opportunity to hear directly from Bobbi Watt Geer, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s President and CEO, on how the organization is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, ways they’re moving forward and what each of us can do to help.

When the pandemic hit our communities in mid-March, United Way acted immediately. They sprinted to ramp up their PA 2-1-1 Southwest helpline, identify the most significant needs and partner with foundations to raise emergency funds. There was no downtime. No waiting. As our region’s largest convener, United Way already had the connections and used its leadership role to make sure citizens got the help they needed.

I’ve been involved with United Way since 2016, so I’m no stranger to the issues facing our communities, but it was sobering to hear about neighbors waiting in five-mile-long lines for food, or thousands of additional calls to the 2-1-1 helpline. From partnering with the PNC Foundation and Eat’n Park to form the Student and Families Food Relief Fund to saving jobs through the Transportation Network, United Way continues to thoughtfully and thoroughly address the most urgent issues.

Bobbi outlined three crises we’re facing at once: a health crisis, an economic crisis and a social justice crisis. While United Way was made to address two of the three, it was refreshing to hear a CEO openly discuss racial and gender inequities and pledge to do better. For United Way, that starts with hiring practices and extends to the agencies and communities it works with.

United Way has proven that it can lead in the worst of times. We don’t know when this crisis will end and there is still so much work to do. Now it’s up to us to support that good work. It’s our time to get involved, to find real solutions to real issues, to be the helpers Mister Rogers told us to look for.

So, make a donation to United Way, volunteer at the upcoming Week of Caring, spread the word to your friends – we can make a huge difference if we do this together.