Make the new year (and every year) about kindness

By Bobbi Watt Geer, President & CEO, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

When I was a kid, my mother always told me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  This advice was much easier to follow before the advent of social media, where people can say any manner of unkind things without consequence. How many times recently have you read something on Facebook, Twitter or another platform that made you wince? The world has grown to be less face to face, much more fast paced, and, unfortunately, at times less kind. However, there are so many examples of kindness and ways to express it, which is essential to building and maintaining a strong community.

Here’s why kindness is so important at this time of year. We are often our best selves during the holiday season and at the beginning of the new year, giving and volunteering and thinking about others who may be in need. I experienced many examples of this kindness in the past several months here at United Way, helping hundreds of volunteers wrap and deliver college sweatshirts to local middle school students; packing literacy kits delivered to elementary school children; and assembling weekend food backpacks for families who struggle to provide enough food throughout the weekend. Then, the new year arrives, and we return to our normal routines and schedules. People who struggle do so regardless of the time of year. So, how can we express our kindness in a more consistent way?

United Way has many opportunities for you to volunteer year-round and express your kindness to those who may really need it. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Visit United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s volunteer page at This will take you to a variety of individual or corporate volunteer opportunities and allow you to register online. If you live in our Butler or Westmoreland regions, you can visit (Butler) or (Westmoreland).
  2. Make it a group project. Encourage your co-workers or family to sign up for one or more opportunities. United Way specializes in coordinating workplace groups for meaningful volunteer experiences.
  3. Young professionals interested in a deeper dive into community service may be a good fit for Connect U, which is an eight-week immersive experience in philanthropy and volunteerism.
  4. While United Way would be happy to connect you to a volunteer opportunity, you can also consider volunteering to serve on your local community (city, township or municipality) planning commission, zoning board, library board, or on a committee for your local school district. Local governments are often recruiting local volunteers at the beginning of the year.
  5. You can also reach out directly to a favorite local nonprofit that could use your help.

Any of these opportunities can be an incredibly meaningful way to express your kindness to people who live in your community or our region. Volunteers often tell me how rewarding the experience has been for them and how much they have learned about challenges that face our community. It is hard to think of a better way to encourage and develop kindness. So, as you think about what you want to accomplish this year, I ask you to consider experiencing the consequences of your kindness. You and our community will be better for it, and you are also likely to make your parents proud.