SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 13, 2013

Column: Engaging in the lives of others

Margo Casey
The Salem News

---- — I want to thank the Salem News for covering the Nov. 18 forum on the growth of suburban poverty that North Shore United Way was proud to co-sponsor alongside MAPC, the Brookings Institution, and the North Shore CDC. The impetus for the conversation is the 20 percent increase in poverty on the North Shore over the last 10 years.

The numbers have increased not because the poor are moving to the North Shore but because poverty is increasing across the nation. According to the 2010 Census, more than one in seven people in the United States lives below the poverty line.

Continuing public conversations like this one is critical as we recognize that we all want to live in a healthy, strong community. As I sit in the comfort of my home, I can’t help but think of the challenges that face parents raising children from a motel room, miles from work or a grocery store. When I think of my own family’s holiday meal, I am stuck by the sheer length of the lines for Thanksgiving food assistance at Beverly Bootstraps, near my office.

So often our public conversation about the economy exists in the realm of politics. While these are important conversations, there is an individual, human element we sometimes lose. While the economy has improved for many this year, there continues to exist a human struggle in our midst that tugs at my heart, even in the frenzy of daily life.

While I argue we need more attention paid to the challenges facing very low-income families among us, I admit that these are hard conversations to have. Despite the fact that more than half of Americans will drop below the poverty line at some point before age 65, most of us lack extensive experience with the face of poverty. The result is a national dialogue that pits us against one another. We need conversations that are local; conversations that are informed, creative, and inclusive. The solutions that will make our communities stronger and healthier will include action by all residents — rich and poor alike.

I believe there is one thing each of us can do to foster a more informed dialogue and a more united community. There is one thing that can make us more empathetic and more connected to one another. That solution is to volunteer.

It may sound trite or old fashioned, but the reality is that whether you volunteer through your house of worship, through a local nonprofit, or by simply mowing a neighbor’s lawn, acts of individual generosity build a stronger collective community. In giving our time and in sharing our resources we recognize what we have. Volunteering engages us in the lives of others, which is often challenging, but makes us smarter, more empathetic people. We may even become more aware of our own need for community.

In fact I think this is so important that we have launched an online community for volunteerism called the North Shore Volunteer Hub. It allows all of us to connect to meaningful opportunities on the North Shore for neighbors to serve neighbors through nonprofit organizations and community groups.

You can find it linked from our website, nsuw.org. I hope you will consider creating a user account which allows you to become a fan of organizations you like and be notified when they have volunteer needs in the future. You can also search for volunteer opportunities that match your availability and resources.

As the New Year approaches, I invite you to join me in working for a stronger community.

Margo Casey is the executive director of the North Shore United Way. NSUW makes an almost $1 million investment each year to strengthen our communities. Funding supports 25 local causes focused on the health, financial security, and the well-being of children, families, and seniors on the North Shore.