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In The News

United Way Worldwide CEO addresses ‘struggling’ Muncie

Source: The Star Press

By Seth Slabaugh

September 7, 2017

MUNCIE — The CEO of United Way Worldwide offered  some encouragement to Muncie on Thursday night.

“Delaware County is not the only community in the United States struggling with economic transformation,” Brian Gallagher told local United Way volunteers at the downtown Valhalla pub and event center. “We don’t have the same manufacturing jobs we used to have … The idea of a community’s resiliency is like a family’s resiliency. Can you make it through hard times?”

Gallagher grew up in Hobart in a “pretty turbulent household,” including drugs, violence and public assistance. His father was a union plumber with an eighth-grade education. A coach at the YMCA mentored Gallagher, whose mother took refuge in a shelter for victims of domestic violence (at the time, he didn't know the Y and the shelter received United Way support).

“We were a product of community,” Gallagher said. “I am a product of Ball State (University). I am a product of United Way.”

During his senior year at BSU, where he graduated in 1981, Gallagher gained social-work experience through a practicum at the United Way of Delaware County.

He eventually climbed his way to the presidency of United Way of America — which later merged with United Way International to become United Way Worldwide — just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Gallagher witnessed the resiliency of New York City after the terrorist attacks. He would later observe a lack of resiliency in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, calling it “a city that really didn’t work.” Not very good local political leadership. Good business leaders but disconnected. Race and income separation. Nonprofits not working together. Of Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Gallagher said, “There’s a resilient community.” Good government. Engaged businesses and citizens. “People not arguing with each other.”

“It always takes leadership,” Gallagher told local United Way Day of Action volunteers who spent Thursday helping in the community. “You are the leaders in Muncie and Delaware County that will decide how to create your own resiliency.”

Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns spent the day with fellow UW volunteers on the Cardinal Greenway, at Huffer Memorial Chilldren’s Center, and at South View Elementary School. 

He read to 3-year-olds and got to hold a baby. He read to some third-graders, and some of them read to him. He went to shake the hand of a young boy and tell him he had done a great job. “He said, ‘Can I give you a hug, because I’m a hugger?’ Think about that  …what you can do with your resources to change the life of people in our community?“

Mearns is being officially installed as Ball State’s next president during a ceremony at Emens Auditorium on Friday. When he learned of the date of United Way’s Day of Action, he scheduled his installation ceremony for the next day. “What better way to celebrate the relationship, the partnership, between Ball State and the community than to begin this series of events with the United Way’s Day of Action?” Mearns said.

After the reception at Valhalla, United Way served as host of a downtown block party during downtown Muncie's monthly First Thursday to launch a new  fundraising campaign. The party was sponsored by Old National Bank, Magna Powertrain, and Ontario Systems.

Traditionally, the kickoff is a 7 a.m. breakfast at the Horizon Center with a lot of people wearing suits.

But UW is trying to appeal to a new generation of philanthropists who might not know what the organization is about or how it impacts lives locally. The block party including live music and locally brewed beer was an effort to shed the old-school image while still honoring the past.

The focus of the latest United Way campaign is to end generational poverty, first by bringing all third-graders in Delaware County up to state reading standards by 2024.

Eighty percent of children living in low-income households do not read at grade level by the end of third grade, said Jenni Marsh, local UW president. That makes them much more likely not to complete high school. “We know low-income households are at risk, and guess what? We’ve got some low-income households,” Marsh said.

Twenty-one percent of the local community’s households are at poverty level, and another 26 percent are in the “working poor” category, she said.

Early childhood education is the key to changing the trajectory of Muncie and Delaware County, said Casey Stanley, chair of this year’s UW campaign. He talked about visiting a 29-year-old single father on Elm Street. One of the man's kids is autistic, and the other was abused. The father is a high-school dropout. The father told Casey, “I don’t need anything, but I don’t want this for my kids.”