Friday, August 21, 2009

Meet Meredith Ghrist

Hi! My name is Meredith Ghrist, and my “Live United” story has just begun. I started working with United Way of Northwest Arkansas in late July as the Manager of Special Projects. I work with both the development and community impact sides of our organization, seeking to further the vision and purpose of United Way.

I feel well prepared for the task. While living in Kenya, East Africa during my four years of high school, I saw a great deal of need for organizations that provide help in the areas of education, income, health, and basic infrastructure. I became passionate about transformational development – a movement focused on creating organizations that not only provide for those in need, but also empower them to come together as communities and be a part of that process. In college I became active in a leading a campus advocacy group called Acting on AIDS, as well as in the Honors Program. I spent my summers gaining experience in human relations and non-profit work- as a counselor at a family camp, as an intern at an excellent Kenyan HIV/AIDS help center and clinic, and as a teacher at a daycare that accommodated children with disabilities.

I received my diploma – a bachelors of science in Family and Human Services - in December 2008. A typical college graduate, I walked across the platform with many high ideals and few actual job leads.

So I began working at a local café – a place I loved for its smallness and authenticity – but bit my nails in the evening while clicking through internet job databases and online applications.

I wanted to find a place where could I apply both my experience in human services and deep desire to implement creative, practical, and empowering solutions to social issues like hunger and poverty.

I’ve been so pleased to find that United Way is that kind of place - a beautiful marriage of compassionate idealism and practical solutions. It is smart - the organization evaluates itself at each step, asking and answering important questions about how we do what we do, if it is most effective to solving the problem at hand, and if it is the most empowering to the people involved.

It is kind – not only we do we strive to advance the good of all, but my coworkers also understand the significance of their work and care deeply about it. For example, one of my coworkers received a call from a woman looking for shoes for her 13-year-old son. She easily could have been directed to another service provider – “Why don’t you try calling the Salvation Army?” – click. Instead, my coworker let the mother know that while we don’t provide direct services, she would do what she could. She got the boy’s shoe size, called Salvation Army and a church, looked into support available for the mother’s position, and called her back with names and places to get vouchers for shoes and other support.

It is local – the United Way understands the best way to help a community is by building it up as such. It seeks to provide non-profit agencies with local volunteers, connecting people from businesses and non-profits together for the common good. All money donated within a focus area, unless specifically designated, stays within the local community.

That is why I’m happy to be working with the United Way, and excited to bring my own experience and passion to work every day. One of my goals is to encourage young generations to use United Way as a uniting force behind many of the causes in which they are already involved. I aim to perform each task I am given excellently; to pursue new relationships and strengthen old ones with local agencies, companies, and individuals; to affirm a positive work environment in daily interactions with other staff; and to model being an active and compassionate community member. And that’s just the beginning of my “Live United” story.

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