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LETTER: Community must come together to face current challenges

'Waterloo Region is growing as fast as its challenges are emerging,' says the CEO of United Way Waterloo Region Communities
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CambridgeToday received the following letter from Joan Fisk, the CEO of United Way Waterloo Region Communities.

Waterloo Region has just persevered through one of its most challenging periods in history.

Rising interest and inflation rates caused the cost of food, housing, and goods and services to skyrocket beyond all imagination - all while worsening crises of climate change, opioid and drug poisoning, gender-based violence, and the slow recovery from a global COVID-19 pandemic, loomed in the background.

It’s no wonder that many of us are feeling fatigued, overworked, and deflated. Recent studies show that 40 per cent of Canadians and 52 per cent of Millennials are confronting their highest stress levels of all time.

In order to build a sustained and resilient recovery, we need a united community more than ever. We need the creation and sustenance of real spirit.

Community spirit – the foundation of a society, that weaves strangers, friends, and neighbours of all backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life together to protect one another and work towards a brighter, better future – is essential to the future of Waterloo Region.

Economic precarity and psychological can make us insular as individuals, and as a society. Our minds turn inwards; to focus on ourselves, our immediate needs. Politically, the patience and fortitude required to compromise with other viewpoints wanes, and we risk descending into fractured groups, stances, or headstrong opinions. Socially, and even mentally, we withdraw.

Nowhere do we see this trend hitting harder than in patterns of giving to charities and nonprofit organizations that depend on the kindness and philanthropy of others to survive. According to Statistics Canada, donations to charities are dropping almost 10 per cent a year, thanks to a rise in average household debt, a declining donor base of aging baby boomers, and a drastic spike in the cost of living.

At United Way Waterloo Region Communities, we have for decades helped to fund and support local community organizations and groups most in need by having our ‘ears on the ground’ of our Region; understanding the processes of charitable giving, the systemic nature of socio-economic, mental, and health crises, and the power that charities and non-profits can have by weaving donors and recipients together into a mosaic, a social bond, that makes a community stronger by helping one another. By building community spirit together, for, and through, the common good.

Although we are facing huge challenges, we can – and must – re-ignite our community’s spirit to make it through. We can do this.

First, we must recognize that no issue or crisis – from poverty, to housing, to drug addictions and poisoning – exists in a vacuum. Adopting a systemic lens, we must work to volunteer and support organizations with shared causes and missions that will lift each other up, as each other’s tide rises.

To change lives, we must change the systems that shape and guide all of us.

Second, we must support one another. As Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – from volunteering our time, to donating to charity, to learning more from experts and front-line workers about the complexities of social crises, and sharing this expert knowledge with others – supporting, giving, and learning more, not only builds understanding – it builds trust, and grows a community.

Finally, communities come together to engage one another, to help one another, and to celebrate each other. As our United Way Spirit Awards approaches us on April 25th, I have been constantly reminded that, despite the many challenges we are facing as a Region, the outpouring of support, love, and the willingness to help others and to embrace positive and progressive change is incredibly powerful here; if it is given the opportunity – and the funding - to flourish, it will.

Waterloo Region is growing as fast as its challenges are emerging. By building community spirit and supporting those most in need, we can address systemic inequities while supporting the charities and non-profits that are testaments to the resilience of humanity, and of our region.

We must be united in building the future foundations for our community’s spirit to grow. The days may feel long, but the years will go by fast. We must re-ignite our community spirit together.

Joan Fisk
CEO, United Way Waterloo Region Communities