By Jenny Holsman Tetreault, VSUW Board Chair
When I moved back to Arizona from New York in 2003, I struggled to find a place to invest my time. I was specifically looking for a community agency that would welcome my monetary investment (limited as it was at that time), would appreciate me as a volunteer, and where I could literally see the “impact” of a collective community effort to solve identified challenges.
Upon starting a professional role at the Arizona State University Alumni Association, I was invited to participate and then co-lead our local United Way campaign. This put me in a position to work directly with United Way staff, and ASU, in a collaborative effort to educate and motivate others around our community needs and to articulate how individuals could give time and resources to create impact.
I was proud to become a leadership giver at that time, in addition to serving on United Way’s “Resource Allocation Panel,” which distributed raised campaign funds to partner agencies within the community. This was the ideal blend for me, just what I had been looking for, and I continued along on my philanthropic journey and grew as a community leader.
While becoming more immersed in volunteerism than ever before, I desperately wanted to spend more time with other ‘hand-raisers’, and United Way’s affinity group for young professionals seemed to be just the right fit. So, I was welcomed into Generation United (“Gen U”). Once I became connected with Gen U, I found opportunities to volunteer with partner agencies, connect with other professionals, experience leadership development training, and enjoy social networking while making life-long friends.
As I grew up through United Way, I began to see that their priority was for me (as a donor, volunteer and community leader), to be completely fulfilled. It was evident that Valley of the Sun United Way wanted to guide me along the way, and to help me find ways to engage that would be personally meaningful to me. That was a game changer – and I have been hooked ever since.
My area of interest evolved over time and I found myself wanting to focus my efforts on early childhood initiatives, so I moved from Gen U and began to connect with likeminded women who were at a similar life stage as myself. I began to volunteer with Women United. And now, with over 850 investors in this work, I moved into the next phase of my personal journey.
Women United is where I have really been able to see the power of United Way at work, at a different level than I had ever seen. Truly. When children tell me that the only way their families are able to eat over the weekend is through the “WeekEnd Hunger Backpacks”…I know that we are doing something good. We are literally changing the lives of children, individuals and families. Every. Single. Day.
I have been serving in a leadership role with Women United the past six years, and am proud to share that we have collectively raised over $5 million. BOOM! That’s incredibly powerful. That $5 million has impacted thousands of lives…and yes, now I have become even more invested in our United Way work. This is particularly true after my recent appointment to the Women United Global Leadership Council, where I have had the opportunity to learn even more about the collective power of philanthropy.
In addition to my work with Women United, I have been a member of the Board of Directors for Valley of the Sun United Way for the last two years. As you might imagine, when I was asked to take a seat with some of the most passionate, dedicated, powerful business leaders in our community to serve the 94 year old organization that I loved and believed in, I jumped in with both feet.
I’m driven by knowing that we tackle immediate need, and systemic change for those who need us most, and while I love the strategy – its things like reading to my third-grade buddy, Jesus, who is a part of the VELLO program, that really move me. Again – it’s that perfect blend that has always been important to me.
By attending site visits and volunteering with our partner agencies, I have learned so much about United Way’s critical community impact and its poverty ending initiatives and have subsequently worked to advance our policy agenda. And, perhaps most importantly, I have introduced my family to United Way and they are as invested as I am in our work. I am a strong advocate for family philanthropy as we have found that the most magical moments come when we serve together.
Our son Connor, at the tender age of five, along with our daughter Madeline, who is three, recently brought me a handful of change each. After volunteering at a United Way event, they heard about young children that don’t have enough to eat, community members that don’t have a place to sleep, and community gardens being built to give healthy food options to those that need it. With $1.31 from one child and $.87 from the other, we are $2.18 closer to ensuring that “United, we break the cycle of poverty for every kid, family, and neighborhood in Maricopa County.”
I have, and continue to be, inspired by Valley of the Sun United Way. Every day, I wake up and ask myself, “What more can I do?” “What more can we do?” “How can we help more of our fellow community members?” “How can we strategically advance our mission drive work?” These questions are my sole drivers. I am so blessed that my philanthropy journey had led me here…and I’m thrilled and honored to lead Valley of the Sun United Way into our next chapter as the new board chair. Together, we must LIVE UNITED.