Improve your community

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”

— Vince Lombardi

If you played team sports, this quote will probably resonate with you.

You’ll remember the times of success — clinching your first win, high fives in the air and the smell of victory, right?

But you’ll also remember the defeats — heads down, quiet murmurs of “good game” as you shook the hands of other players and a replay reel that showed areas of improvement for each individual on the team. You might also remember the mottos that were chanted leaving a memory in your head and impression on your heart forever.

Coach Donna Sullivan instilled teamwork in my life at a very early age. I went to a local parochial school where the fifth grade basketball team recruited third graders. I was a lucky third grader that followed in the footsteps of an older sister and tagged along to basketball camp every summer. As a part of camp we would memorize the mottos and learn to believe in the mottos while the team built endurance and relationships.

My favorite motto still directs my everyday work: “Good. Better. Best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.”

This motto built this question three and half years ago for me: how can the team (board, volunteers and staff) turn Jackson County United Way’s good to better and better to best?

Jackson County United Way has a long-lasting relationship with the community and is focused on assessing needs, securing resources and strategically investing resources to create lasting change in the areas of education, health and financial stability.

A quick review of our accomplishments in 2015 will point to several places where we’ve made the good to better:

• VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) & MyFreeTaxes programs helped residents claim more than $1.3 million in federal and state returns.

•FamilyWize, a free prescription drug discount card, saved residents nearly $600,000 and saw a 9 percent increase in use.

•United Way 2-1-1 connected over 1,500 residents to over 2,500 basic health and human service programs to cover basic needs.

And our better is also becoming our best:

•Day of Caring had another record-breaking year with more 600 volunteers and 78 project sites. (Our bold goal for the 20th annual event on May 10: 1,000 volunteers and 100 project sites)

•Rock’n Ready served more than 750 students with school supplies.

•Volunteer Center strives to match volunteers with community needs. In 2015, through the board, committees, programs and services, we engaged nearly 80 percent more individuals to volunteer. More than 1,200 volunteers served more than 9,520 hours. The volunteer investment totals more than $214,800.

•The annual campaign, which is the most important platform on which we pursue community change and impact. With strong leadership, we exceeded the 2015-16 campaign goal by raising $807,900. We couldn’t have achieved this goal without Greg Prange.

The Seymour High School principal served as our drive chairman. Before that he was a co-leader of the education division for years with Cheryl Fenton. He volunteered to tell Jackson County United Way’s story from his perspective and showed commitment to the team by joining staff and partners at early morning campaign meetings. He was a true teammate, providing encouragement and challenges to increase giving, being open to new ideas and ensuring each teammate was focused on the ultimate goal.

I knew he would be a great leader because he is a great teacher and coach. I never played for him, but he was my freshman biology teacher and taught me an important life lesson about teamwork. He instilled service for others as the most important characteristic that I, as a young high school student, should learn. He modeled this behavior through his leadership.

He arranged for our class to install the first handicapped accessible trail at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. While we worked, we learned about soil composition and how to ensure that the trail we were laying wouldn’t be washed away. We also learned about teamwork and important life skills. I don’t remember much about soil composition, but I remember the passion for service that he ignited in my heart.

Now the good is better. And when I go for a walk on the now paved interpretive trail, I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride that I have served my community. And as I look back on the accomplishments of the Jackson County United Way, I feel the same way.

Tonja Couch is executive director of Jackson County United Way. Send comments to