“Giving back makes me get up every day. It makes a difference,” said Brad.
A volunteer with United Way for Greater Austin for 24 years, Brad makes time to help people in our community any way he can: mentoring children in a reading program, rebuilding homes impacted by natural disasters, providing coats to children, and packing up food boxes.
But one of his favorite ways to give back is at H-E-B’s Feast of Sharing, where Brad has volunteered nearly every year since 2000. He knows the difference a warm meal makes: Growing up, he and his family relied on organizations like United Way, the food bank, and the Salvation Army to meet their basic needs.
Brad volunteering at H-E-B Feast of Sharing with United Way Development Operations Associate Jenn Truong in 2022. “I already have Feast of Sharing 2024 on my calendar,” Brad said.
“My parents decided between buying groceries and heating the house,” Brad, who is originally from northern Wisconsin, said. “United Way took care of me when I was young and didn’t have anything. I ask myself, ‘How can I not volunteer?'”
United Way Events and Engagement Manager Rose Bell, Co-chair of Women United Executive Committee Tracy Fielder, and United Way volunteer and Women United member Jonna Beaver at Consuela Connects, an event that raised nearly $500 for the communities United Way serves.
Just like volunteering became a habit for Brad, Jonna also felt drawn to volunteer any chance she got since her first shift at United Way’s Fall Day of Caring nine years ago. She felt inspired by the people she met, and soon she volunteered at more events like our Spring Day of Caring and MLK Jr. Week of Service. That’s one of her favorite memories.
Jonna, right of center in a white beanie, will always remember volunteering with her son, William, bottom right, when he was 9 years old, for MLK Jr. Week of Service.
“Seeing my son volunteer with me at such a young age brings a smile to my face. A lot of parenting is modeling behaviors, so being able to volunteer with him is important. Having those opportunities through United Way has been awesome,” Jonna said.
She believes the power of volunteering lies in the connection it creates. Meeting new people and the feeling of helping others makes every volunteer shift worth it.
“It might sound selfish, but it also makes me feel good helping out where I can.”
Success By 6 Shared Services Resources and Support Coordinator Tori Carter, United Way volunteers Summer McAfee and Melanie Ross, and United Way volunteer and donor Diane Ireson organize diapers for distribution to local child care centers.
Volunteer Melanie agrees that serving the community makes her feel as good as it does the families and children she is helping. That’s one of the reasons she began volunteering with United Way by supporting language and literacy curriculums for preschool and pre-K programs two years ago.
“One of the things that comforts volunteers is to know that there is a place for them no matter what their abilities are. When we give ourselves collectively, we can solve big problems. It’s kind of addicting,” Melanie laughs.
She knows a common hesitation for volunteering is time, but Melanie has found that no matter how much time you have to volunteer, there is an opportunity for you. “You can match your strengths and availability to the opportunities. Whether you have two hours or six hours, you’re going to find something you really like,” she said.
Melanie, Jonna, and Brad are just three of hundreds of United Way volunteers. Their paths are unique, but their heart for serving our community is unchanging.
What is Brad’s advice for someone who wants to get involved?
“You don’t have to know how to help. You just have to want to help,” he said.
As we celebrate 100 years of impact at United Way for Greater Austin, there are many ways to continue building opportunity in our community. Click here to see our upcoming volunteer opportunities!