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United Way fall event inspires others to create impact in Calgary

Connor Curran doesn’t see his ambassadorship with the United Way Calgary and Area as giving back to the community.

He said he sees it as an investment.

Curran, co-owner of Calgary-based Local Laundry, was on hand at the Ampersand Sept. 8 to rally the Calgary business community as they prep for the United Way’s fall campaign season

It was there they held the Creating Impact Forum to also celebrate United Way Month in Calgary. Business leaders tuned in to examine new ways to motivate and inspire their office teams to invest time and energy into helping Calgarians.

“You’re not giving back, because that implies that you took something,” Curran said.

“You’re actually investing back in the community. The community has given so much to me and I just want to create a place where I invest some of that back into the community to help that next generation of crazy entrepreneurs like myself really, really thrive.”

Curran first started just by donating. Then Local Laundry ran a T-shirt sales campaign with a portion of the proceeds going to United Way.

“Then, we started to learn a little bit more what they’re doing in the community,” he said.

“From there, our relationship with them just kind of just kind of deepened.”

Now they want to donate $1 million to local charities by 2030.  And it really can be anything, he said. A team of workers or community members just needs to find their niche.

Momentum building for the fall

The United Way Calgary and Area campaign co-chairs Lara Conrad and Jonathan Wright spoke about preparations over the past few months.

“We’re really feeling the momentum build – that makes it really exciting,” Conrad said.

“Today’s sort of is the highlight as far as feeling that momentum coming into fall campaign.”

Conrad said a good workplace campaign needs two things. The first is to educate on community needs and what the United Way and partner agencies do to help.

The other is to have fun, make the campaign your own and pull your team together in doing so.

Wright said he’s often reminded of how fortunate he is, and that’s motivated him to give back to the community.

“That means here in Calgary, we have to remember there’s so many in our own society that just don’t have the same kind of opportunities that perhaps you and I have had,” he said.

Wright said there’s one thing that excites him about the work the United Way is doing today. They’re doing more research to help create targeted programs.

“I think that’s tremendously important. This means that the funds go to where they make the most difference for real people in our community right here in Calgary that need the help,” he said.

Evolving the United Way

Karen Young, president and CEO of United Way Calgary and Area, said that’s one of the biggest changes Calgarians would see in the work being done by their organization.

She said it’s not your grandma’s United Way anymore.

“United Way really started out as a community chest where we would collect dollars as an umbrella fundraiser and then we would distribute those investments into the community,” she said.

“Now we try to get really more targeted are what are the things that we really need to move the needle on to make better for people.”

One of those areas they targeted was high school completion. That led to work with partners to create success coaches and math tutoring.

“It’s really bringing everyone together to have that impact on something specific that they care about,” she said.

Young also said they recognize they’re in a post-pandemic world. Workplaces have changed. What’s also changed is Calgarians’ understanding of social purpose.

“They’ve seen so much during the pandemic; poverty going on in communities, people feeling isolated, people feeling that they don’t belong,” she said.

“It actually becomes a bit of a rallying cry for how people can work together to build that sense of team and morale in the company.”

There’s still uncertainty out there, Young said. While oil prices may be high, there’s inflationary pressures and that’s hit people hard. That makes the fundraising an ongoing challenge.

“It’s kind of leaning into the volatility of the markets and really trying to find our sweet spot through that,” she said.

Last year, the United Way Calgary and Area raised roughly $50 million.