It’s 10:00 p.m. I’m finally in my tent after a very long day. I’m feeling overwhelmed with the realization of what has just begun. This morning at our United Way of Licking County Annual Meeting and Breakfast that began at 6:30 a.m., we celebrated. We shared all that so many have accomplished and contributed over the past year, to help carry out our mission of “Uniting the community to improve people’s lives.”
Our wonderful staff and volunteers from the Outreach committee worked so hard to put the event together. We hosted about 250 people and our theme was “taking it to the streets”. We thanked past board members and welcomed new ones. We thanked donors and everyone who had contributed financially. We thanked partners and all who collaborated. We recognized special community volunteers and the many programs who help our community each day and we were moved by the courage and spirit of those who have and continue to inspire hope in others . We shared plans, priorities, and goals for the future and we issued a call to action, for everyone to help make a difference because we believe “everyone matters” if we are to “live united.”
At the conclusion of this event, we continued our theme of taking it to the streets by starting this 50 day journey that I am now on with the support of so very many. We are calling this the “50 the United Way” and encouraging people to Give, Walk, or Do. After leaving the Doubletree by Hilton in Newark, Ohio at 9:00 a.m. accompanied by my family , friends, community leaders, and the media, we walked down 2nd street. We were greeted by some friends along the way. We high fived and hugged at the Licking County Foundation. We waved at the county building and marveled at the construction of the soon to be open new Canal Market District and waved goodbye as we passed our United Way office at the works. The Mayor of Newark beamed as he shared so many stories of all the wonderful things about Newark. After leaving the downtown area, we journeyed over to “Little Texas” where stories were shared about the neighborhood and the “south side pride” that local residents share. We talked about the many homeless who use the banks of the Licking River as a temporary camp. We marveled at the natural beauty of the River and learned about opportunities to canoe down it with the Licking County Parks and Recreation.
After leaving the River we headed to Ben Franklin Elementary and walked laps inside the hallways with Kindergarten students. We ate lunch and before departing thanked them for the change they had collected and donated to the walk. From there we headed north to be greeted by volunteers and residents of St. Vincent’s Men’s Shelter. We learned about the shelter and the housing challenges had by those who live there as well as got a glimpse of the new transitional housing units that will soon be open. Continuing on our way we were greeted by the director of the Licking County Coalition of Housing, who walked with us to visit a home that had been designated for a veteran. Leaving there, we walked to Newark High School where I had the opportunity to speak at a government class and a civics class. The High School students could relate to the many issues facing Licking County and were encouraged to continue to help make a difference through their own lives. Finally, our walk took us to the OSU/COTC Newark Campus where I had a few minutes to catch my breath and set up my tent. In the evening the director of the Licking County Coalition of Housing and I talked to the community there at a talent show about our 50 day campaign before meeting up with the OSU Dean of Students Bill McDonald who took the sleep out challenge and pitched his tent in the rain and snow that had begun to fall. In all, I, along with others throughout the day, walked 12 miles, meeting and talking to over 400 people.
It’s cold outside now and there is a light dusting of snow on my tent. However, I am thankful for a warm sleeping bag, a few pair of long johns, a hat, and mittens that will keep me warm tonight. This is more than many others in our community will have this evening to keep them warm and dry. So I remember them this evening as well as the many people who walk many miles as they struggle with transportation. As I settled down in my tent tonight alone, I remember that I’m really not alone. I’m out here on this journey with so many who walk this journey with me and I’m thankful and blessed.