We are fortunate to live in a small community that has amazing things to offer. We have a first rate minor league baseball team, the cultivating Center for the Arts,  a thriving downtown, beautifully groomed and maintained parks and trails, not to mention world class employers. All of these things combined could make any community special, but what makes this community special is its caring and supportive residents.

There is often a misconception that in a community of this caliber, there’s little opportunity to lend time and money to worthy causes. I have to admit, I once held that belief myself. But over time, through my workplace and friends, I learned about United Way, local community issues, and unmet needs. I gradually became more involved donating time and money, but still only had a high level understanding of all the ways United Way supports sustainable change. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to go on an impact bus tour and meet those whose lives have been or are being changed, that my flame for philanthropy was truly ignited.

Last year, United Way of Midland County piloted the bus tour program, providing a unique opportunity to witness first-hand how our donations are making an impact. When you donate money to a charitable organization it is rare to see where that money goes, how it’s put to work, and the power it has to change a life. The impact bus tours eliminate that limitation, and—in thanks to its success—are now being offered to the entire community!

Each tour focus on the community level goals around Education, Health and Self-Sufficiency.

You might have the opportunity to visit the home of an Arc client like Jennifer, a women with development disabilities that was destined to live in an institution. But through donors and the collaboration between United Way and the Arc, Jennifer now owns her own home—which was custom built to meet her unique physical challenges—lives independently, has a job, is a tax-paying citizen, and is able to spend as much time in the kitchen baking to her hearts content!  I saw how my money is able to change a life.

Your next stop may be a bit more unsettling, touring Shelterhouse and learning how they support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. They go to great lengths to protect the residents and we heard the stomach churning statistics of neighbors and children who rely on these services. My preconceived notions of safety were overturned as I learned there are people who cause that kind of harm and victims everywhere you turn.

You might also hear from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Great Lakes Bay Region and learn that there is a real need for role models in the lives of area youth. You will experience how those relationships create both measureable academic progress, along with, helping youth develop to their full potential. At that stop, I identified a future opportunity for my family to volunteer in the Families for Kids program.

It is difficult to go on one of these bus tours and return unmoved and unchanged. I encourage you to jump at the opportunity to participate in one yourself; learn more about how your investment of time or money to United Way creates sustainable change and makes this great community an even better place to live, work and play.

This quote from Winston Churchill sums up how my heart was impacted from my experience: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”