From UCM to United Community

From UCM to United Community

At United Community Ministries’ 2019 Give From The Heart Gala on May 3, Ken Disselkoen, chair of its Board of Directors, and Alison DeCourcey, its executive director, addressed the organization’s supporters.

‘Relentless Dedication’

Good evening. I’m Ken Disselkoen, chairman of the board of UCM. And on behalf of the board I want to welcome you to this exciting celebration.

Yes, UCM’S 50th year of operation. That’s right, UCM was born the year the first man landed on the moon. Woodstock took place in N.Y. Sesame Street began on PBS. A gallon of gas was 35 cents, Average income was $8,500, and the average house sold for $15,000. We have outlasted the Supersonic Concorde and bad fashion trends like the Nehru Jacket (Hey, I had one of those, wore it proudly), but we have not outlasted the Rolling Stones.

When the founders of this organization attended their first planning meeting in 1969, they probably didn’t think that over the next 50 years the agency would grow from one employee to more than 70, or that the budget would increase by 72,000 percent. But that’s exactly what happened. Getting to 50 years required a relentless dedication. That’s 18,250 days of caring for the poorest in the community. It’s opening our doors on 2,607 Monday mornings. Our founders didn’t think of themselves as heroes. They looked around and saw neighbors in need, and then took the courageous step of deciding that they would no longer avert their eyes from the poverty in their community, that it wasn’t somebody else’s problem and that, fail or flourish, they were going to try to do something about it.

And so we honor their legacy tonight and all those that have followed them with their generosity. Their heroism and their lesson, echoing through the days and the weeks and the decades, was simply that they did what they could. And that’s within reach of all of us — to do what we can.

So as we celebrate the past we also need to embrace the next 50 years. At UCM, we envision a community without poverty, where neighbors do not go hungry, have secure housing, equal educational opportunities, affordable quality child care, and dependable transportation. Where families do more than survive, they thrive. Our aim, our inspiration goal if you will, is to break the generational cycle of impoverished education, underemployment and frustration that locks generation after generation in a downward cycle. We will continue to help neighbors to survive, but to truly help families thrive we need to focus on ending the conditions that hold generations in poverty.

We can’t know where this extraordinary agency will be in 2069. But as we take the first steps into the next 50 years, we will lean on the formula our founders demonstrated: Work hard every day, trust in the miracle that volunteers and donors — you — will provide the support we need, and remember that it is an honor and a privilege to contribute to this noble cause. Thank you again, and welcome.

‘A Kind Of Gravity’

By Alison DeCourcey, Executive Director, United Community (formerly UCM, United Community Ministries)

A recent study found that only 20 percent of the world’s population had ever flown on a commercial airline. Amazing, isn’t it? Only the privileged have lumbered down the runway, faster and faster, and felt that little thrill of flight, of taking off and defying gravity.

Poverty is a kind of gravity, too. It exerts a powerful downward pressure on individuals, families, and entire communities, subjecting ambition, potential, and talent to a crushing weight. Persistent poverty can cause lower IQ and even reduce lifespan by more than a decade. That is the gravity of poverty.

In 1969, UCM began by distributing clothes and food first from a van and then a shed on church property. A van and a shed, isn’t that the way most great institutions start?

I want to thank you all, from our large institutional donors, to our individual angels, and to those who probably aren’t here tonight, but who find funds from their meager resources for us. Your generosity has allowed us to serve hundreds of thousands of people in need for five decades.

While most of our history focused on relieving the symptoms of poverty, our future must be about identifying and addressing its causes. We cannot continue to feed and clothe the poorest in our community and send them back into the community where housing, transportation, education, health care and job opportunities are isolating and failing them — and then wait for their inevitable return to our door.

So tonight we take on a new and daunting challenge: nothing less than defying the gravity of poverty by finding ways to lift the poorest among us and end multigenerational poverty. We will investigate causes, advocate for winning policies, and collaborate on a scale never before attempted.

And the really exciting news is we’ve already started on unprecedented work that puts impoverished people in the community at the center and engages government, nonprofit, and private institutions to work together on solutions.

We intend to change what have been known as “Islands of Disadvantage” into “Communities of Opportunity.” It’s a bold plan. And, while it’s unlikely that we will be successful in helping everyone achieve this dream, it is unthinkable if we do not try.

To that end, the UCM Board of Directors has chosen a new name for our organization that aligns with our aspirations. And so we ask you to join us.

Let’s start by believing in the power of a united community.

United we can defy the gravity of poverty.

United we help our neighbors, our families and our community to end multigenerational poverty.

United we will transform lives, including our own.

A United Community can achieve big dreams — and a community without poverty, is worth fighting for.

Focused on our united goals, strengthened by our united will, we will be a United Community.

I raise my glass to you for being part of United Community. Cheers.

Thank you all.