An old buddy of mine recently told me that I tend to strike up lengthy conversations with strangers more often than most other people he knows. We exchanged a few confounded looks as I considered whether I should take his comment as a compliment or an insult.

Did he mean to say that people perceive me as approachable and easy to talk to? I mean, I do enjoy meeting new people. Who doesn’t love the experience of finding something in common with a fellow train passenger or the person behind you in line for a churro? Haven’t you ever been speaking with somebody and eventually realized that you both share a mutual friend that neither of you had seen in years? Without exception, the two of you will light up as you spend the rest of the night trying to connect the missing dots.

Maybe my friend meant that I had become a bit of a motor-mouth in comparison to my younger days? If you ever work in the non-profit or social services world, you will likely find yourself attending lots of social gatherings. There’s the functions, the luncheons, the special events, dinners in tents, grand openings, galas, and groundbreakings – and that’s just the start. Sometimes you’re seated at a table with your friends and colleagues, but more often than not you find yourself surrounded by people you’ve never met. Maybe all of that had simply trained me in the art of small talk?

My friend eventually assured me that his statement was meant neither as a slight nor praise but simply an observation – which is fine, I guess. Either way, I couldn’t deny the truth of it and I tried to come up with an explanation.

I soon realized that my work at Mesa United Way has made me uniquely positioned to begin engaging dialogue with complete strangers. It doesn’t matter the person’s background, occupation, skills, or passions; when they learn that I work at an organization that exists solely to assist people in need, they start offering to help. And since we work to address a broad array of community issues, I am almost always able to recommend a program that they are excited to get involved with. My takeaway was this: the conversation has very little to do with me, or really, any one of us at Mesa United Way. Sure, we are all proud of the work we do and we like to talk about it. But, we are powerless without your willingness to sacrifice your time, talent, and resources for the benefit of our community. If you are reading this as an old friend of the organization, we thank you for your continued support and look forward to many more years of service together. If you are reading this as a stranger or maybe just a relatively new neighbor, we hope you’ll join us for a conversation about what YOU can do to become a part of Mesa United Way.