I grew up in the Midwest, the oldest son of two hard-working, blue-collar parents. My father was a WWII vet and my mother was a stay-at-home mom until we were all in junior high. We were poor. My father worked as a stockman for Hallmark Cards and more often than not, his paycheck wouldn’t stretch between paydays. We ate a lot of navy bean soup and cheap cereal. We lived in a 1,000 square foot home where I shared a double bed with my brother until I graduated from high school. Nightly we drew an invisible line to determine our sides of the bed. We wore hand-me downs, worked a paper route, mowed lawns, and raked leaves. And I was happy. Content. The struggles were real, the food was occasionally scarce, and the rooms were crowded, but we were loved by sacrificial parents. Their example aimed my life’s trajectory.

As a teenager, a friend invited me to attend his church, so, as an overweight, pimply, awkward thirteen year old, I joined him for youth group. I met people who didn’t know me but loved me as if I were family. They walked alongside me as I navigated the treacherous middle-school and high school years. They didn’t judge me, pressure me, or demand anything of me — they just loved me. Their compassion transformed my life.

Recently I was asked why Mesa United Way fights for the health, education, and financial stability of the people in our community.  I thought about our mission statement, our standing in the community, our access to workplaces, our influence with community leaders and tried to come up with something that sounded “professional,” but I returned to the same idea. Love is why. Mesa United Way walks alongside people as they navigate through struggles. We partner with others who work tirelessly to make an impact. We don’t judge, pressure, or demand anything. We serve. From reading to terminal children, to standing by a vet whose house has just burned; from helping a foster child choose clothing to replace what she left behind in the whisk of being removed from her home, to assisting people navigating years of back taxes; from meeting with corporate leaders to determine how their dollars can invigorate a community, to working with other nonprofits to create tangible solutions to societal ills; it is compassion that motivates us — love that compels us to raise money, search for solutions, and meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Every team member at MUW has a unique story of why they do what they do. The thread that ties the stories together is compassion. Mesa United Way desires to inspire donors, to unite our community, to improve lives. That’s what we do. The why is love. If it can transform the life of a poor, hefty, acne-ridden midwestern teenager, love has the potential to transform any life.