Our United Voice

It Takes a Journey to Appreciate Home

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Janet L. Boyd
Senior Grants Manager

Candide, a character created by the French writer Voltaire, had to travel around the world in order to discover that true happiness was to be found in his own back garden. I only had to travel as far as Nashville to be reminded that Metro United Way – right here in Kentuckiana’s own back garden – is a place where happiness begins.

While attending the Tennessee Humanities Council’s Southern Festival of Books in early October, I had the good fortune to hear Nicholas Kristof speak. Kristof, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the New York Times who has used his talent and prominent position to help make the world a better place, was there promoting the book he and Sheryl WuDunn have just published. In A Path Appears:Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunities, the authors help people who want to make a difference figure out how to navigate myriad opportunities and take risks that might pay off in ways they never imagined.

As Kristof began to speak about how the Black/White wealth gap in the U.S. is greater than that in Apartheid South Africa, about how youth who grow up in certain zip codes are more likely to end up in prison than in college, and about how poor kids hear 30 million fewer words by age five than their wealthier kindergarten classmates, I was struck by how similar his guiding data was to that of Metro United Way.

When he spoke of:

  • the devastating effect of single-parent poverty
  • the importance of early education
  • the need to put books into the hands of children
  • the value of home visits and parental engagement
  • the necessity for kids to be able to read on grade level and to graduate from high school
  • and the fact that early intervention increases the resiliency necessary for future success,
I felt a swell of enormous pride that we at Metro United Way are working on those very issues. While Kristof never mentioned United Way, he encouraged his audience to practice our mission to give, advocate and volunteer.

A woman in the audience became so inspired by his talk that she asked him how she could find a way in Nashville to teach women in prison how to read. He said he didn’t know but that someone in the audience might. Before I could leap up and tell her to call the volunteer coordinator at her local United Way, another woman in the audience advised that very thing! I was so proud at that moment to be an employee of such a respected movement.

Metro United Way is trying to correct the opportunity gaps right here in our own back garden, but we are not working in isolation.

Sometimes it is difficult to see over the fence that surrounds the garden we tend, but Nicholas Kristof helped me to understand more fully that the work we do here is recognized by the world’s luminary figures as the right work to do. And that people out there in the big wide world – like that anonymous woman in the audience – recognize the United Way family as the folks who can make it happen. That we are taking risks that could pay off in ways we can only imagine.

The title of Kristof and WuDunn’s book comes from a Chinese story about how hope is like a path in the countryside. At first there is nothing and then, as people walk there again and again, a path appears.

Like Candide, I was happy to return home, ready to keep walking the path of hope that United Way is helping to appear.

You can walk that path of hope, too. Visit metrounitedway.org to find opportunities to Give, Advocate and Volunteer.

Janet L. Boyd serves as Senior Grants Manager for Metro United Way. She has performed similar roles for Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana and the Kentucky Science Center. She is a former college English teacher, technical writer, and newspaper columnist.

Her volunteer work has included service to the University of Kentucky Women Writers Conference, National Organization for Women, Bonnycastle Homestead Association,  WFPK radio, Louisville Girls Leadership, and Bunbury Theatre.

Janet enjoys attending Nia classes, gardening when it’s not too hot, reading on her front porch, and crocheting hats and sweaters for the babies in her life.  You can reach Janet at janet.boyd@metrounitedway.org

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