September 30, 2020

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the needs of those struggling to obtain quality education, eat a healthy meal, and pay their bills on time. Our neighbors and communities need our help now more than ever, and one way that we can step up to the plate is by supporting the United Way.

At Gresham Smith, we have partnered with the United Way for nearly a quarter of a century. While support from our firm is critical, it’s the individual contributions—both financial and through volunteering—that truly make a difference. I recently spoke with Kelly Hodges, Market Vice President of Corporate + Urban Design, John Horst, Project Manager in Building Engineering, and John Brew, Structural Project Engineer in Build Engineering about their personal United Way experiences.

Randy Gibson: How did you first become acquainted with United Way and how long have you been a donor?

Kelly Hodges: I first become involved with United Way when I started at Gresham Smith almost 20 years ago. Our firm does a great job educating employees on the United Way’s three pillars of health, education and financial stability, and really hammers home why it’s such an impactful organization.

John Horst: I was familiar with United Way before, but I become more invested in giving back to my community once I joined Gresham Smith. Learning how United Way is tackling issues that I’m passionate about led me to become a yearly donor for the past 10 years.

John Brew: I also learned about United Way’s mission from Gresham Smith’s internal campaign. Once I learned more about the organization and how they help local nonprofits, I became a yearly donor as well. I’ve been donating to United Way for nearly 15 years.

Randy: How would you describe United Way’s impact and how has it affected you personally?

John H.: The United Way is an organization that has the power to make a difference both across the country and in our local communities. In Middle Tennessee alone, there are hundreds of nonprofits that partner with United Way, and this has created a collaborative environment to tackle our region’s ever-changing needs. In my role as board member for Monroe Harding, I’ve witnessed firsthand how United Way helps small nonprofits achieve their mission. Monroe Harding serves as a foster care organization that helps displaced children build the strengths they need to position themselves for success in adulthood. United Way is instrumental in helping Monroe Harding achieve this mission by providing seminars on youth success and workforce development.

John B.: I echo what John said. I’ve served on the board of the Catholic Charities of Tennessee, for about 4 years now and United Way is single-handedly the organization’s biggest partner. United Way has helped bring the McGruder Family Resource Center to life. The center provides rent and utility assistance, food assistance, homelessness case management, programs to help seniors live independently, and workforce development programs. Many people don’t realize it, but McGruder is located in one of the highest incarcerated zip codes in the country. By providing residents the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and overcoming the barrier of transportation, McGruder has a huge impact in our community. Without the partnership with United Way, this amazing community resource wouldn’t exist.

Kelly: United Way helps people of all ages, but one thing that strikes a chord with me is their focus on education and helping children. I have two middle school-aged children, and I know the ups and downs kids face as they learn to navigate the world. Knowing that the United Way and its partner organizations are there to support our kids when they need it most brings me comfort as a parent. I’ve dedicated my time to United Way’s initiatives that focus on helping children, including their Stuff the Bus program, as well as with their partner organization Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee.

Randy: Why do you think it’s important to participate in this year’s campaign?

John B.: With everything going on, it’s our responsibility to do something to help others. If you’re able to donate, it’s more important now than ever before to support this year’s campaign. We have a lot to be grateful for, and it’s our turn to lift others up.

Kelly: I couldn’t agree more, John. Donating money and time to the United Way allows all of us to get out of our bubble and do something to impact the greater good. Let’s take a step away from our routine and gain some perspective on what we can do to help those who need it most.

John H.: Volunteering or donating to a good cause is a way for us to engage with, and have a positive effect on, our communities. There’s an old saying: “Nonprofits are continually working to put themselves out of business,” but they have a long way to go, and there are very real needs out there. When we come together, we can make a greater impact than we ever could as individuals, and we get back so much more than what we gave.