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Guest column: Reasons to support United Way and how it helps One Bryan
Guest columnist

Editor’s note: Below is the text of a speech given by Bryan County’s United Way 2018 campaign Chair Amy Murphy at the group’s Sept. 13 kickoff. It’s a good read for a good cause. Last names are inserted where she mentioned others by first name only, in parenthesis.

I am so honored and thrilled to be this year’s Bryan County United Way Campaign Chair. There are several reasons I am excited about this opportunity to talk with you today and why I am happy to be here before you.

As Mickey (Bayens) mentioned, I work in mental health. I’ve learned through working in mental health, that everybody has a story. I love to hear other people’s story. I want to share a bit of my story with you, especially how it pertains to how I got here today.

One of the reasons it was so easy to agree to be Bryan County’s Campaign Chair, is because I love Bryan County. It’s that simple. I love Bryan County, I love the people that live here, I can’t believe how blessed my husband and I are to have the opportunity to raise our children here. And I want to do everything in my power to keep Bryan County strong.

Some of you know that last year our family hosted an exchange student from Italy. Marco was very well traveled before he came to stay with us. His family has traveled all over Italy and Europe. He had been to the United States 4 or 5 times — to Colorado, NYC, Miami. On his way over to the United States, the agency that he came through had an orientation for some of the exchange students in NYC for a few days.

So Marco met lots of students from Italy and Europe who were placed with host families throughout the United States. He kept in touch with some of them throughout his time here and he would tell us about what their experiences were like.

One day when we were talking about these other students, he said, “But I think I have it the best. I think this is the best place.” So here’s a kid that’s been all over the world but he knows what you and I know, that Bryan County truly is one of the best places in the world to live.

I truly believe that Bryan County is unique in many ways. I wholeheartedly believe that there is something for everyone in Bryan County. If you like a smaller town, quieter way of life, then we have Pembroke and Ellabell or North Bryan. If you like suburbia and being closer to Savannah, we have Richmond Hill or South Bryan. You all know we are a little extra special in Bryan County because we have that big military base that intersects our county.

But I want to challenge all of you, who love Bryan County like I love Bryan County, to help sustain and encourage what I believe has always made us great and what has drawn people to our community. And that is the people of Bryan County. The people of Bryan County are full of love and compassion for their neighbors, they rally when someone is down or hurting. It’s not an exaggeration to say that someone is always doing something for a neighbor or community member who is in need.

I hope that no matter how large we grow, that we will never lose that essence of our being. That essence of what is at our core.

Some of y’all in this room might be surprised that I can remember a time when North Bryan and South Bryan weren’t always close friends. You slap down a big ole geographical divider between a community and it can put a damper on even the best of relationships.

But I’m excited that we are embarking on the changes in Bryan County with a great focus on our One Bryan. It’s not just a hashtag or slogan. I feel there has been great positive change and that the best of our future is yet to come. I don’t believe a military base can stop the people of Bryan County from supporting and taking care of the people of Bryan County. It took us amoment, but I believe we have all realized, our success is contingent upon each other. Our stories are written together.

I love Bryan County and the people of Bryan County. I feel blessed beyond measure that part of my life story includes living here. I think we can all agree the people here are amazing, present company included. While we great at loving our neighbor, sometimes there are chapters of people’s lives that require a professional agency or a formal group that offers specialized services. So here’s where the second part of my story for today comes in - the United Way.

I am honored today to be able to tell you about my relationship with the United Way because I believe in the great work that they do. Over 20 years ago, I started my career in mental health, working as a therapist at a community mental health center in Chattanooga, TN. That is when I first heard about the United Way. That agency had an adult homeless program that focused on stabilizing mentally ill homeless people and working to help them become self sufficient.

My husband works in the paper industry and he came home around the same time I did and shared that he had learned about the United Way as well. His business was participating in the annual campaign. We discussed it and both agreed that we wanted to support and donate to the United Way.

So fast forward and here I am… We moved to Richmond Hill about 16 years ago. I have been working at my current position in mental health for about 10 years. And as long as i can remember through my current employer, I have been a payroll donor for the United Way. That money comes out of my paycheck every 2 weeks and I never feel it.

I want to tell you that having worked in mental health for over 20 years, I’ve learned a great deal about life. I’ve been blessed that so many people have shared their life stories with me. I often meet them during a difficult chapter in their lives and my job is to help them get through that dark chapter and on to a better chapter. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how rich you are, how well prepared you think you are, sometimes life happens.

Last year if you were here, you heard Kristi (Cox) share about how her own daughter was helped by the food pantry. After Hurricane Irma, she needed Pediasure and there was nowhere to buy it. The food pantry had it in stock and she was able to take care of her child.

I heard the story recently of a woman like you and I who was on her way out of town for vacation and her house burned to the ground. What do people do in those moments of crisis? Again, that’s where the United Way comes in. The United Way helps support 92 programs in our greater coastal area. In a moment you are going to hear from some of the agencies that serve here in Bryan County.

But I want to share with you a part of the United Way story that I was completely unaware of until this year. My support began over 20 years ago and I had no idea about the level of accountability that comes with your donation.

I want to get the biggest bang for my buck. I want my money to go as far as possible. And I realized this past year, more than I ever knew, that is what the United Way does as well.

I was fortunate this spring to sit on a community panel for the United Way to review the academic success grant applications. Some of you may not realize that the United Way doesn’t just throw money at agencies that they like. They agencies have to complete a rigorous application process and request monies that go to very specific programs. These programs must have measurable outcome goals to show that your money and my money is being spent wisely and producing the anticipated results.

So when you sit on one of these committees to review grant applications, it is about a 6 week commitment. I am grateful that my employer allowed me to take time every Tuesday to spend the morning reviewing grant applications. For me, this entailed having homework and deadlines to show that I was doing my part in being diligent in reviewing these applications.

We reviewed information about the agency and their mission and specific information about how the money would be spent. And then, each week we reviewed 3 or 4 applications at a time. The agencies came in to talk about their programs and answer our questions. They might have felt like they were on the hot seat, but I loved hearing them talk about the work they were doing. You could see the passion and commitment they had to helping others.

It was powerful to be a part of that process. After participating in that, I decided to increase my giving this year to the United Way. Again, I had no idea about the level of accountability that goes into maximizing dollars and making sure they are spent wisely. But I’m glad I got to see what goes on behind the scenes and that I’ve had this opportunity to share this with you.

So it’s time to hear from some of the agencies making an impact in Bryan County so you can fully understand the importance of the work they are doing in our community.

This year’s theme for the United Way is All for One. And I think it really fits us here. We are one Bryan and All for one in supporting out community. Help me continue to write the story for success for Bryan County and the United Way of the Coastal Empire.

Murphy is chairwoman-elect of the Bryan County School Board.

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