Board Member Stories: Seeing the big puzzle
“We will never fully solve societal problems, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try and help those who are struggling right now, and hope that maybe, eventually, we will have a strong enough influence that we can prevent people from falling through the cracks.”
When Dot Neary and her family moved to Nanaimo from the United Kingdom, they found themselves in a new country with a new community; one they quickly discovered was facing many social challenges.
In Nanaimo, with high poverty rates and an increasing homeless population, Dot wasn’t one to stand on the sidelines. Her first step was joining the parent advisory committee at her children’s school to help struggling youth. This was when she really started to understand the true depth of the challenges on Vancouver Island.
“There are so many young people struggling because of the effects of poverty, traumatic events, a lack of education, or poor family support. Whatever those reasons are, they’re a generation that’s vulnerable,” shares Dot. “We have a responsibility to help them, because it’s amazing how many kids come from those situations and rise above it. We should never assume that when you come from poverty you’re doomed to a life of addictions and struggle.”
As a self-described typical, middle-class mom, Dot is the first to admit that she lives securely and hasn’t struggled with many of the issues she sees in Nanaimo, but she also knows that it doesn’t take a lot for someone’s life to change.
“There’s a saying I heard throughout my life and I’ve said this to my family: Don’t take anything for granted because we’re all just one paycheck, one divorce, once accident or one illness away from the streets,’” says Dot.
Through her work with the school board, Dot learned about the many organizations and services United Way supports across Vancouver Island. Impressed by their influence and dedication, she started volunteering with United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island, seven years ago. She now sits as the Board Chair.
“It’s the idea that you’re influencing positive outcomes and that the work you’re doing actually makes a difference in the lives of people in your community. It’s difficult to not be involved in that kind of good work,” acknowledges Dot.
It’s United Way’s progressive approach that attracted Dot to the organization. She sees the strength in looking at the big picture and creating change by addressing the unique issues that each community faces.
“We can see where there are gaps that need to be filled and we can encourage other agencies to fill those gaps and create solutions to problems that are overlooked. Where each individual agency tends to be focused on their piece of the puzzle, United Way sees the big puzzle,” explains Dot.
As someone who has been fortunate enough in her life to have a home, a family and security, she feels it is her responsibility to her community to try and help. In fact, she feels it’s all of our responsibility:
“In doing that you have to take a step back and look in the mirror and ask yourself, where do I stand in all this? What am I doing? What can I do to make a difference? How am I contributing to the problem?”