A Mission of Promoting “Community Serving Community”

Daily Point of Light # 7793 Apr 18, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Anne Keane. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Anne Keane has been working at Prudential Financial as a relationship manager in the records management department. The company’s volunteer program introduced her to Valley United Way (a chapter of the global organization United Way Worldwide), whose mission is to “close gaps and open opportunities so everyone can thrive.”

United Way connects people who need help with the people and resources they need. The organization’s network spans over 1,100 communities in 37 countries and leverages the caring power of communities around the world to support community members.

Anne volunteers 10-15 hours per month with Valley United Way, in addition to working a full-time job. This past December, Anne volunteered over 30 hours, even dressing up as an elf to collect toys at local tree-lighting and community events.

Anne says, “The purpose of life is derived from what we do for others, not what we do for ourselves. This is why we’re here. We’re not here to be selfish and spoiled. The purpose of our being is to make the lives of others better, whether it’s family, friends or complete strangers. It’s not about me, it’s about ‘we’. It’s about what we can do as a community.”

Anne Keane, Santa’s little helper, collecting toys for local Toys-4-Kids program. / Courtesy Anne Keane

What inspires you to volunteer?

I am blessed. I feel the need to help everyone. My father’s parents were involved with the Salvation Army and my father was generous with his time, talents and financial resources. We used to have deep philosophical conversations including discussions about the meaning of life. My philosophy of doing for others came from those conversations and from watching my father.

Tell us about your volunteer role with The Valley United Way.

I sit on the Valley United Way board, attend board meetings, participate in training sessions and community events. Additionally, I am the chairperson of their Community Volunteer Council, run monthly meetings and help coordinate volunteer initiatives in support of community partners with local companies and organizations.

The Valley United Way is a small chapter of the United Way with a designated geographic area that we focus on for our community engagement work. We connect folks in the community with community partner organizations that can support them. Resources include food banks and organizations that help people make ends meet with rent and utility assistance.

It’s important to note that many of our recipients are working families. The people may be working two or three jobs each, and they still can’t make ends meet. Some recipients moved to the area recently and aren’t familiar with local resources. One of our biggest focuses is food insecurity, particularly for families who are employed but can’t make ends meet.

I hold monthly meetings with the Community Volunteer Council members, comprised of individuals from community partner organizations, mom-and-pop businesses, mid-sized companies and large corporations throughout The Valley.

I like to say that it’s “community supporting the community.” My focus is getting more people involved through networking and introducing them to what we do. Many hands make light work!

Recently, the Community Volunteer Council helped build a toy store in the basement of a local building as part of a community partner’s annual Toys-4-Kids program (TEAM, Inc.) Families apply for the program and if they qualify, the family receives toy vouchers per child based on age. The family comes to the toy store and shops the shelves. Parents get to pick out items their child will love! The value of the toys ranges from $5.00 items all the way to bicycles outfitted with helmets and knee pads. This experience offers so much dignity for the parents who otherwise can’t afford to buy their children any toys. We want all people to feel supported and cared about. We want to help them in as dignified and consistent and reliable manner as possible, so they don’t feel shame in their situation.

My goal is simply to make their life as normal as possible. The towns in Valley United Way’s region have tremendous numbers, more than 60% of the population, designated as “ALICE” families. ALICE is a United Way acronym that stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

I help coordinate numerous volunteer events and activities in conjunction with Valley United Way’s various community partners. We work with a local farm to create community gardens to help educate local residents how to grow food at a local hospital and other locations throughout The Valley. These gardens also help provide fresh vegetables to local residents. We serve as a bridge, letting people know that there are resources available, where they are and how to find them. I help support local food drives and find support for five food banks in the Valley through financial contributions (via the Harvest House website) as well as donations of non-perishable items.

We also help with various refresh projects. One refresh project I am working on now is the cleanup of Ansonia Nature Center, a beautiful community park. We’ve also done community garden cleanups, plantings and maintenance including painting.

I am always reaching out to local companies to get more volunteers. Volunteering can be a wonderful team-building event where employees work together outside of their jobs and support the community.

We organize a back-to-school event every year. This supplies local schools and organizations with filled backpacks for students and miscellaneous supplies for teachers’ and nurses’ closets. We will be working with Ansonia Elementary Schools this year, which is the town next to ours. I have seen firsthand the ripple effect of this program. If kids have new clothes, attendance on the first day of school increases dramatically. The kids in Ansonia are 70% economically challenged. Supporting that 70% is so important for the families and the kids themselves. If we can take the need to worry about the kids’ first day of school away, we can free up precious financial resources for other needs like food, rent, utilities and transportation and the kids themselves feel good about themselves and have a great start in education. We also hold care package build events where we assemble hygiene packs, snack packs for students and care packages for senior citizens.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

I got involved with Valley United Way through my job at Prudential. Prudential is a supporter of United Way, and employees are given opportunities to volunteer. Unfortunately, many initiatives had to stop during the pandemic, but I’m working on increasing volunteerism in my company’s location and other local companies involved with the CVC. It’s not always easy to get people on board because we don’t see each other. People are no longer tied to being at the office five days a week and we never see the number of people in the office that I can gather together as a group and encourage volunteerism.

Anne Keane at Valley United Way Harvest House event. / Courtesy Anne Keane

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

I love seeing the faces of those that I’ve helped, especially the children. I’ll never forget the look on the face of a 6th grader who pulled out a winter jacket from her donation bin, knowing she would be warm that winter. She was so appreciative. Other kids are so happy because they got a backpack that was their favorite color. What seems trivial to us is monumental to them.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

When I bring people together to volunteer, amazing things happen. When I can educate someone about the need and see that lightbulb go off in their mind — if I can inspire them, they tell their friends, those friends tell their friends, and the next thing you know, I have all these extra hands that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. Also, it’s a lot of fun! It’s hard work sometimes, but knowing I’ve accomplished something meaningful with a group of people is so rewarding.

Tell us about future events that you are excited about.

My goal for this year is to “blow up” some of our initiatives, with more volunteers, more help. Many people donate/help around the holidays but people need to eat year-round.

Everyone in Connecticut needs to know what 2-1-1 is. We all know to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency but 2-1-1 is a hotline where you can call and say, “I need assistance.” It could be food, it could be basic necessities, or housing. Many people don’t know about it. It’s our job to spread the word.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Reach out to local schools, food banks or local volunteer groups like United Way if it’s in your community. Most of the time, there’s a lot that can be done in every community. Whenever you volunteer, there will always be someone to help you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

You are needed. It doesn’t take much but trust me, every little bit makes a big difference.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Anybody can do it. Anyone can make a difference in the lives of others just by giving a little of themselves.

We can’t know what someone is going through. We don’t necessarily know who’s thriving or who’s barely surviving. Be kind and caring. Give of your time, your talents and, if possible, your financial resources, to the best of your ability. It doesn’t have to be volunteering, if you can’t manage that right now. Holding the door open for people, giving someone a compliment or a smile helps us become more caring, more compassionate. I feel fulfilled if I can make one person’s day a little better!

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Anne? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman