A soft place to fall

United Way Advocate Helps Fill The Void​

When she found herself pregnant at 18, Jackie Miller knew that being surrounded by a loving and supportive family made her one of the lucky ones.

Jackie Miller photo

She never had to walk alone on her journey as a single mom. She never needed to lean on the United Way. But she knows a lot of others who did and still do — this is why Jackie Miller wants to make a difference for those without a soft place to fall.

“I had some challenges growing up and was raised by a single mother,” Jackie says. “Then I was a single mother myself at a very early age. But I had strong family support so I didn’t need to use the agencies the United Way supports.

“When I got pregnant, if my mother had said, ‘You can’t stay here, you’re pregnant’ and kicked me out — which is what happened to a lot of other girls my age at the time — I don’t know where I would’ve ended up. My mother helped me with my housing and education. My grandparents were always there for me. If money was tight they would send me home with groceries. I realized how fortunate I was that I had that strong support system, and I also realized that things could’ve gone a lot differently for me if my family hadn’t been there for me.

“I have a university degree. My son has a university degree. It’s not fair that someone without that support system in place doesn’t have something else to fall back on, which is where the United Way and the partner agencies step in.”

With a diploma in business administration and accounting and a degree in sociology, Miller is now a systems analyst at Manulife. She grew up in Kitchener, and is keen to spread the word about how people can help right here in our own backyard.

“Last year I was an ambassador at Manulife,” she says. “I would plan and execute the internal workplace fundraising events — raffles and book sales and anything that might be used to raise awareness and raise a few more dollars. I enjoyed it and learned so much about the United Way. So when the opportunity came up to be a workplace campaign coordinator, I jumped at the chance. I’m going out and talking to all kinds of different companies in the community and letting them know about United Way, all the different partner agencies we support, how their dollars make a difference.”

The position has allowed Miller to benefit personally and professionally while honing her public speaking skills and marketing talents. She’s also learning what it means to be an influencer. And the program is a win-win for her employer —because in everything she does, Miller is flying the flag for Manulife.

“I spend a lot of time thanking people for participating,” she says. “But I’m also letting them know that Manulife is doing this for the United Way. Anything I learn I can also take back to Manulife.

“I don’t think enough people understand exactly what the United Way does. We would like to make sure it’s more vocal throughout the year about what it is and how important the work is so that when it comes time for those campaign drives at the end of the year, it’s not an education push on top of the ask. It’s almost like second nature then that people say, ‘Yeah, they’re doing great work and we need to get involved.’ ”

Being “on loan” to United Way has been a stellar experience for Miller, and she’s determined to keep the partnership going. She’s particularly keen to help foster a connection for the next generation of young people who will become United Way’s most vocal and valuable supporters.

“Awareness has to take the form that young people want,” Miller says. “We have an employee resource group at Manulife called Generation Next that is geared at young people. Part of it is about becoming involved in our community and volunteerism. We’re trying to build a cabinet of younger people from companies around the area and figure out what it is they need to get them involved.”

What is a Workplace Campaign Coordinator?

Workplace Campaign Coordinators are “on loan” to United Way from businesses all around the Region of Waterloo. They spend four months helping out during our hectic campaign season, talking with local businesses about the importance of supporting United Way, describing the impact of their workplace giving, and being ambassadors for the great work that our partner agencies do every day.

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