From childhood beneficiary to United Way advocate and donor
When Dustin Vail was a boy, his proud single mom never told him that United Way was the reason she could send him to day camp. Years later she revealed the truth — and encouraged Dustin to give back any way he could.
Dustin Vail knows what it’s like for working families who can’t afford summer.
He gets that they dread the 10-week break from school. He knows that summer’s promise of sun, sand and sleeping under the stars is just a fantasy for them. And he knows that when they can’t afford quality day care — much less go on vacation or dig deep to pay for overnight camp — the best they can hope for is that the kids will manage on their own somehow.
Dustin was one of those kids himself once. He just didn’t know it at the time.
Raised in a low-income part of Brantford by a single mom who worked several jobs to make ends meet, Dustin and his brother didn’t have the “extras” that so many other kids had. But they did get to go to a day camp every year.
“Mom didn’t have to pay for it, and we never knew that at the time. But later on in life we found out we were subsidized by the local YMCA — through the United Way — to be able to attend,” Dustin says. “It was good for our mom to know we were off the streets and in good hands. The things we learned — how to be good human beings, sports skills, leadership qualities — we wouldn’t have necessarily been exposed to otherwise.”
Years later, when Dustin found himself in a good, steady job at Toyota, he was asked to support United Way. That’s when things came full circle.
“My mom found my pledge form for the United Way and wondered why I had it,” he recalls. “I told her Toyota was a big supporter of United Way and that they were asking me to pledge whatever I could.
That’s when she came out and said ‘I was a proud mom back then and I didn’t want you guys to know we were subsidized — but if you have the ability to give back now, I want you to do that.’ ”
Through no fault of their own, many children and youth in Waterloo Region remain trapped in poverty, just as Dustin was as a young boy.
It’s why he’s happy to do what he can to help. And giving to the United Way is personal in other ways, too.
Dustin’s nephew, who has autism, has benefited from United Way-funded programming that allows him to interact with other kids with the full support of specialized teachers.
Dustin also wants to pay it forward because after shoulder surgery several years ago, he became dependent on OxyContin — and his journey back from addiction brought home the full force of United Way’s ability to change lives.
“For seven years I fought addiction,” he says. “I finally asked for help, and because I’m at Toyota I had great support through their employee assistance program. Along my journey — I’ve been clean six years now — I’ve met a lot of people who didn’t have the same luxury that I had. They had to go out there and try to get clean in different ways, and a lot of them were accessing programming that was funded by the United Way. Not all of them were able to stay clean. Some have passed away due to the illness. There are people out there who had a lot harder avenue than I had and I like to share that when I share my story.”
Each of Dustin’s personal connections with United Way has helped make him who he is today, and the relationship is even stronger now that he’s spent four months “on loan” to us from Toyota, helping out as a Workplace Campaign Coordinator during our hectic campaign season.
“I get to go out there and share and try to get people on board and let them know what United Way is all about,” Dustin says. “When I first came in I was given the opportunity to work with the agencies we give money to. They also give back to the United Way through their own internal campaigns. It really hits home. I wish everybody had this opportunity because it’s amazing what these agencies are doing for people — and they wouldn’t be able to keep their doors open without the funding from United Way.
“You never know when it’s going to affect you — when there’s going to be a layoff, when there’s going to be an accident. There’s a lot of charities out there and they’re amazing but this is the one that hits home for me. It’s right here where I live.
“And now that I have kids I want to instill that in them that if we have the ability to help, we should. I’m a big believer in that.”
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.