Quality of life in Suffolk

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2005

I attended my first United Way meeting Wednesday, having agreed recently to serve on this year’s campaign. The organization’s allocations committee was meeting with heads of the local agencies it funds who were making their pleas for funding.

It was enlightening, as well as a bit embarrassing.

You see, I didn’t realize that I was not a member of the allocations committee, finding out afterward that I had been invited merely to get some exposure to how United Way operates. So while I should’ve sat there quietly and observed, under the delusion that my opinion somehow mattered, or was even welcome, I dove in with both feet, grilling agency volunteers about their operations, challenging the chairman’s motions, etc. My daughter’s right. I am a dork. But that’s another matter.

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Despite my born-in-a-barn conduct, the meeting was a good learning experience for me.

Not that my head has been entirely in the sand – I’ve long known that there were many needy people in our community – but I never really thought much about how we can help them improve their lot in life as well as the limited money available to fund it.

The agencies that were discussed – the Red Cross, Children’s Center, Salvation Army, United Way, Boy Scouts, Genieve Shelter among them – all do wonderful, important work and are fully deserving of every penny United Way can give and you could sense the helplessness committee members felt when they couldn’t give everybody everything they wanted. The money is just not there.

The local campaign has fallen short of its goal the past couple years and had it not been for some money being kicked in by the parent Hampton Roads United Way organization, the agencies would not have been funded even at the same level they were last year.

It’s a serious situation that needs to be corrected quickly. With real estate prices soaring, many landlords are cashing out and selling their houses at big profits, which is their right to do. The new owners have to jack up rents to cover their higher mortgages. As a result, people who have been barely scraping by on $300-to-$500-a-month rents, are now facing $700-to-$1,000-a-month rents and there’s no way they can pay it. Their situation is virtually hopeless and that kind of hopelessness leads to al sorts of bad things -crime, drug abuse, homelessness – all of which become problems for us all.

There is hope, however. The United Way and the agencies it helps fund are there to take on these problems for us and communal generosity is vital to enabling them to deal with these problems and help these poor souls.

This year’s campaign will be kicking off soon. Chairman Win Winslow is committed to stopping the bleeding and he and hordes of other committed volunteers will be working hard to see to it that Suffolk doesn’t have to rely on outside help. We’re enjoying enough prosperity that we shouldn’t have to go begging. It’s an embarrassment.

One of the measures of a society is how well it takes care of those who are unable to take care of themselves and it strikes at the heart of the quality of life issue, so often mentioned as a priority of our city. That means a lot more than parks and schools. It includes food and shelter and the ability to find and work a job. While it’s city council’s job to take care of the schools, parks and now the roads, the rest is up to us. You can do your part by supporting the United Way.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611 or at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.