Fireside chat: ‘A community where everyone matters’

Mario had good life and a job as a chef. Then, about the time his vision started to dim, his life began to spiral: mental health, homelessness, addiction, isolation. 

On Oct. 25, Mario told a group of United Way Elgin Middlesex’s leading supporters that he now feels connected and supported through the services offered by the London Coffee House. 

“I’ve had my share of ups and downs,” he added, “and the place I got peace of mind was the Coffee House. It’s not just the coffee – it’s the love they share.” 

Themed ReUnited: Building a community where everyone matters, the fireside chat featured conversations with a range of speakers who told stories of struggle and transformation. And participants learned more about the strategic impact United Way makes by investing donor dollars, collaborating with community and government partners and advocating for issues that matter to our community. 

United Way 2022 Campaign Chair Alyson Paisley said the event was a thank you for attendees’ investment in the community – a closer look at some challenges and successes facing people in the region – and a pitch for continued support. 

“I’m continuously thankful for the many generous individuals like yourselves who donate and make an impact,” Paisley said. “The giving of time, energy, money and support is what creates deep connections within our community.” 

The event was sponsored by McCormick Canada.

Resilience and hope  

Smiles and fist bumps were as plentiful as the food, when lunch was served outside The London Coffee House, a drop-in program run by CMHA Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services and funded by United Way Elgin Middlesex.

London Coffee House – a drop-in centre and a connection point for wrap-around services for neighbours in need – is supported through United Way Elgin Middlesex. 

“Sometimes we are the only friendly face they see in the day. We meet them where they’re at and, whatever they need, we connect them to it,” said Kristy Bell, manager of outreach services at CMHA Thames Valley Mental Health and Addiction Services, which operates the Coffee House and My Sisters’ Place.

Bell said the number of people using the services has doubled. What gives her hope is their resilience, optimism and kindness. “People are still people, regardless of their circumstances.” 

‘Then’ and ‘now’

Last year, the annual fireside chat with leading supporters – from all sectors and walks of life – took place virtually, online.  

Being reunited this year is worth celebrating, said Kelly Ziegner, President and CEO of United Way Elgin Middlesex. 

“But like any reunion, after a few years away we see more clearly the differences between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’,” she noted. “The past two years have been exceptionally tough for people already on the margins. 

“The elderly, children, families in precarious employment. People with mental health and addiction challenges. People who have housing and people who are unhoused. 

“We need to acquaint ourselves – or reacquaint ourselves – with those stories too. The gritty parts, as well as the good,” Ziegner said. 

Paisley said stories such as Mario’s are a microcosm of the 110,000 people in the region who were helped last year through more than 50 United Way funded services and programs. 

Donors help United Way support local agencies that provide basic needs, poverty reduction and prevention, and housing security. 

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