My life’s journey has been touched by the United Way

    Editor’s note: The author, Carrie Stuckmann, was inspired to write a blog about the impact of the United Way on her life after she learned from BizTimes Milwaukee that the United Way of Greater Milwaukee is behind its goal as its annual fundraising drive closes this week. To donate, visit


    The Monday after I graduated from high school I started working full-time as a teller at a local savings and loan. Being a naive 17-year-old, I was confident this would be the only job I would ever need. I had health insurance, life insurance, some money came off my check for taxes and the rest belonged to me.

    My employer had weekly meetings that included pertinent topics such as the company picnic, holiday pay, lunch room conduct, and United Way. One of the many vice presidents was a co-chair for the 1976 United Way fundraising drive, and he explained that our workplace needed to lead by example. He expected 100 percent participation in the "drive" that year.

    Up until this point, I had heard about the United Way, but I never knew what they did. I was pretty sure they supplied uniforms for Boy Scouts who couldn’t afford their own shirts. This was mostly because our local United Way office building also housed a scouting supply store. I figured I could afford twenty dollars a month for Boy Scouts.

    Never fully understanding the difference between bi-weekly and bi-monthly, I inadvertently agreed to donate $40 a month to the "drive." I was instantly declared an everyday hero. Keep in mind, this was more than 30 years ago, and I had just agreed to donate a month’s pay of $480 on the installment plan to an organization that I thought kept Boy Scouts looking sharp while they did community service.

    Sure, I could have marched downstairs to the windowless accounting office and requested a change to my donation, but to me a pledge was a pledge, and I stuck to it. Truth is, I secretly liked that hero label even though it cost me almost $500 a year to keep it.

    Working for the savings and loan wasn’t the only job I would ever have, I went on to have a resume that included a couple more years in banking, at an engineering firm, at a local college, and at an attorney’s office, ultimately ending up in management. Now I was in the position where I was the one encouraging my staff to donate to the United Way by handing out pledge packets.

    Although I never completed another United Way pledge card all by myself, I did continue to donate forty dollars a month for the remainder of my years of gainful employment. How could I miss  money I never had in the first place?

    I officially retired from the work force in August of 1988. I had just celebrated my thirtieth birthday and I was pregnant with twins. Considered high risk, I was put on bed rest thus putting an end to my paychecks, my charitable donations via corporate pressure, and the end of my relationship with United Way.

    My twins were born in November of 1988, full-term. One boy, one girl with each measuring 18.5 inches and weighing in at 5 pounds and 10 ounces, delivered just 20 minutes apart, 5:38 and 5:58 a.m. My little boy gulped some amniotic fluid during birth and was in jeopardy until his lungs were completely cleared. He remained on oxygen in a tiny incubator until I held him for the first time at 10:30 that night.

    His twin sister left our local hospital shortly after birth, as an ambulance took her to St. Joe’s hospital in Milwaukee, which was about an hour away. After 10 days of testing, monitoring, heel pricks, and scans it was determined that whatever she had was unique to her and she was officially declared undiagnosed and came home.

    The Visiting Nurse Association entered our lives when my daughter was just three months old and had received a gastro-intestinal feeding tube and a much longer medical label of undiagnosed neuro-muscular disorder.  At twelve months she received a tracheotomy and nursing support was now increased to twenty-four hour in home support.

    As time progressed, degenerative was added to the mix and was five, it was declared that she was no longer chronically ill, she was terminally ill, dying in January of 1996 when she was seven. The autopsy report declared undiagnosed degenerative neuro-musclular disorder, which is the medical way of saying we still don’t know what the heck went wrong.

    I knew we received tremendous community support during her seven years and as I struggled to write thank you notes to therapists, ambulance drivers, the Ronald McDonald House,  and the Visiting Nurses Association … Wait a minute, the Visit Nurses Association is funded by United Way? A couple of quick telephone calls and I was able to verify that the majority of the funding that wasn’t covered by insurance for home health care workers was paid for by United Way.

    The same United Way that I inadvertently annually donated $480 to during my years of employment was now covering thousands of dollars of expenses in my home every month.

    Nov. 7, 2009, would have been my daughter’s 21st birthday. Jan. 6, of 2010, she will have been gone 15 years and my handwritten thank you to United Way was never completed. How do you say thank you for something that big? United Way quietly helped me and now I would quietly help others. I went on to become a foster parent and inadvertently adopted a couple of kids along the way.

    I never meant to give that much money to an organization that I thought supplied boy scout uniforms, but I also never meant to be the recipient of  their services. And by turning around and quietly trying to pay it forward to them, it was once again returned to me ten-fold.

    As you plan your charitable giving this year, I recommend you consider United Way. You might be surprised who you help.

    Carrie Stuckmann lives in Sheboygan. She writes at and was a contributor to the 2009 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is currently working on her memoir.

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