GUEST BLOG: Dana Totman, President and CEO of Avesta Housing

Dana serves on United Way of Greater Portland’s Board of Directors.

Growing up on my family’s dairy farm in Topsham, we never had much money. My parents worked incredibly hard to put food on the table and to provide for their four children. They also were very involved in the community. Volunteering in the school, serving on town committees, helping with scouts and sports, and donating milk, meat and vegetables to any one in need are the actions I remember.

I also remember when I was 9 or 10 years old riding with my mother as she drove up and down our road asking people for donations to the United Fund. I didn’t quite know what this was about and in fact was a bit irritated to be dragged along but I brought my homework and baseball cards with me to help pass the time. Many of those neighbors were as poor or poorer than us but I remember in most cases she returned from her short visits with an envelope in hand and a check mark next to her master list of names. One family with about 7 kids, a tiny house, and virtually no money apologized for not being able to give but convinced my mother to rescue their Siamese cat which kept scratching those 7 kids. I vividly remember my mother explaining how that family needed money and help from the services the United Fund would pay for. That is when I connected the dots between giving and helping. That is also the day my new growling cat, Tom, became a special pet of mine, and today I still have fond memories along with scars and scratches from that cat, Tom.

A few years later the United Fund changed its name to United Way. I probably have a ‘helping people’ career as a result of that early United Way experience. Now more than ever I think we need to connect those dots from giving to helping. I hope you all can find something, (hopefully not with whiskers and named Tom) to give to the United Way. Our community will become a better place.