Most Hopkins employees can consider themselves fortunate. They work for a prestigious university or hospital, earn a good salary, have a myriad of health and personal benefits from which to choose and enjoy a job security that some in the corporate world wish they had.
However, around each Hopkins campus live individuals who are not as fortunate--individuals who, for one reason or another, have to look for outside assistance in order to take care of themselves and/or their children. According to Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Institute and one of three 1998 United Way campaign chairs for the Johns Hopkins Institutions, it's because many university employees are so fortunate that they share a responsibility as community citizens to participate in this year's United Way of Central Maryland campaign.
"We don't exist in a culture where the government provides all the social safety nets, and I don't just mean medical benefits," Sirota said. "So it's imperative that those of us who have jobs and benefits can help provide the supplementary resources to these [social] agencies so that we can function as a society. Giving to the United Way is one of the best ways to do that. It's a rather large safety net."
The university's 1998 United Way campaign will officially begin next week with a kickoff event on the Homewood campus, at noon on Sept. 23, in Shriver Hall.
The combined Johns Hopkins Institutions goal for the 1998 campaign is $1.6 million. This figure represents a total contribution from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Applied Physics Laboratory and all other university divisions except for the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Money raised at SAIS is reported to the Washington Capital Area United Way campaign
Sirota, and the two other Hopkins campaign chairs, said the key to this year's campaign is not just reaching this dollar amount but having as many employees as possible participate in whatever way they can, whether by contributing money or by volunteering their time to local programs and agencies that need assistance.
The chairs said in order to achieve this goal, one challenge they face is convincing those who already give to other charities and organizations just how important giving to the United Way is to Hopkins and the community.
Gabe Kelen, United Way campaign chair for Johns Hopkins Medicine, said when he personally asks people to contribute, a common response is that they prefer to give to charities in their own way. Kelen said people sometimes don't realize the charity to which they contribute is often affiliated with the United Way.
"There are few things that people would like to contribute money to that don't fall in the realm of health care and social service. And even if the organization you want to contribute to is not on the list of United Way agencies, it can be written in," said Kelen, adding that contributions can be earmarked to a particular charity or service. "So by contributing through Hopkins, you allow Hopkins to be a good citizen in addition to your own personal contribution."
Still, even Kelen admitted that the university's United Way campaign used to elicit from him the reaction, "Oh, it's that time of the year again." Kelen, a professor and director of Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine, added that he used to give the minimum amount and was convinced he was doing his share.
But Kelen said he started to see things in a different light when he became a deputy campaign chair last year.
One thing he learned was that in giving to the United Way, he was in effect giving to Hopkins. Last year, for instance, the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine received more than $7 million in grants from 18 agencies affiliated with the United Way. Some of these agencies included the American Cancer Society of Maryland, the National Kidney Foundation, the Arthritis Foundation of Maryland and the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association Inc.
"One-fifth of all the money collected for Central Maryland went to support health programs in and around the community. That's incredible," Kelen said.
A now "extremely enthusiastic" campaign chair, Kelen last year made a challenge to medical faculty that if 20 of them became new leadership members (someone who contributes $1,000 or more per year) he would double his contribution. He said the challenge was met.
Another way to contribute to the United Way is to volunteer at one of its affiliated agencies. Hopkins employees who have led the way in this form of participation have been those at the Applied Physics Laboratory. Thomas Foard, campaign chair for APL, said that last year APL employees participated in more than 40 events and 29 Day of Caring activities. The Day of Caring is an annual event in which employees can get directly involved with a community service.
"The key to our philosophy is that when you give your time and effort to these agencies that do need help, you tend to be more sympathetic to their cause," said Foard, a principal staff member in the Joint Warfare Analysis Department.
Foard listed some of these activities as collecting books for agencies that teach people how to read and volunteering time at the St. Ann's Infant Home, where employees rocked and fed the infants.
Participation at APL in the campaign last year, Foard said, was 66 percent. But Foard, like his fellow chairs, said now it's time to reach those who didn't participate.
"We just want to show everyone the importance of this campaign. I'd be remiss in accepting one-third of our staff not participating. We want to keep striving for a higher level of participation."
Last year Hopkins gifts to the United Way of Central Maryland totaled $1,539,513, making Hopkins one of the region's top five contributors. Sirota said that as one of the largest employers in Baltimore and Central Maryland, Hopkins has a responsibility to give back to the community.
"If we don't, who will?" Sirota said. "The United Way is an organization that offers a huge blanket of coverage for people who are in need, some of whom are Hopkins employees. We need to have an informed self-interest. There may come a time when you need the type of service that a United Way program can give."
Sirota said he is excited about next week's kickoff at Shriver Hall, an event that will have a distinctive Peabody touch as it will begin with the premiere of the Peabody Marching Band and the Peabody Cheerleaders from Hell, two groups of students enlisted specifically for the United Way campaign kickoff event.
"It's really nice that the student body is getting involved. This way we have our students putting their experience and talents to a very meaningful, and bizarre, use. It should be a lot of fun," Sirota said. "I can assure you that it will be like no other kick-off event at Johns Hopkins. What actually will happen, no one can predict." But he does know that there will be free hot dogs and beverages for all who attend.
Following the appearance of the marching band and cheerleaders will be comments from Sirota, who will act as master of ceremonies, and from featured speaker Jackie Cornish, a woman who benefited from United Way assistance when her son was shot and killed years ago. Since that time Cornish has become a foster parent of three children, and now has a happy story she wants to share, Sirota said.
"We wanted the kickoff event to be a celebration. And by highlighting someone who has benefited from a United Way program, we can listen to someone who is now having a positive impact in our community."