People of all generations and walks of life are looking to make a connection – to find purpose and passion, to make things better, to be part of something bigger.

To understand how United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County creates a sense of unity through connecting people with community opportunities, meet Barry.

Barry is a volunteer with a United Way-funded program at Interfaith Senior Programs serving Waukesha. For more than two years, Barry visits Tom, a 66-year-old stroke survivor, to help with simple household tasks, chat about the weather, and talk musky fishing.

Although they aren’t related, Barry considers Tom part of his family.

“Last Christmas my wife and I spent some time with Tom so he wouldn’t be alone for the holidays,” said Barry, the former owner of the Waukesha Foundry.

Both men have engineering backgrounds. They quickly connected on more than just their careers. “We both like to deer hunt and talk about current events,” said Barry.

“Barry goes above and beyond for me,” said Tom. “I don’t have any family in the area, and I’m so happy I can count on him to be there to support me.”

Tom’s stroke left him visually impaired and partially immobile. Barry stops over once a week to help Tom read his mail, fill out paper work and exercise. “When the weather is nice, we like to go for walks,” said Barry.

“I think there is a saying that the volunteer gets more out of the experience than the person they are helping,” said Barry. “I’d have to say I agree with that.”

“Waukesha County’s senior population is the second largest in the state,” said Kathy Gale, Executive Director of Interfaith of Waukesha County, “Thanks to United Way’s support, volunteers like Barry help over 1,100 individuals continue to access health care services, grocery stores and other basic needs they wouldn’t be able to do on their own.”

“Research tell us each hour of a volunteer’s time is valued at $23.56, but Tom would tell you Barry’s time is worth much more than that,” said Jayne Thoma, vice president of Volunteer Engagement at United Way. “Seniors who are helped by Interfaith volunteers also may not qualify for government-funded programs, so not only are these individuals providing companionship to the client they are helping them fulfill some of their basic needs.”  

In 2014, 85% of participants who were part of the United Way-funded RSVP volunteer program at Interfaith felt they were making a difference in someone’s life, and 95% indicated that they felt happier and more satisfied with their own life.

As for Tom, he’s thankful to Barry and United Way for allowing them to connect, to seize the moment, to make better happen.

“Having people in the community of Waukesha willing to give their time to others is truly a blessing,” said Tom. “I’m so happy to be in my home.”

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© 2020 United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County is a 501(C)(3) Nonprofit registered in the US under EIN: 39-0806190.