Community Investment Panels: Where Magic Happens

You’re probably familiar with Disney’s animated version of Cinderella but my favorite version is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella from 1997. The singing. The dancing. The costumes. It’s fantastic! Not to mention the all-star cast which includes Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Jason Alexander, and Bernadette Peters. Brandy is cast as Cinderella and Whitney Houston is the Fairy Godmother, so the music is nothing short of phenomenal. My favorite song is a duet with Brandy and Whitney Houston where they sing “Impossible things are happening every day” while Whitney Houston waves her magic wand turning pumpkins into golden carriages and mice into white horses. My daughter and I would watch it over and over again completely immersed in the magic of it all. But alas, the movie comes to an end, the credits roll, and the magic is over. Or is it?

In 2021 I volunteered to be a panel member for United Way’s Community Investment Grant process. I don’t know about you, but life at that time wasn’t feeling very magical. In fact, it sometimes felt impossible. I had no idea what I was going to experience as a panel member or how it would change me but looking back, it was nothing short of magical.

Magic Act One: United Way

The magic begins with the United Way team. The commitment and synergy of the team is magical. Year after year their efforts are focused on creating opportunities and improving outcomes for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) individuals and families in the southeastern Idaho community. The team at United Way are entrusted with investing the money donated by individuals and business in programs, initiatives, and strategies in our local community that advance the health, education, and financial stability for children, families and individuals in need. The team takes this responsibility very seriously and the Community Investment Grant process is a very thorough, structured, and thoughtful process.

Magic Act Two: Non-Profit Organizations

If you want to see how an efficient organization runs, spend some time at a non-profit organization. Big business could take a lesson on how to stretch a dollar. The Executive Director doesn’t just spend their day in meetings. A day in the life of a non-profit Executive Director consists of writing grants to keep their programs funded, fixing computer issues, accounting for every penny spent, climbing on the roof to fix the vents, distributing the mail, and, if there’s time, making fresh baked cookies for the residents. Everyone working in a non-profit organization wears many hats and no one is afraid to roll up their sleeves to keep the magic happening. Even more amazing, an individual that works for a non-profit organization is probably in it for life. I’m sure they have moments of burn out, but they love what they do and are committed to it heart and soul.

This year during the site visits I asked one of the non-profit organizations, “If you had a magic wand, what would you wish for?” We all know the answer was more money, but it wasn’t more money for themselves or their staff (although they certainly deserve it). Instead, it was more money for their programs so they can keep doing what they’re doing and impact more lives in a positive way. The people that work for non-profit organizations are probably the most unselfish, giving, caring, happy people that I have ever met.

Final Act: YOU

You don’t have to work for United Way or a non-profit organization to experience the magic. You can keep the magic going with your donations. A $5 donation every two weeks ($130 a year) can provide the fee for one individual to take all four GED tests, purchase 625 diapers, or provide healthy snacks for one child during the school year. Just imagine, YOU could provide a little magic for someone that otherwise wouldn’t have any magic in their life. This year United Way distributed a little over $327,000 in funds donated by 2,157 people in our community. What if next year 5,000 people in our community donated? What about 10,000? “Impossible!” you say? Maybe, but “…impossible things are happening every day!” Anything is possible with a little bit of magic.

I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had the last three years to see and experience the magic that is happening in our community. It’s an experience that has opened my eyes, fills my bucket, and keeps me believing in magic and the goodness of humanity. It’s always a little bitter-sweet when the “movie” ends but I know the “movie” will be played again next year. Until then, as Cinderella would say, “Be kind, have courage and always believe in a little magic."


Lynette Batson is the Director of Human Resources at Look Out Credit Union, a member of Women United, and a longtime volunteer and supporter of United Way of Southeastern Idaho.