An Honest Look and Heartfelt Plea about the United Way

Thanks to everyone who donated during the 2010 United Way Campaign. It is not too late — if you wish to donate, you may still do so online today! Just click on the following link to make your pledge today:

For more information about this year’s campaign, visit

This year I am serving again as a United Way representative. I was in the process of writing a piece for the Pathology Blog that would motivate our faculty, administrators, and staff to make their pledge toward this year’s campaign. This was not easy and I struggled with ideas. I thought I would approach the issue by suggesting the characteristics that all people have in common to demonstrate that whether one is wealthy or impoverished, we are all vulnerable to the same conditions that assail us in everyday living. While that is relevant, I did not think the statement went far enough. I think I even mentioned it in prior years. It was trite.

One day on the shuttle, while I was agonizing about what I should write for the Blog, I overheard a conversation between two of my fellow passengers. In fact this conversation was actually the second time I heard the topic discussed. It was about the relationship between Johns Hopkins and the United Way. This campaign was a public relations exercise. It presented Johns Hopkins in a good light to the Baltimore community. If Johns Hopkins really cared about those in need, then the money spent on hotdogs should have gone directly to the needy. What about the United Way? The administrative overhead was probably very high. How much actually went to those in need? There was no way that they were going to pledge.

I spoke up at that point and revealed that I was chosen as one of the representatives for the Pathology Department. I said that I could not speak for the Hospital as a whole. I was not naïve enough to think that the image of this Institution and its importance in the community was not overlooked in the campaign. I also said that the scandalous actions of the individuals in the United Way occurred a number of years ago which in turn led to reforms within the organization. The United Way might not be perfect, but the organization is far better today, and its intentions, its ideals and its values are indeed honorable.

I truly believe that we get lost in our own worlds and lose our focus. Yes, there are problems! We cannot totally discount the selfishness of the human spirit. However, we should not redirect ourselves from the true mission. With two sons in college, a daughter in grad school, and a mother and a mother-in- law to support, my resources are limited. Yet when I walked my dog back home in State College, I passed the women’s shelter. As I looked through the three, thick glass security doors, I knew that the women behind them had a lot less. So I made a pledge to the shelter. It wasn’t a whole lot from each paycheck. It amounted only to a little more than six hundred dollars a year — just a fraction of what was needed. In my soul I knew even that little bit could make a difference in someone’s life.

I know that this is a difficult time and we as a people have become very cynical. But whatever you may think about our Institution and its motives, please don’t lose faith and forget these people.

Whatever you give — even the smallest donation — can make all the difference in someone’s life.


Frank Barksdale for the Pathology United Way Campaign