Royal loves UW’s relationships

Published 10:03 am Monday, November 7, 2016

Shannon Royal is an explorer.

As United Way of West Central Mississippi’s director of community impact and engagement, she’s looking for issues facing the community and finding ways to help alleviate them.

“My job is to find out what problems we may face or see in the community, and getting leaders and advocates to come together and come up with solutions for the problems,” she said. “It’s my job to bridge the gap between issues and agencies and community action.”

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And finding those problems, she said, is not hard.

“We try to focus on what we see coming in to the United Way office and also listening to our partner agencies to find out what issues they’re facing, and from there, we go and try to figure out what programs will help individuals with those needs.

“It’s easier for us with the ability to be in touch or in tune with our agencies as well as other nonprofits in the community,” she said. “We’re kind of a really tight knit family, so we’re able to sit down and discuss what we see happening in our community, and instead of duplicating services, we are able to come together with one large program that can assist more people.”

Most of the time, she said, finding that solution means setting up meetings to bring all the people involved together in one room to discuss the major issues affecting the community.

“Right now, homelessness is a big issue in the county, also, early childhood literacy (which) is one of the main focuses of United Way.”

Royal said the homeless situation has become serious, adding United Way agencies are receiving a lot of telephone calls from people looking for a place to stay.

“We are also receiving phone calls for assistance for food, and utility and rent assistance.”

When she calls a meeting of agencies, Royal said, she brings in the agencies that  have programs that best apply to the particular situation.

“If there is a roundtable, we focus on our three areas, which are health, education and financial stability,” she said.

Royal joined United Way by trying to help a friend.

“I started in banking and thought that was where I would be for the rest of my life,” she said. “ I heard United Way had a position that was open. I had actually referred one of my friends to United Way for the position. They had not made a decision and had been looking to fill that position for a long time. I eventually decided to apply myself and got the position.

“The position I’m in is new, and it’s only because United Way is moving toward community impact, and so in the beginning we really didn’t know what my position would entail, but as time has grown, it has been able to define itself.”

That definition, she said, depends on the area she’s focusing on.

“When school starts, we start our LEARN program, and that entails me gathering volunteers and they go into every third-grade class in Warren County, and they hand them four free books every school year.

“The volunteers get them started on the book. They will read the first one or two chapters, get them excited about the book, explain the importance of reading and how it affected them, and what they are currently doing.”

In the spring, United Way is giving back to the community by helping its angency partners and other nonprofit organizations.

“The community comes together and my response is to get individuals in the community to come out and help those agencies,” she said. “We have a huge response from companies and civic groups in the community. They’re excited about going out and helping in the nonprofits in their area.

“It’s not about just collecting money. We’ve got to figure out how to keep individuals from falling into this same cycle over and over again. In order to do that, we’ve got to come up with innovative ways to get an individual for where they are to where they want to be, and focusing that.”

While she might not have much one-on-one contact with the clients needing help, Royal said she will work to assist a partner agency or any other agency interested in helping others to help get someone where they need to be, including finding and matching a volunteer’s skills with the proper agency.

“I actually love what I do,” she said. “It’s different from what I thought I would be doing, but helping others has always been a drive for me. I love helping other people, I enjoy the connection to the community, the relationships I developed with people because of United Way.

“We see a lot of sad stories, but we’re able to go home at night knowing we were at least able to help one person. That alone keeps me going.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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