Jill Stanton knows United Way.

A long-time employee of the Federal Reserve Bank, she’s been involved with United Way employee campaigns for 27 years and has been a frequent volunteer for Community Care day. Currently she is serving her first ever stint as a Loaned Executive, servicing United Way accounts during the current campaign year.

But, recently, she engaged with United Way in an entirely new fashion. It happened at the financial opportunity center at Chelsea CONNECT, operated in conjunction with lead partner The Neighborhood Developers. The center is one in a network (joining Roxbury and Lawrence), designed to provide a continuum of services for vulnerable individuals and families. This all-in-one center approach is a cornerstone of United Way’s drive to lift people out of poverty, equipping them with skills and putting them on a path to financial stability and success.

This day, Jill was at CONNECT as a volunteer to help with mock interviewing, a role-playing exercise that paired her with an employee from Bank of America to deliver practical, real-world tips and tactics to job-seekers.

“It was amazing,” she says. “This gave me a sense that we’re going in the right direction, for the community in general and United Way and Chelsea in particular.”

The morning began with a quick boot camp session, featuring both the “interviewers” and the “interviewees” getting a rundown of both the agenda and some introductory interview tactics. Jill found this particularly helpful as it defused nervousness and gave the job-seekers some useful starting points.

“You can tell that it put everyone at ease,” she said. “This wasn’t supposed to be an exercise of trial by fire.”

When it came time to sit with the interviewees, that’s when the switch flipped, the exercise transitioning from a simple role-playing activity to perspective-altering life experience.

It was then she met a woman. A woman whose unemployment was the least of the challenges she had recently faced: within a two month period, she lost her job, her husband and her daughter to cancer. How do you even begin to negotiate with such loss?
For Jill, this woman’s story quickly morphed from tragic to hopeful; she was committed to pushing through the storm and improving her situation. For 22 minutes Jill and her co-volunteer delivered job-hunting advice and ran through the interview process, helping sharpen her skill-set.

“I felt hopeful,” Jill said. “She was getting really good professional advice in a very empathetic and realistic way. I felt that we had some real impact, having her look at her opportunities in a different way.”

The day ended with one more interview (culminating in an actual Bank of America job lead), but the experience has since lingered.

“This was participating in the community in a real way,” she says. “It was eye-opening to see the impact United Way, the Financial Stability Centers and the agencies are having in the community. This was an experience I couldn’t find anywhere else.”

Jill Stanton knows United Way. She speaks the lingo, has the verbiage down cold; she gives, advocates and volunteers. But thanks to a few hours one morning of working with those that her gifts, from a distance, have helped for so many years, she had an entirely new experience with the work of United Way: she felt it.