Local 249 members participated in the Habitat for Humanity of Kansas City’s Women Build Day, which was held May 17. They understand that giving back to the community is a core UAW value.
Community Service Committees Show UAW Values
As a UAW member, you know the union is only as strong as member involvement. Without it your local can’t be a strong voice for the membership. One way UAW members stay involved in their locals is through standing committees like Local 249’s Community Services Committee, a great example of fostering member solidarity while helping those in need in their local community. Most of Local 249’s members, 7,000 strong, work at Ford Motor Co.’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Missouri.
Local 249 President Jason Starr beams with pride when he talks about the Community Services Committee. “The committee works tirelessly to put a face on our member’s values in the community,” said Starr. “The committee provides services for members in need and they reach out to the community to introduce ourselves and show them our UAW values are more than just a paycheck. It’s important as a local for our community to know who we are and what we’re about. Our mission is to uplift all families through the tools our great union gives us,” he said.
For the past six years Local 249 member Kim Rowland has been keeping the 17-member committee running smoothly as chair. She’s also a ramp coordinator with UAW-Ford National Project Center’s wheelchair ramp construction program with Habitat for Humanity houses in the Kansas City area, one of seven UAW ramp crews in the Midwest. Her phone rings nonstop because the need for help in local neighborhoods never lets up. But that’s all good, says Rowland. After 25 years in the plant, she transitioned into full-time committee work, wheelchair ramp coordination and spreading the word that helping those in need is a core UAW value, a mission she’s enthusiastic about.
“Our standing committees play a key role in making sure their communities see UAW caring in action,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. “The UAW has always stood for service to those in need. Local 249’s Community Services Committee is walking the union talk and that’s how it should be done.”
Rowland says they walk that talk in many ways. “We help change people’s lives in different ways, like with a Christmas dinner or building a wheelchair ramp. My favorite part is when somebody calls and needs help, and I get to tell them, ‘Yeah, we can help you.’ But we can’t do it without the great Local 249 members, Region 5 and the International UAW behind us who always give when we ask,” she said.
“We do a coats-for-kids drive in October. This year will be our sixth year. The first four years we took 10 to 12 kids to J.C. Penney and bought warm winter clothes for them. Last year we went to a school with a high poverty rate and bought coats for 142 kids. It was my favorite day ever because we put the coats in bags according to size and then the kids came up and took the bags. They were so appreciative. I get choked up thinking about it because these were kids wearing thrift store clothes or hand-me downs. For me it was better than Christmas,” said Rowland.
Right now, they’re working on partnering with a summer camp for children with cancer and their siblings. Committee members will train to be camp buddies for a day for a child, spending the day to make sure the child has a good experience. They’ll be doing their popular Thanksgiving turkey collection again in November at the plant doors — they collected enough to buy 920 turkeys one year — and they’ll be doing many other fundraisers between now and then as they become aware of other needs in the Kansas City area between now and then.
“The best part of being chair is I get to meet people we serve and shake their hands and see the difference you make in their lives. There are families that participated in our first coats-for-kids program that I still stay in touch with,” said Rowland. That’s why she is proud to be chair of the committee and work with great volunteers. “I can’t imagine the UAW without this committee because they’re about what the UAW is about — helping people. I’m living proof of that. Before I hired in at Ford all I was a single parent working a full-time job and two part-time jobs to make ends meet. I’m thankful to have a job now where I can give back and we can show how caring and giving UAW members are.”
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