Physics Professor Aileen O'Donoghue shares the importance of giving back when we can, especially during very difficult times.
“I came here with some furniture, a car, a dog, a Ph.D., and $500,” says St. Lawrence Henry Priest Professor of Physics Aileen O’Donoghue. She is the first to acknowledge the challenges families are facing, even before the pandemic struck, and holds a unique perspective of what it is like to live in poverty.
Like many just out of graduate school, O’Donoghue was not able to donate to fundraisers and nonprofits but says, “Now that I do feel more secure, I try to be generous myself and encourage generosity in others.” She knows Laurentians have a strong tradition of generosity which is evident in the record-breaking success of The Campaign for Every Laurentian. She also knows that Laurentians care deeply about the North Country.
Now, as chairperson for St. Lawrence’s United Way Campaign, O’Donoghue has seen how high the need is for the support of nonprofits in the North Country. O’Donoghue credits the new executive director, Jamie Cox, for bringing fresh ideas to United Way of Northern New York on how to navigate these complicated and troubling times. Cox has initiated an effort to increase the effectiveness of all the support agencies in the region, by sharing the organization’s expertise and providing training and funding for a variety of nonprofits, food banks, and community support agencies.
“People get asked for money a lot. When I ask the St. Lawrence employees to give, I emphasize that this is the way we can help the people we see every day, working at the institution and in the community, in low-paid or part-time positions.” Aileen O’Donoghue
The United Way is self-sustaining in funds by donations from people, who, like O’Donoghue, have uninterrupted salaries. However, during COVID-19, even United Way has taken a hit in funds. The biggest challenge that fundraisers and non-profit agencies are facing right now is something that O’Donoghue describes as “giving fatigue.” She says that this fatigue is a result of politicians asking for money for campaigns, agencies seeking financial help after natural disasters, and companies in general that are hurting economically during the pandemic.
“Nowadays, no one is a stranger to financial complications due to COVID-19, especially residents in the North Country,” says O’Donoghue. During the pandemic, workers in the area with low-wage jobs are suffering even more due to shortages in hours and cuts to employee staffs. For this reason, O’Donoghue believes the St. Lawrence community is in a unique position to help.
“People get asked for money a lot,” says O’Donoghue, who applauds the campus for contributing between $18,000 and $23,000 annually to the local chapter of United Way. “When I ask the St. Lawrence employees to give, I emphasize that this is the way we can help the people we see every day, working at the institution and in the community, in low-paid or part-time positions,” she says.
O’Donoghue knows first-hand how much St. Lawrence University is intertwined with the local community, and how many Laurentians call the North Country home. “If we all can give some to help others then everyone will be better off. I believe it is incumbent on us to use some of what we make to help our neighbors.”