Thanks to their generosity, and with support from the Comcast Foundation, hundreds of local United Way affiliates in 2016 will receive $10 million to help tens of thousands of people in need across the country.
A few years ago, one of those people in need was Lane Watts, now a Comcast Business account executive in Tupelo, Miss., where the company was founded in 1963. Lane agreed this past fall to share his story in a video shared with employees nationwide to help promote the campaign – and to emphasize to his coworkers that supporting United Way may also mean helping other members of the Comcast family.
For Lane, sharing that story wasn’t easy. His son, Gavin, was diagnosed with autism at age 5, and he and his wife, Beth, hadn’t spoken much about Gavin’s condition outside their family. "We felt helpless and were struggling with finding the right care for Gavin," Lane says. That’s when they found Regional Rehabilitation Center, a therapy facility in Tupelo, Miss. that provides care at no cost to the families it helps. "We had to think long and hard about whether to get involved with the United Way campaign," Lane says. "But in the end, if our story could help Regional Rehab help more families like ours, we felt an obligation to."
"Lane’s story really made a connection," says Otha Brandon, a government affairs director who led the United Way campaign across Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. "At one morning meeting in Tupelo, Lane spoke to 21 of his fellow techs, and 17 of them ended up pledging." Overall, employees in Lane’s hometown region contributed a record $865,000 to United Way this year.
Otha felt the impact of Lane’s story firsthand during the filming of the campaign video. "It gave me an opportunity to learn more about autism, but through the eyes of Lane’s family," Otha recalls. "Here is a coworker, standing in front of me, telling me about a problem his family faces every day. It’s hard not to feel something."
Throughout the campaign, Lane received support from Comcasters across the company – some he had worked with for years and others he had never met before. "When I heard from people who were struggling with autism in their own families, it made me think of when Gavin was first diagnosed and we didn’t know where to turn," Lane says. "Our family felt blessed to receive help from United Way in the first place, and now we feel a second wave of gratitude to the coworkers who heard our story and stepped up."
The impact of sharing their story has also outlived the campaign and continues to make a difference in their community. The local United Way affiliate, United Way of Northeast Mississippi, has asked Lane’s family to be the face of their annual fundraising campaign, with the video as a centerpiece.
Gavin has also become a local celebrity in his own right. After filming the employee video, he told his third grade teacher that he wanted to show his classmates "a movie" he was in. After talking to Lane and Beth and seeing the video firsthand, his teacher and the school principal hosted a screening for 300 of Gavin’s fellow third graders in the school’s gym. He also had the opportunity to film a public service announcement for Regional Rehabilitation Center (see video below).
Opening up about Gavin’s autism also made Lane more aware of other people’s struggles – and increased his desire to give back.
"This experience has brought us closer to Regional Rehab, but it’s also opened our eyes to what other organizations like them are doing in the area," Lane says. "Sharing my story made me think of every other story out there and the different challenges people are facing."