Literally Stepping Up

We like to try fun internal challenges now and then at United Way. Our step challenge was no different. People were assigned to teams to see who could rack up the most steps. The Golden Shoe Award and a $25 gift card were on the line. For Planned Giving Manager Mike Caldwell, it was an opportunity to step up his game in more ways than one.


“I’m competitive, but I’m not getting any younger. Let’s just say this challenge really appealed to me personally. Walking is the exercise I can do. I walk 4 or 5 miles almost every day.”


Mike started off early with motivational speeches. He told his team mate, Jody: “If we’re going to have a contest, let’s play to win.”


Partially through the contest, he realized he was in 2nd or 3rd, and thought: “I better step it up. Literally.” So, he pushed himself and walked twice on the last day to maximize his total step count.


According to Mike, he wasn’t in this for the accolades, not the Golden Shoe award or the $25 gift card—in fact, at first he didn’t even realize such a prize was attached. Once he learned of the $25, he figured he didn’t really need it, but someone else might.


Mike got the idea to pay it forward and give the gift card to someone who could really use it. He said, “I wanted to allow someone to do something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.”  He emailed United Way employees to identify a recipient, and the responses started rolling in.


A chance interaction reminded Mike of why he does this. At a fast food restaurant, the woman working the drive-through told Mike, “I want your car.” He recalls it was in a nice way, sort of joking, but also with a deep underlying truth. “Yeah, I don’t have a car,” she added. He realized she has to either get a ride or take the bus, all the while working hard to make ends meet bringing home at or near minimum wage. He realized the need is all around, you just have to look and see it.


Then Mike got a surprise. Another employee messaged him to provide an anonymous donation—one gesture of paying it forward begetting another. Now they were able to send a small bit of help to not one, but two recipients.


The first donation went to Indianapolis Public School #48 to help purchase shirts and ties for the young men for “Tie Tuesdays.” Every Tuesday, the kids wear shirts and ties to bolster their self esteem and give them a more positive outlook on life. This program is ongoing, but is dependent on donations to stay afloat.


The other donation went to young man with a lofty goal of running a marathon in support of providing clean water for kids in Africa. With his plans to raise funds for a good cause, the ripple effect of Mike’s initial spark of philanthropy continues on.


Even if a gift feels small, never underestimate its power to make a difference. Be like Mike: step up where you can. You really just never know where one act of generosity will lead to next.


*Pictured: Below: Mike Caldwell with the two United Way employees that received donations on behalf of IPS #48 and the marathon runner to support providing clean water to children in Africa. Above: Students at IPS #48 celebrating Tie Tuesday