Good Sunday morning, everyone! When I took the position as president here at the United Way office, I thought I would just be raising funds to be able to offer great programs to Danville and the surrounding communities, and help more of our residents live a better life.

I soon found out it was a lot more than that.

I get calls, and some will walk into my office, almost daily from individuals needing help. Sometimes it’s for assistance to find a food pantry, needing help to pay a power or water bill, needing rental assistance. So many individuals find themselves homeless, hungry and scared.

The saddest part of this scenario is, and this is on every call, they have no family to help them. They have broken those ties, or the family has given up on helping them.

I knew when I was a junior in high school that I wanted to do something in life to help people. I have always been a defender of the weak. So, I listen to each call with my greatest empathy and try my best to find them assistance.

I’m not sure I was always empathetic, but I was very sympathetic until I got a call from a young man who badly needed help about two years ago.

This young man called me at least twice a week for a month and we would talk for 45 minutes each time. He was trying to help himself, but he really needed medical attention first, so between Love INC and myself we were able to get him to a local hospital where Crosspoint eventually was called in and this young man was transported to an in-patient facility.

In one of our last conversations, before he was admitted, he said to me, just having someone to listen to me has helped me more than you will ever know.

But he needed more than resources, sometimes without medical treatment the desire to live a better life just isn’t going to happen. I met with him weeks later and there stood a very vibrant young man where once stood a broken man. It is a vision I won’t soon forget.

So, what is the difference?

Sympathy is feeling compassion or pity for the hardships another person encounters. Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another. It’s something we all need to practice. Once you start being more empathetic, you will have a whole new appreciation of the life God has given you.

Give. Advocate. Volunteer. Live United.

Sherri M. Askren is president of United Way of Danville Area, Inc., 28 W. North St., Danville, IL 61832. Phone: 442-3512