Why we give: Two lifelong Penn Staters on why they support the United Way

January 14, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Susan Sampsell, director of administration in the College of Agricultural Sciences, first started working at Penn State, she didn’t really know what the Centre County United Way’s annual Day of Caring event was—she just knew it was an opportunity to jump in and get involved with something good.

Now, nearly 20 years later, it’s almost impossible to picture a Day of Caring without her there, painting or building or landscaping on behalf of the non-profit agencies that partner with the Centre County United Way.

Equally difficult to imagine without Sampsell is Penn State’s annual Trash to Treasure sale, where she regularly volunteers and which routinely brings in more than $50,000 in proceeds to benefit the United Way. That’s $50,000 each year that helps feed hungry families, heat cold homes, provide health services to those without insurance, and so much more.

“The reality is you don’t see a lot of this need. State College and Centre County, it’s a small area, and we hide our need really well,” Sampsell said. “So if you don’t take the time to take that initial step, to get involved and start to learn what these agencies are doing, then I think you really miss out.”

Part of the Community

Steve Sampsell — Susan’s husband and director of strategic communications in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications — smiles slightly when remembering how he took his first step to get involved with helping meet that need.

Now a Centre County United Way board member, his first experience was waking up one morning to discover that Susan had signed them both up to volunteer with Trash to Treasure, something that he laughs about as he admits he “probably rolled [his] eyes” at first. Now he’s a regular sight at the United Way’s Day of Caring, where he can be found volunteering alongside his wife, and as a board member, helping to oversee the management of the funds that the United Way distributes to its 32 partner agencies across the county.

“It matters, when you’re in a community, to be part of that community, and this is a tangible way,” he said. “If you live in Centre County and you don’t know exactly what you want to do, but you want to be in a better community, you can be part of that. Between the network of partner agencies and the volunteers that drive the United Way, you should give to the United Way because that network works.”

The network of volunteers and non-profits helps thousands of people in Centre County ever year, including helping families find permanent housing and financial stability, making sure children have access to education and school supplies, and helping those struggling with health issues access affordable health care — all of which are issues that might not be immediately apparent when you look at Centre County.

“It’s a beautiful place, where you think that everything is fine. But if you pull back the covers, you begin to see that need, if you want to see it,” Susan Sampsell said. “But I don’t think the need is why I volunteer or give to the United Way. I give because I think that, in a way, it’s our responsibility to give back and help make things better in our community.”

Ordinary Penn Staters, Doing Extraordinary Things

For Steve Sampsell, it’s also something he does because he’s a Penn Stater, and giving back and helping others is what Penn Staters do. An alumnus himself, he’s seen the student body change over the years, but one thing remains the same: a commitment to service, one that he’s proud to continue through his support of the Centre County United Way.

“It reminds me of how Mark Pavlik, the men’s volleyball coach, talks about Penn Staters being ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” he said. “That’s who we are. We’re people who come to work every day. People who do good things. Help somebody out a little bit. All of those little pieces add up to something bigger and better.”

Learn more about how you can support the Centre County United Way at UnitedWay.psu.edu.

Last Updated January 14, 2019