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Chris Sargent


Youth Public Engagement Internship Program

34 West Jackson Street
Ste. 4A
Battle Creek, Michigan 49017
Chris Sargent embodies a focused, collaborative leadership style. As vice president and chief operating officer of The United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, he believes that solutions come from the collective efforts of people with knowledge and passion to create change – including the direct recipients of programs United Way supports.  
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region Vice President and COO Chris Sargent: To me being a leader is about two things. First, a leader is always looking to learn more, both by connecting with people and by taking examples of success in our communities and applying them locally where appropriate. Secondly, a leader is also about the ability to recognize and help developing new leaders. For me, it is about creating opportunities for the next generation to lead. It is about creating them now, and not waiting for them to be created in the in the future when I am gone. In many cases, new, fresh perspectives are critical for our success.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for kids is they will have all of the support that I was fortunate to have growing up. I remember being in Little League baseball and having my parents, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends all cheering me on in the stands.
There is an opportunity in our communities to engage the public more and to include their voices in the plans and strategies that are developed to solve our social issues.
They provided positive encouragement. My dream is that they all have that kind of support. Today’s children still need all of us there to support them, to give them words of encouragement, and to care about their success.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
From my perspective, it is really about community engagement: to find more ways get people's perspective and their support for our programs.
Money, of course, is critical, but funding is not the sole solution. There is an opportunity in our communities to engage the public more and to include their voices in the plans and strategies that are developed to solve our social issues. Many times, we focus on the expert knowledge and best practice and miss the opportunity to involve the people whose lives we seek to improve. By turning toward our community, we can reflect their aspirations, and by doing that, the challenges that we face will see improvement.

How do you know you’re making progress?
We know that we are making progress when we hold ourselves accountable to the indicators in a community that we are working to improve. For example, we focus on the improvement of education, income and financial stability, and health.  In education, if more children are entering kindergarten ready to learn, we are making progress. If our efforts work to improve third grade reading and math proficiency and increase high school graduation rates, we are making progress.

It is sometimes easy to have surface knowledge, but it takes a deep understanding of the issues that impact families and vulnerable children that we serve.
We are making progress on the indicators that are critical to our success in communities and this success has required our partners to work together to measure progress and also to make commitments
to long-term action.

What are you most proud of?
Several things. I am most proud of the relationships I have developed in our community and the ability to better understand the everyday lives of people in our community. I am also proud of the fact that our organization supports vulnerable children and their families. It is sometimes easy to have surface knowledge, but it takes a deep understanding of the issues that impact families and vulnerable children that we serve. That is the area where we make the most impact, so their voices need to be heard.
I’m proud that United Way takes the time to connect with the people that we work with, because when people and organizations to come together, they are able to reach solutions to complex social challenges.
What role have networks played in your professional career?
Networking has always been instrumental in my career. This is why I choose to be a part of the many networks that provide the same support to others that I am so fortunate to be a part of. I have been positively impacted by my involvement with so many of them.

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Program Profile


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