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Meet our 2021 Campaign Chair, Joel Sylvester

Every fall, Sioux Empire United Way gathers staff, volunteers, and community leaders to kick off the annual community campaign. The campaign is led by a community leader who has shown a passion for not only United Way but also the agencies and programs that are funded by United Way. Someone who has served in a variety of volunteer roles and is a go-getter. When we entered 2020, we knew our 2021 Chair would bring high energy and great community connections from personal experiences to professional acquaintances. As we began an unknown environment of COVID-19, we were even more excited for our current campaign chair to be leading our annual campaign. We asked our 2021 Campaign Chair, Joel Sylvester, Chief Marketing Officer of Five Star Call Centers, to sit down with us to talk about his experience thus far, share his personal stories, advice, and goals for his term.

As a Sioux Empire United Way supporter for 30 years and a volunteer for 20, tell us about the moment you were asked to chair the 2021 Sioux Empire United Way campaign.
The list of past campaign chairs is extremely accomplished, a real “who’s who” of Sioux Falls, including many mentors of mine, so I was humbled, surprised, and had a little of a Wayne’s World moment, like “I’m not worthy.” I think Jay Powell, SEUW President, was looking for a challenge for himself and the team after celebrating 25 consecutive years of campaign success.

The annual campaign sets a monetary goal, as the Chair, what goals do you have for yourself, the team of volunteers, and the community?
Sioux Falls is a special place, and the Sioux Empire United Way supports some of the greatest agencies and programs in the world. I want to make sure that every person in the Sioux Empire hears the uplifting stories of those receiving support. My goal is to identify new, creative ways to connect the givers and continue our history of success, despite the pandemic of COVID-19. I’m adopting the motto of “united at a distance” and will be working with teams to use technology, connections, and creativity to have our best campaign.

Your United Way connection started 30 years ago through Wells Fargo. How have your beginning years shaped your appreciation and passion for not only Sioux Empire United Way, but many of the funded programs for yourself, your family, and Five Star Call Centers?
When I was first introduced to United Way, I was in my early 20’s, single and no kids. At that time, I was most impressed with the efficiency of how far my dollar was stretched to make a more significant impact, and I gravitated to agencies with a focus on hunger. Years later, when my wife, Tanielle, and I welcomed our first child, we were introduced to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program. Now, as our kids have grown, we have seen firsthand the impact of youth programs like EmBe and YMCA. Then, I found myself caring for an aging parent, and I began to relate to programs offered for seniors like Meals on Wheels and Daybreak. Today, almost daily, I hear how the programs impact my team members at Five Star, including Furniture Mission, Children’s Inn, Helpline Center, and so many others.

What are you looking forward to as the SEUW Campaign Chair for 2021?
There is nothing better than being part of a successful team. The SEUW staff and team of volunteers are amazing and have proven when a group is all working together; there is nothing you can’t do. I am looking forward to working with everyone to use their unique set of skills and passions to use proven strategies and create new ones as we continue to navigate during this pandemic to continue to meet the needs of our funded agencies and programs.

We hear many times that people and community leaders give to United Way because you never know when you may need the resources of these funded agencies. For someone who has been through that firsthand, tell us more about your family’s experience with Active Generations. 
One of the most challenging things I have ever had to do is care for an aging father who had progressive Parkinson’s disease. My organizational and problem-solving skills, along with can-do attitude, often proved valuable. Still, unfortunately, I didn’t have the training, skill set, patience, or mentality sometimes required to handle these situations. Luckily, my stepmom has a background in social work, so her strengths matched my weaknesses to care for my dad. However, I still needed help. Daybreak was a fantastic program that gave her and me a break, but also when I dropped my dad off, picked up, or had lunch with him; I was able to learn some of the skills their amazing staff used to handle a difficult situation. I genuinely believe there is a special place in heaven for the caregivers of the world, and Sioux Falls is truly blessed to have so many throughout our organizations.

Your recruitment strategy is to be all in or say no, what advice do you have for young professionals to get involved? Where should some start and how to say no?
With 100% certainty, I can say that volunteering for the United Way or getting involved in other community activities will always get you more back than you put in. The chance to see different aspects of the community that you may not otherwise be exposed to, see how nonprofits work, and network with some of the top business leaders are invaluable. I have learned so much and met many people who have helped me grow as a person and grow in my career that would not have happened without getting involved. I would recommend to all young professionals in Sioux Falls that you look at a variety of options to get involved and choose what you are most passionate about. Also, I recommend you ask these three questions:

1. What is the time commitment needed, and can I make this work? Almost always, it is less than you think.
2. Does this opportunity fit my skill set? Does it give me a chance to do what I’m great at?
3. Am I excited about this agency or program?

If you ask these three questions and you get excited – it is go time!

What final words do you have for our readers?
My grandma who is one of the strongest and most positive people I know who survived the great depression lost three siblings at a young age, and cared for my grandfather who was in a horrific farm accident always says when things are hard in your life, “give some love away.” This motto resonates with me more than ever, as we all struggle to see the new normal. I would recommend we all look for ways to “give some love away.” It makes us all stronger. Go Fight Win! Live United!…at a distance.