A few years ago, after a long and difficult period of being unemployed, I landed a job at Oasis Center.

If you are unfamiliar with our work, this year Oasis Center will connect with more than 3,400 area youth who are actively changing their futures in positive and impactful ways.

Many aim to be the first in their family to graduate college. Some are building leadership skills and developing business ideas. Some grapple with homelessness.

One of our programs empowers youth who identify as LGBTQ. Another uses building bicycles as a bridge to mentor and to engage young people.

Oasis Center offers 21 programs in all. Each benefits from funds raised during The Big Payback, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s 24-hour online giving challenge at www.thebigpayback.org. was a huge success this year.

The community-wide event was created to increase philanthropy in the 40 counties of Middle Tennessee, and has it ever: raising nearly $1.5 million for 525 local organizations its first year and more than $2.65 million for 755 participating nonprofits last year.

th-1During the first The Big Payback in 2014, as I shared powerful stories about determined Oasis Center youth — specifically hitting Twitter users hard for donations and support late into the night — something unexpected happened.

Amid the banter came retweets and comments of encouragement from other organizations with which Oasis Center works! Our shared desire to serve, to share the personal stories of hope and triumph, had driven us all deep into the wee hours of the night.

Cathleen Windham (Photo: Submitted) http://oasiscenter.org

Among the serious exchanges came a few requests to “Please pass the Oreos” and “Who drank all the milk?!” as we also shared descriptions of wearing tasteful pajamas.

The impromptu fun struck a chord, and the virtual “slumber party” made its debut.

Our virtual slumber party returned for the third annual The Big Payback, as we invited The Big Payback’s participating organizations to join together to finish the last six hours of the drive.

Back to how I began this column, with the mention of my unemployment. Right before the Nashville flood of 2010, I was laid off from my marketing/client relations job of nearly six years.

Because I had “free” time, I was able to spend three weeks with one family, carefully sorting through the soggy remains of their lives. I had a hand in helping to restore a historic old home through Habitat for Humanity. I cooked lunch once a week for a dozen or so homeless young adults at the Oasis Center as a volunteer.

Years before that, as a single mom, I found Oasis when I was really struggling with my teenage son. Twice he was housed at the center’s emergency shelter as we worked to stay together.

I recall many long and difficult weeks, months and years. But throughout our challenges, we always had Oasis. Its staff never gave up on us. There were no “last chances” at Oasis.

Now, as an Oasis Center staffer, I have the rewarding responsibility to help share the stories of hundreds of youth and their families who, much like my son and I, are getting the support they need to stay together.

Please consider making a commitment to one or more organizations whose issues speak to you. As a valued part of this community, you have the power to positively change the life of someone immediately.

Cathleen Windham works in marketing and development at Oasis Center.