A colleague and I just spent a few days in Atlanta at a United Way Brand Conference. UW staff from all over the United States gathered to talk about United Way, the work that we do, and how to best get the word out to our respective communities. It was one of those energizing events that sends you home with lots of ideas.
If you’ve paid any attention at all to United Way for the last few years, you’ll know that we have a tagline: LIVE UNITED. It’s more than a tagline, really. It’s a credo. A mission. It’s about what we can accomplish together, as a community.
At the conference we talked a lot about this concept, and what sets United Way apart from other non-profits. When people ask why they should give to United Way instead of an individual charity, I reply that you shouldn’t. And what I mean is, you shouldn’t give instead of — you should give in addition to. Most everyone has a pet project — something that resonates with them and motivates them to become involved. A disability in the family may cause you to reach out to Turnstone. Breast cancer or heart disease may have taken a mother, sister or brother, and you give your resources to help seek a cure or to fund research. That makes sense. Give to help on behalf of those you love.
But let’s also pause for a moment and think about this county in which we live. We love it here, don’t we? We want it to be the best place that it can be. A community is a living, breathing thing in a constant state of change. And when our community is not stable, we all suffer. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
And that is where United Way comes in. United Way of Allen County cares for the people of Allen County. We help to secure the resources to benefit the stability and basic needs of its residents. We help to ensure that the children of Allen County have access to resources that will allow them to be successful in school, and in life. The children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. Don’t we want them to be making the most informed decisions that they can make? Don’t we want to have a county where everyone has enough to eat and clothes to wear? Don’t we want to live where there is a low-crime rate and high employment? United Way alone can’t make this happen — it takes a community. With the help of a recent needs assessment, United Way has a handle on where the true needs are in our community. The funds that we raise go to benefit those needs. And, we have ways to help that reach beyond fundraising. We have Learn United — a great volunteer program that places adults into the lives of children who need them.
A healthy community means not self-sufficiency for some, but self-sufficiency for all. We can do this. We can be the positive change in Allen County. Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Do you love where you live?
According to Merriam-Webster:Definition of PURSE 1 a (1) : a small bag for money (2) : a receptacle (as a pocketbook) for carrying money and often other small objects b : a receptacle (as a pouch) shaped like a purse 2 a : resources, funds b : a sum of money offered as a prize or present; also : the total amount of money offered in prizes for a given event
Every August, there comes a day when groups of people convene. They come from all parts of the community. They rise early from the comfort of their beds, pull on T-shirts and jeans, and have breakfast. Together. They may not know one another, but they have a common purpose — to serve. After their meal they head out, rain or shine, to do the work that needs to be done. They are the United Way Day of Caring volunteers.
Day of Caring started in 1993 as a general sprucing up of the YWCA campus by 250 volunteers. It has since evolved into a massive effort that brings community volunteers face-to-face with local nonprofit and community organizations. Last year, Day of Caring participants logged around 9,000 hours of service, working on projects such as cleaning, painting and landscaping at local non-profit agencies, child-care centers, after-school youth programs and schools. They also work on some residential projects that are shepherded by NeighborLink Fort Wayne.
This year our Day of Caring will take place on August 4 at Headwaters Park West. Volunteers will be provided a delicious meal prepared and served by the American Red Cross of Northeast Indiana.
Often our volunteers represent local companies, such as Do it Best, Corp, and G.E. Sometimes they made up of church groups or individuals. It makes no difference — there is plenty to do. Last year it was oppressively hot. Resource trucks made the rounds to project sites handing out bottled water and hauling away trash and debris.
It’s hot. It’s tiring. But it’s a gift to those who are the beneficiaries. For everyone who has ever worked on a Day of Caring project, we salute you. You truly are the role models for what it means to Live United.
When I write about our partner agencies, it’s usually from the perspective of a client who has used a service. However, in the past month I’ve been painfully reminded of how important our partner agencies are — based on a very personal experience.
On May 3, my sister-in-law was admitted to the hospital. An oncologist had ordered a biopsy of a mass in her lung and it was found to be cancerous. She had been having severe headaches for weeks and the doctor was concerned that the pain in her head was related to her lung cancer. He ordered a lumbar puncture which revealed that the cancer had spread to her spinal fluid — a very rare phenomenon and a very aggressive one. She was faced with the grim reality of terminal cancer. Chemotherapy treatments would be administered in an attempt to prolong her life — not to cure.
Everyone in the family was overcome with grief, as you might expect. But, we didn’t have time to waste. It was important to us, and to my sister-in-law, to get her home as quickly as possible. I contacted Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana right away and was assured that as soon as we submitted our form, they would get busy securing the necessary items — a hospital bed, commode, bathing accessories, etc. I also contacted the folks at Visiting Nurse and Hospice Home. I met with Rose who guided me through the entire process of Palliative care and Hospice care. She spent around an hour with me and answered every question with frankness and compassion. When I left that meeting I felt we had a solid course of action.
The cancer, however, had vastly different plans. The meeting I had with VNNH was on a Tuesday — by early Sunday morning my sister-in-law was gone. No need for a hospital bed. No convalescing at home. It was a whirlwind of horrific proportions.
However, the silver lining in all of this, to me, was the personal reminder that agencies like Cancer Services and Visiting Nurse and Hospice exist for a reason — to help people to deal with very scary circumstances. Times in our lives where we don’t know where to turn and need help navigating unfamiliar waters.
It’s reassuring to me to know that when there is a need, a United Way partner agency will most likely be there to help meet that need. I know it, because it happened to me.
Representatives from Dana Foundation came in today to present a corporate gift to United Way of Allen County. We photographed them with our board chair and CEO, and posted the photo to our Facebook page. We did the same thing a few weeks ago when we received a large gift from GM. We love those large gifts and want to make sure we do all we can to thank the entities that provide them.
But many of our gifts don’t receive that kind of publicity. It would be impossible to photograph every one of our donors. And frankly, that’s a shame. The gifts they give to United Way play a very important role in our success. Our donors, large and small, are people who understand the value of United Way to our community. They recognize that United Way assesses needs, and with the help of volunteers, is able to allocate resources to best meet those needs.
If you’re a current donor, we thank you, and so do the 37 partner agencies, 64 funded programs and the countless recipients who receive their services. The elderly couple who uses the Community Transportation Network van for medical appointments thank you; the young mother who receives childcare vouchers so she can put her son in an accredited childcare center while she goes to college thanks you; and the father who recently lost his job and visits one of the Associated Churches food banks to provide meals for his family thanks you, too.
If you’re not a current donor, we ask you to consider a gift. It’s easy enough to do — here’s a link to our online donation page. If ever there were a time to give, this is it.
Thank you for giving, and thank you for LIVING UNITED.
Surveys have shown us that when people think of United Way, they first think of basic needs such as food and shelter — those things that help us to survive day-to-day. But, United Way is so much more than that. It funds programs that address short-term needs, long-term needs and those needs that are in between. It also serves as a conduit for people in need and people who are willing to help.
One of the most valuable resources within our community is housed right here at United Way. It’s our 2-1-1 call center and website. Just like 9-1-1, which handles emergencies, and 3-1-1, which handles city questions and concerns, 2-1-1 is the 24/7 referral source for community needs. Know someone who is struggling with utility bills? Call 2-1-1 for referral information to agencies that offer utility assistance. Do you need a counselor? 2-1-1 can point you in the right direction. Interested in community service volunteer opportunities? 2-1-1 can help with that as well.
It’s easy to think that you will never need the services of 2-1-1 or United Way funded programs. They are only for the poor, right? Nope. Guess again. You’ve probably been the recipient of services and didn’t even know it.
This June marks the 10 year anniversary of the death of my mom. She died of lung cancer. She was 78 years old. Prior to her illness she was self-sufficient and like many elderly people, she fought for her independence. When she was diagnosed, it was very dire. She didn’t want to be hospitalized. She didn’t want to go through treatments that might make her sick. She wanted to die at home, living her life the way she had always lived it, for as long as she could.
We arranged for hospice care from Visiting Nurse and Hospice Home, and secured a hospital bed and other equipment from Cancer Services of NE Indiana. It never occurred to us that United Way may have helped to pay for those services. We were just content in knowing that we had been able to help her leave in the way she desired.
United Way of Allen County is there, helping to determine community needs and helping to fund the programs that address them. You might not see it, you may never need it, but then again, you might. A gift to United Way is almost like insurance that when and if your time comes, those essential programs will be there. And of course, there are those who need United Way in every possible way and your gift helps them as well.
It’s tax time — a grueling time of year for most of us, but especially for those who depend on refunds to help pay bills. Often the most economically depressed don’t possess the ability to navigate through the complex systems of the IRS, nor do they have the resources to pay someone to do it for them, making them especially vulnerable to predatory lending.
The volunteer center at RSVP and United Way of Allen County are partners in a program that offers free tax assistance to families making less than $49,000 a year (click here to download a flier). Community volunteers prepare taxes for qualifying residents, for free. Many recipients have been able to enjoy the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC can put as much as $5,000 back in some families’ bank accounts and that money can be used to pay for necessities like rent or mortgage.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend time at the League for the Blind and Disabled — one of the hosting sites and a United Way agency partner. A young man pursuing his accounting degree was there to help a woman who was disabled and who had come to her appointment via the Community Transportation Network, another partner agency of United Way.
Barb Jones, the site supervisor, told us that it is truly a rewarding program for volunteers. Many times their guidance is able to make a profound difference to people. It can help them to bring down their debt, pay their bills or in some cases, to keep their home. And, because these refunds are used for immediate needs, they go right back into our local economy, benefiting us all.
When we think of volunteerism, tax prep isn’t probably the first thing that comes to mind. But, it just shows that when we come together and serve in whatever fashion that we can, good will come of it. United Way of Allen County is happy to be a catalyst. Whether you give, advocate, volunteer (or do any combination of those three), you are making a difference in our community. Thank you to all who LIVE UNITED.