Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reflections on a Day of Advocacy

Guest Blog by Lindsay Morgan Tracy, Vice President, Community Impact, United Way of Pierce County

On February 1, 2018, a contingency of United Way of Pierce County advocates, descended upon our state’s Capitol in Olympia to talk about legislative priorities and concerns. A group of fifteen staff, friends and board members, spent the day meeting with our legislators or their aides to talk about keys issues that are important to our community.

One of the key themes at our From Poverty to Possibilities event was the importance of being fully engaged in policies and advocacy efforts that impact the stability of Pierce County. Our attendees highlighted the need to assess and review policies that are keeping people poor or even incentivizing them to stay in poverty (a/k/a the Benefit’s Cliff). 

Spending a day on Capitol Hill takes commitment for all who take the time. It is a significant commitment from the business community that allowed their employees to take the day to champion causes important to the greater good of our residents. Special thanks to WSECU, State Farm, Western State Hospital and CHI-Franciscan for allowing your staff to participate in this good work!

As our group divided to conquer our 20 meetings, we received a lot of feedback from our political leaders. While we don’t spend a lot of time in Olympia, this trip reinforced the fact that our work is continuing to be heard by Washington State leadership. 

A few of the key takeaways include:

  • Our legislators love the fact that 2-1-1 is a life changing and often lifesaving program that many aides refer to constituents when they call their representatives/senators and let them know they need help. This was heard repeatedly throughout the day. It’s hard to even imagine how the aides would respond if South Sound 2-1-1 didn’t serve the Pierce, Thurston and Lewis communities.
  • Our Pierce County legislative leaders work well together and they consistently all meet (as Republicans and Democrats) to discuss bipartisan ways to move forward - - this is rare at a statewide level and nationally.
  • Corey Mosesly’s leadership in a bill with Representative Laurie Jinkins continued to get support (HB2730) for business tax credits to reduce cost barriers for adults attending college to further their careers. 
  • Legislators truly enjoyed having kids there to learn about the legislative body of work. In fact, last year, Matt Levi’s daughters were instrumental in advocating for Breakfast After The Bell, which had just passed on January 30! The girls were thrilled and even more impressive—legislators remembered them from last year and continued to encourage them to champion for important causes. 
  • We also learned that our Strong Family legislation was not fully supported, as some legislators desired more accountability in the language of the bills. They were very articulate with their reasoning and we appreciated their time to discuss specifics with us so we could learn what we could do to ensure movement.

The day ended with a reception at the Governor’s Mansion where our President & CEO, Dona Ponepinto served as the emcee. After Governor Jay Inslee’s address, one of our younger delegates (yes, my son, Eban) got a picture with him so he could write his very own blog for school about his Day on the Hill with United Way of Pierce County.

Learn more about our 2018 State Policy Agenda or visit to stay abreast with current issues.  Check out additional photos from the day!

Monday, January 22, 2018

New Year, New You: Opportunities for Change

Guest Blog by Allison Loft, 
Education and Engagement Manager, United Way of Pierce County

What is your New Year’s resolution?  Be more organized? Lose weight? Find a new job? Volunteer? Save money? Travel more?

I find myself this time of year, after putting away decorations, washing extra loads of guest laundry and recovering from a lack of sleep and too many holiday treats…looking ahead to a year of opportunity. Many of us are fortunate to have a roof over our heads, enough food and clothing and a healthy family. However, 1 in 3 working families in Pierce County struggles to make ends meet let alone make New Year’s resolutions. Struggling parents mean struggling children and children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be poor as adults, while those who grow up in families that are more affluent are more likely to be affluent later in life. While even a few years in poverty can have a significant impact on a child’s economic trajectory, the risks are particularly high for those who experience many years of poverty.

Armed with this knowledge, United Way of Pierce County is working to bring health & human service providers, schools, faith-based groups, government agencies, policymakers and the private sector together for the purpose of collaborating to collect, share and analyze data and information regarding inter-generational poverty. The goal is to use this information to implement a two-generation approach designed to stabilize high-need families and, ultimately, to reduce the incidence of children in our community who remain in the cycle of poverty into adulthood.

This approach will require a commitment to serving low-income families in Pierce County in the most efficient and effective way possible, even if it means thinking outside of the box. It means moving from transactional human service providers toward becoming an integrated system of services that focus on the whole person, the whole child and the whole family/household. It will also require a central 'backbone' organization to facilitate and support these collaborations, and that is where United Way of Pierce County comes in. Two-Generation programs, like the model shown below, have incredible promise for breaking the cycle of poverty, and it is time to put this knowledge into practice to see how two can indeed, be better than one.
Model from The Aspen Institute
We look forward to collaborating with the community to help inform us as we develop our Two-Gen approach. While this work has just begun locally, the opportunity for hope and progress for Pierce County families abounds. If you would like to get involved now, many volunteer opportunities are available to help children and families, please visit our volunteer website at or email

Here’s to a happy, healthy, prosperous and hopeful 2018!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Day On, Instead of a Day Off

In Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, United Way of Pierce County hosted a Day of Service to create both hygiene kits for homeless teens and literacy kits for children in our community. The event was coordinated by AmeriCorps VISTA members Michealea Lemons and Natasha Laitila. AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members bring their passion and perseverance where the need is greatest-- to organizations that help eradicate poverty.

“Being a teenager and working hard to be successful in school is difficult enough. Imagine the additional challenges that not having a stable place to call home creates. These hygiene kits provide essential items to help these student who may be
couch surfing or are forced to live in cars or tents while trying to stay in school. And certainly literacy kits provide children from low-income families with tools to encourage reading and enhance learning skills in their home environments,” said Shawn Paton, Director, Community Investment, Engagement & Basic Needs, United Way of Pierce County.

A total of 200 hygiene kits for both male and female students, were assembled by 10 enthusiastic volunteers. Both sets of hygiene kits included granola bars, Top Ramen, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, socks, combs and washcloths, but the female hygiene kits also included feminine hygiene products. The kits are being distributed to various Care Closets through our partners serving Bethel, Franklin Pierce, Clover Park and Tacoma School Districts.

The 150 literacy kits were assembled by 12 volunteers and included two different Dr. Seuss favorites: Ten Apples on Top and Cooking with the Cat as well as an activity for each book, including a memory match up game and a felt fabric project focused on food groups. Another group of six volunteers created inspirational cards to include in the kits. The the literacy kits will be distributed to pre-K children through LIL Readers and to first and second graders through our READ United after-school program.

All 32 volunteers and staff were active and engaged on this “Day On.” Many volunteers appreciated the fact that United Way’s day of service was held on a weekend since they wanted to volunteer, but had to work on Monday .

A few high school students participated to complete community service hours while others were looking for a short term one-time event.

“We’re always happy to have support and we realize people have limited times and objectives, so we try to construct events based on needs and interests,” noted United Way AmeriCorps VISTA program staffer, Michealea Lemons.

Paton adds, “We are thrilled to have Michealea and Natasha here as part of our extended team at United Way. Their service improves the lives of others. They’re not just building their future careers, Michealea and Natasha are helping to build up our community while helping others engage in work that is essential to addressing the barriers of poverty.”  

One volunteer team included a mom and her two boys who worked for United Way in another state and they just moved here over the summer. “They were really excited to help out with United Way again and even stayed after to help with clean up and take down,” Lemons said.

According to Lemons, “The turnout was good and many of our volunteers were willing to participate in future days of service. It’s inspiring to have a wide range of ages as people come together to lift up others.” 

To learn more about upcoming volunteer opportunities or if your company would like to create a team building volunteer engagement, Get Connected today or contact Shawn Paton at 253-277-4263.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Everyone Counts, No Matter Where They Live

Homeless is not a noun. It is an adjective describing a temporary condition that people fall into when they can’t afford to pay a place to live, or when their current home is unsafe or unstable. Job loss, physical and mental disability, various hardships—including personal and drug addiction can accelerate people’s slide into poverty-- and for some, eventual homelessness.

A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation. Being homeless does not define a person. The lack of housing, access to healthcare and supportive services, then act as others barriers that keep individuals from moving into “homefullnesss.”

What the Point of the Point-In-Time Count?
Discovering how many people are currently homeless in Pierce County…how many of them are families, youth or veterans…how many are disabled…The answers to these questions and more are answered by the Pierce County Point-In-Time (PIT) counts. A PIT count is an unduplicated count on a single night of the people in a community who are experiencing homelessness-- that includes both sheltered and unsheltered populations.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities receiving federal funds from the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program conduct a count of all sheltered people in the last week of January annually. Electronic administrative records are used to enumerate people living in emergency shelters and transitional housing. Unsheltered counts are required every other year, although most communities conduct an unsheltered count annually.

In unsheltered counting efforts, outreach workers and volunteers are organized to canvas Continuums of Care to enumerate the people who appear to be living in places not meant for human habitation. During the point-in-time count, Pierce County is required to identify whether a person is an individual, a member of a family unit, or an unaccompanied youth under the age of 18 or age 18 to 24. In addition, we must identify if a person is chronically homeless, indicating long-time or repeated homelessness and the presence of a disability.

An Eye-Opening Volunteer Experience: Friday, January 26, 2018
Within Pierce County’s 1806 square mile boundaries, the task of counting can individuals can be daunting. Pierce County is looking for volunteers for the 2018 Point-In-Time Count on Friday, January 26th, 2018.The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Washington State Department of Commerce require communities to conduct a one-day Point-In-Time (PIT) Count to survey individuals experiencing homelessness. PIT Counts are one source of data among many that help us understand the magnitude and characteristics of people who are homeless in our community. 

“Homelessness is a community issue. Morally and socially, we are all affected. I look forward to seeing you at this year’s PIT Count. This is such important work and your efforts will be greatly appreciated,” said, Dona Ponepinto, President & CEO, United Way of Pierce County.

Volunteers will be stationed at meal sites, day shelters, events such as Project Homeless Connect, and Department of Social and Health Services offices throughout Pierce County and will complete surveys of people experiencing homelessness.

Donations are given to anyone who is experiencing homelessness on the night of the PIT, and provides a starting point for the conversation to complete the survey.

Items Needed:Hats, Gloves, Scarves, Socks, Hygiene Kits: Shampoos, Conditioners, Soaps, Razors and Feminine Products, First Aid Kits, Blankets, Warm Winter Jackets and Packaged, easy to carry food: Granola Bars, Bottled Water, etc. For donation drop-off locations email

PIT Count Volunteer CriteriaMust be at least 18 years of age; Must attend a Point-in-Time Count Training; Search for unsheltered homeless within designated locations; Survey individuals experiencing homelessness using a mobile app; Provide individuals who have been surveyed with incentives as available and; At least one member on the team must have access to a smart phone, tablet, or laptop with Wi-Fi.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Growing Local Leaders through an Innovative Staffing Solution

Each year, local businesses and organizations lend or sponsor talented people to work part-time for at least 12 weeks at United Way of Pierce County. These individuals are known as Campaign Executives and they serve as spokespersons and fundraisers, conveying the work, message and vision of United Way.

It’s a model unique to United Way that has been in place for decades. This program is made possible thanks to the generous support of local corporate partners, which enables us to provide the Campaign Executives hands-on intensive training in fundraising, the issues affecting our community and public speaking. Through the Campaign Executive program in each workplace they visit, United Way of Pierce County gains high visibility of our work and our mission.

Special thanks to our generous 2017 corporate partners CHI Franciscan, Columbia Bank, DaVita, Puget Sound Energy and TrueBlue, Inc. that either loaned an employee to this effort or sponsored a position.

This year, we recognize five outstanding individuals that participated in the Campaign Executive program. We are grateful to Marjorie Jackson, Bob Connelly, Lyle Sides, Alonzo Baylor and Tyler Kolbo for their tireless efforts over the past several months.
2017 Campaign Executives, Tyler Kolbo, Marjorie Jackson, Bob Connelly, Lyle Sides and Alonzo Baylor
Campaign executives work in tandem with the resource development team to raise community awareness and increase the public’s commitment to our cause, changing conditions in Pierce County. They strengthen their professional skills, build valuable relationships, enhance their visibility and help raise millions for our work fighting poverty in the community. With the help of our Campaign Executives, we grow and cultivate relationships with businesses and donors throughout Pierce County

Marjorie Jackson
Campaign Executives often teach us, bringing their individual unique skills and life experiences to a fast paced fall campaign push.

Marjorie Jackson, a former high school principal and education program leader, brought her considerable community knowledge and her accomplished public speaking skills. Returning for a second year to United Way, Marjorie also spearheaded the Day of Caring volunteer event in September and our Premier Partner event. Her considerable organizational skills were put to good use.

For an encore career Bob Connelly, a retired educator and past United Way of Pierce County Resource Development Officer, came back for a second time as a Campaign Executive. Bob capitalized on his deep community relationships to open doors and advance every campaign and lead he worked on. 
Bob Connelly
He also shared his talents as a photographer for numerous United Way events including the Tocqueville Society reception and From Poverty to Possibilities summit in November.  For years Bob has been a supporter of United Way and he is a principal member of the United Way House band, the Possible Solutions.

Loaned to us from Davita, Lyle Sides is one of those people who really defies people’s expectations. Growing up in a military family and in Germany she has a fascinating life story.  Lyle will tell you that as a young person, people may be somewhat dismissive of her and her opinions. After working with her, everyone she touched will agree that if you dismiss her, you are making a big mistake.

Alonzo Baylor is one of those people who really can command a room. Hailing from the east coast, Alonzo came to us with a clear goal of becoming more involved and connected with his community and the nonprofit industry in Tacoma.  Alonzo has an incredibly big generous heart and his speaking style and compelling manner helped build stronger relationships across the campaigns he worked.  

Tyler Kolbo worked for years in the automotive industry ultimately as a service manage for auto dealerships in Tacoma. Tyler did some great work for us researching and connecting us to new business leads. His persistence and strategic outlook will help us make inroads into business sectors that we have struggled with in the past. A dedicated father of three rambunctious boys aged 9-14, Tyler is happiest riding a bike with his boys down a trail or playing in the snow.
Tyler Kolbo

“Each of these individuals were integral to our success as we tirelessly lead the fight to remove barriers to break the cycle of poverty and create lasting change in our community for children and families,” said Stephen Deal, Vice President, Resource Development, United Way of Pierce County. “The ability to add to our staff in such a unique way is a win-win for everyone, but especially for the individuals, children and families that struggle with poverty in Pierce County. Together we are able to make a lasting difference."

To learn more about the Campaign Executive program, contact Stephen Deal at 253.597.8105, (206) 605-4140 (cell) or

Monday, December 18, 2017

2-1-1 Helps Callers find Job Training and Employment Help

Guest Blogger: Corey Mosesly, Director, Family Stability Initiatives, United Way of Pierce County

Every day hundreds of people from across the South Sound region turn to 2-1-1 for information and support--whether financial, domestic, health or disaster. 2-1-1 is a free, confidential referral and information service that connects people from local communities to a specialist who will help find critical health and human services. But, 2-1-1 also connects individuals to programs and services that will help them gain greater financial stability to help reach longer term goals. 

Today, one call to United Way's South Sound 2-1-1, connects people to a resource specialist who can help find career training programs or employment services that best fits caller’s needs.

Over the past decade, service jobs requiring a high school education or less, pay below $20 per hour and unfortunately far exceed the availability of higher-wage jobs. In fact, more than half of all jobs in the Pacific Northwest pay less than $20 per hour, which makes it nearly impossible for most families to gain financial stability.

However, there are many opportunities that require occupational certifications, apprenticeship, or a degree, that are in reach, which will lead to higher paying jobs and opportunities to transition to a new field. While Pierce County employers are looking to hire skilled employees to fill new positions, there are challenges for both employers and workers:

1.     Engaging workers who are currently employed and encouraging them to grow skills;
2.     Navigating training programs and opportunities while working to get the education and credentials to move into better careers;
3.     Knowing where to start to increase financial stability--that’s where United Way of Pierce County comes in.

Last Year, United Way, in partnership with the Workforce Development Council, created an “Earn-ability Task Force” to develop strategies to increase earned income and financial stability for local families. A key finding revealed that short-term training programs that lead to family-wage jobs in high-demand sectors, were harder to find and many classes were often under-enrolled.

Leveraging our South Sound 2-1-1 Resource Center, we developed an online database of short-term training programs to help resource specialists, social service providers, employment coaches and clients navigate training opportunities that will lead to employment or higher earnings. We focused on training opportunities in local hiring sectors including healthcare, construction, information technology and advanced manufacturing. Services for employment-readiness and soft-skills classes were also among the resources included.

Now 2-1-1 callers can easily search for these training programs and talk with a live resource specialist who can also link them to housing, transportation, food and health during one call, or they have the option to address one need at a time. Each person sets his or her own pace. Take Sylvia who found herself out of work, hoping to find new employment but realizing she needed a little extra training, particularly office administrative training.

Sylvia talked to a 2-1-1 Specialist about her goals to increase stability in her life since she had been living paycheck to paycheck, constantly worrying about money. Sylvia contacted employment and job training resources, including on of the nearby Center for Strong Families. When 2-1-1 contacted Sylvia a few weeks later to see how her job search was going, Sylvia proudly reported that she had been offered a job at a law firm and would be earning around $17 an hour start. 

Sylvia shared, “I wish I would have known to call 2-1-1 sooner... I have wasted a lot of years because I didn’t know about this service. Now I tell everyone about 2-1-1 so that can get the help right away instead of waiting.”

There are thousands of people like Sylvia who want to work, but need the skills to earn more to become more self-sufficient --and reach bigger goals for themselves and their families. Today, we are able to more easily track the availability of workforce development programs and identify gaps in services. Over time, we will also track changes in the call volume for employment services and trends in client navigation.

If you or someone you know needs help, one call to 2-1-1 will link them to a resource specialist who can help find local resources that can change their lives. Visit the online database directly by

Employment Occupation Projections & Wages
If you are looking for careers that pay a family-wage, below are a few opportunities to consider that earn higher than entry median wages.