Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Farewell to Rick Allen, CEO

By Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern

Rick’s passion for early childhood development and learning stems from his own childhood. Until the age of about 8, Rick had a loving and supportive home life; however the remainder of his childhood, and through the teenage years, brought many challenges and hardships to his family.  His father became severally mentally ill (and dangerous), and later homeless.  His mother, with four children, had to divorce and move away for safety.  Later she unfortunately married a man who became alcoholic and constantly abusive.   But those first positive and developmental years of his life were the foundation that helped Rick weather the bad years. As he reflected on the trials he faced, Rick said “… the first wonderful years of my life defined me.  And that’s what carried me through, no doubt about it.  And the literal battles I went through, and the challenges I faced through those dark and dangerous and frightful times I now consider a gift because I’ve never been intimidated by people or issues or silly stuff like bad press or uninformed opinions since then. They are so minor compared to what our family went through; it helped to make me a little bit fearless, and very sensitive to the issues of others who are in deep distress.”   

As CEO of Untied Way for the past 21years Rick has been able to turn his own childhood experience into a passion for early education and early childhood development.  In 1993 when Rick became CEO, United Way was not as clearly focused on the impact donations were making.  Today through Rick’s vision and the hard-work of staff and board, United Way is focused on making an impact in Early Childhood Development, Early Grade Excellence and Strengthening Families.  As Rick puts it, “we still want to provide services for basic needs and people in crisis, but we want to focus more intentionally to start catching people before they start falling off the cliff.  To be effective in that effort, you have to reach kids and their families very early.”  In recognition of Rick’s early work to focus United Way more on outcomes and indicators of success, and to move United Way to a more prevention orientation, Rick was selected as one of the Pierce County’s first Business Leaders of the Year in 2001 by the Business Examiner in collaboration with the University Of Washington School of Business.

If you ask Rick about early education he lights up; his passion and drive is obvious and it’s no surprise he continues to receive awards and recognition for his work in the field.  His latest award was from First 5 Fundamentals just last week; they honored Rick as the very first “Early Learning Champion Award” in Pierce County.  Rick may be retiring but his passion for United Way and Early Learning will not end.               

A significant component of Rick’s legacy is the powerful consortium he facilitated, now called First 5 FUNdamentals. Before recognizing Rick as the First Early Learning Champion, Tanya Andrews, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma and member of the First 5 board of directors, noted his dedication to First 5 and building a system designed to nurture and support our children. She went on to say, “Dr. Rick Allen, as he does with many pivotal issues in our community, said ‘why not’. And also typical of Rick, he didn’t just ask, he did.” Earlier, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma named Rick the inaugural winner of the Great Friend to Kids award in 2008.              

First 5 FUNdamentals will thrive and act as the backbone of the early learning system in Pierce County because of Rick; collaborating and coordinating early learning services, enhancing the quality of those services and driving awareness around the importance of early learning. Although I did not witness the beginning, it is incredible to hear Rick’s stories from the first years of his life and how it led to all of this. His vision for an effective early learning system stemmed from his great start at life, and his monument in First 5 FUNdamentals will continue to ensure Rick’s dream of a great start for all of our community’s children.
Forty-four years ago, Rick married the love of his life Alvarita. She was the bus girl at the same restaurant where he worked as the dishwasher when they first met.  After their first long conversation on a lunch break, he went home and told his mother he knew he was going to marry her.  Rick and Alvarita are excited for his retirement, devoting as much time as possible to their three lovely grandchildren, and doing more international travel.   Retirement will also do wonders for his collections of American art from the 30s-50s, modern graphic art, and wine, not to mention watching the Mariners in Arizona spring training.
Rick will be dearly missed by the entire staff at United Way of Pierce County, as well as by the community members with whom he has worked. We wish Rick and Alvarita many new adventures and happy memories throughout retirement!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Health Care Specialist in the Hot Seat

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern

The new health care bill has created a lot of buzz and people are more confused than ever. Corey Gilles, South Sound 2-1-1’s Health Care Specialist, takes calls five days a week answering your health care questions. Since October, Corey has been working full-time referring Pierce County residents to events and agencies that can sign them up for health care plans.

“You just need your social security number, birth date and estimated household income”, she says, “that’s all there is to it.”
Corey originally came to South Sound 2-1-1 as a work study participant who helped with basic needs referrals, but on her third anniversary she was promoted to Health Care Specialist. Her position became available because South Sound 2-1-1 was one of the winning picks for the Washington Health Benefits Exchange grant, out of 48 deserving nonprofits that applied. South Sound 2-1-1 is the lowest cost call center in Washington, costing one-third that of the average call center.

I needed a quick refresher on how the new health care plans work, so Corey gave me the run-down. She explained that there are currently three levels – Bronze, Silver and Gold. All three will generally have lower monthly premiums but higher costs for deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance. Bronze will cover about 60 percent of your health care costs. Silver will cover about 70 percent and Gold will cover about 80 percent. For women, yearly wellness exams are covered as well. No more pre-existing condition limits and no more paying higher insurance because you are a female. Other preventative services, contraceptives, maternity care, and direct access to ob-gyns are now available through all insurance plans. Starting the first of the year, these health care policies become active. Individuals must be signed up for a health care plan and pay their first month premium no later than December 15th if they want coverage on January 1st. For an individual the penalty for not having health insurance for at least nine months of 2014 is $95 or one percent of their income, whichever is larger; for a family the penalty is $285. The penalty fees for individuals and families will continue to rise to until 2016. At that time, if individuals or families still do not have health insurance, they will be facing penalty fees of $695 per individual and $2085 per family, respectively.

Corey took advantage of her voracious appetite for reading and earned B.A. in English Literature from Pacific Lutheran University in 2012. While in college, Corey spent many years working in retail and her favorite thing about the job was giving customers options. She hated the business tactic of selling the most expensive item. Even though it sometimes created conflict with the boss, she did right by the customer. Corey says that transitioning into health care referral came easy as she was so used to connecting with customers and helping them understand their options. On her days off, Corey spends quality time with her adorable cat, Simon and quilts extravagant gifts for her family and friends.
For answers to all of your questions about the Affordable Care Act or for more information about the health care plans and how to sign up, contact Corey Gilles in the South Sound 2-1-1 Call Center at 253-272-4263 or reach her by email at

Monday, November 25, 2013

Prescription for Books

by Kathryn McCarthy, Director of Donor Relations

Going to the Doctor

Five year old Avery wants to be a doctor when she grows up – so she can give books to kids.  Avery is a patient of Dr. Mary Ann Woodruff and at every checkup, Avery receives a new book to keep. This is part of a nationwide program called Reach Out and Read which is preparing young children to succeed in school by partnering with doctors to prescribe books and encourage families to read together. At every well-child checkup, from ages six months through five years, doctors give children a new developmentally-appropriate book to take home along with information and advice about the value of reading aloud.  The program is an incredibly powerful tool for doctors, children and families.

Reach Out and Read has forever changed well-child checkups in Dr. Woodruff’s office.  In her words, “it is at the nexus of healthcare and education.” Research continues to show us the importance of children being read aloud to and the strong connection between books in the home and academic success. When Dr. Woodruff gives a book to a patient she observes – she’s watching to see both the child’s and the parent’s reaction. Her observations tell her a lot about the child’s development. This simple act of giving a child a book opens up a dialogue with parents encouraging them to read aloud, and personalized advice and support for developing early language and literacy skills at home if offered.

Vision and Tenacity
Dr. Woodruff brought Reach Out and Read to her Pediatrics Northwest practice in 2001, but it required vision, tenacity and personal dedication to get the program up and running. In 1998, while on maternity leave, she came across an article about the program. At that time, Reach Out and Read was rapidly growing but there was no Washington state chapter to help with funding or offer guidance. To get the program off the ground she and her pediatric partner, Dr. Gary Tart, started their own nonprofit and began raising funds. In 2007, Dr. Woodruff worked with another doctor, Dr. Jill Sells, and the Reach Out and Read National Center to launch a state-wide effort in Washington.  Dr. Woodruff currently serves as Medical Director for Reach Out and Read Washington State, and Dr. Sells serves as Executive Director.  Their enthusiasm and passion for the program have been the catalyst for rapid growth across the state.

The Results Are In
Reach Out and Read Pierce County is a United Way funded program not only because we want to improve access to books for young children – but because it’s working. During the preschool years, children served by Reach Out and Read score three to six months ahead of their non-Reach Out and Read peers on vocabulary test. Reach Out and Read families read aloud more often and their children enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills. These early foundational language skills help start children on a path to success when they enter school.

Doing More

Today Reach Out and Read Washington is in 30 counties, 145 medical practices, endorsed by 1000 medical providers and last year served 86,000 children and families during 157,000 well-child checkups.  It sounds pretty impressive (and it is) but there are so many more children who could benefit from this program.  Reach Out and Read only serves 20 percent of eligible children in Washington State. In other words, four out of five children are not served.  Dr. Woodruff’s vision is for this program to reach all the kids in our state. To get there, it will take additional funding and community support. Reach Out and Read and Pierce County are lucky to have Dr. Woodruff on their team because her passion and enthusiasm for this program is infectious. Whether you have small children or not – this affects us all. We have an opportunity and mechanism for better preparing children to succeed in school and life – let’s help it grow.

Find out more about Reach Out and Read Washington visit

About Doctor Mary Ann Woodruff

Dr. Woodruff and her Pediatrics Northwest colleagues will distribute 10,000 books this year at well-child visits in Pierce County. She has been a Reach Out and Read trainer – giving her an opportunity to share her passion with other doctors, nurses and primary care providers in Washington, Oregon and California. Serving as the current Medical Director for Reach Out and Read Washington state, she helps develop and implement state-wide recruitment and training programs.
Dr. Woodruff is a northwest native and has been a pediatrician for nearly 25 years. She received her undergraduate degree from Seattle University, and her M.D. from the University of Washington. She trained in pediatrics in the Bay Area, at Mt. Zion Hospital, Stanford and the University of California San Francisco. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Food Connection Food Bank and the Pierce County Library Foundation, and is the Board President for Friends of Pediatrics Northwest.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Investing Our Hearts in Affordable Housing

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern

At the corner of 104th and Golden Given in Parkland, a small community with a big story is garnering support from philanthropic people throughout Pierce County. Habitat for Humanity of Tacoma/Pierce County’s most ambitious project to date, The Woods at Golden Given, will bring the development of 30 homes for low-income families. This community will demonstrate it is possible to build housing that is decent, affordable and gives low-income families the opportunity to own their own home.

The Woods at Golden Given was awarded funding through the local Housing Trust Fund Demonstration Project. This trust fund is offered, since its inception in 2007, by a partnership between the Pierce County Department of Community Connections, City of Tacoma and United Way of Pierce County. In the past five years, the partnership has leveraged over $1.5 million to invest in 451 units of affordable housing. To amplify the investment, the Housing Trust Fund Demonstration Project received a $1 million match from United Way, made possible by a campaign match from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Russell Investments.
Prior to receiving assistance from Habitat for Humanity, numerous families lived in conditions that were overcrowded, unsafe or very difficult on them financially. Upon acceptance into the homeownership program through Habitat for Humanity, families must commit to 500 hours of sweat equity building their home and the homes of other families. Specifically the sweat equity component is essential for families because it not only teaches them basic home repair skills, but it also helps families build a community long before they receive the keys to their new homes. Additionally, families must spend 20 of the 500 sweat equity hours attending financial literacy and homeownership classes, which set them up for greater success and stability after the completion of their homes.

There are a few key plans for the Woods at Golden Given that really set this new neighborhood apart from other low-income housing communities. All 30 of the houses will be Energy Star certified and built following sustainable building practices such as the use of rain gardens, the retention and recycling of trees and wetland mitigation. Secondly, a grassroots leadership and environmental education program called Habitat Connects, is being developed for the residents of the Woods. Also with the Wood’s proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in mind, Habitat for Humanity has set a number of homes aside for purchase by qualified veteran and active-duty military personnel and their families. Finally, the Woods at Golden Given will have a central open space, a common house and shared community amenities such as playgrounds, a community garden and a sports field to encourage the cultivation of a community and culture.

The first home dedication at the Woods at Golden Given took place on September 5, 2013. Prior to the Railean family receiving the keys, Habitat’s pastor welcomed them into their new home with a blessing. The Woods at Golden Given project is near and dear to our hearts here at United Way of Pierce County because of our strong focus on strengthening families. We aim to help families provide a stable and nurturing environment for their children so they may be physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively ready to participate in school and also perform at or above grade level by age 10. Do you have specific skills you would like to share to join in our fight to strengthen families? Volunteer to strengthen families, or volunteer in any other area of passion, by connecting with our Volunteer Center at


Friday, November 1, 2013

Cuts to SNAP Program Will Affect Our Kids Most

United Way's Power Pack Provides an Answer to the Recent SNAP Food Assistance Cuts
by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry. With the recent cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the issue of hunger becomes even more extreme. Before this cut, one in four or 300,000 children were already facing the threat of hunger each day in Pierce County. And what does that mean for these children?
They have difficulty concentrating. They are more irritable and tired. They lack the energy to engage and at times, their behavior becomes disruptive, impacting the learning for all children in the classroom.

They have poor academic performance. Children have difficulty learning when the hunger pains are gnawing at their stomach. When they are hungry, that is their focus not the book they are reading or the math they are supposed to be learning. Even before this cut, some of our children from homes without enough food came to school with their free school lunch from the previous day being their last meal. Tom Nelson, President of Share Our Strength said, “Access to healthy food is the number one school supply students need to succeed in the classroom.”
They have more headaches and stomachaches than their peers, which leads to time out of the classroom. In Pediatrics Vol. 110, No.4 (Oct. 2002), it states that “severe hunger in school-aged children is a significant predictor of chronic illness…and higher reported anxiety and depression.”

This news makes United Way of Pierce County’s Power Pack initiative even more critical. During the school days, many of these children receive nutritious food, but over the weekend they have nothing. That’s where Power Packs come in.  By providing backpacks filled with nutritious foods, including fruit and vegetables to children in the free and reduced lunch program, a Power Pack can help bridge the gap on the weekend. The children receive the backpacks on Friday’s filled with six kid-friendly meals to prevent them from being hungry. This program originally served kids in Tacoma School District but with United Way’s help is extending the program out to other school districts in the county.  With the cuts to SNAP, the need will likely increase.
We encourage you to get involved. Hold a food drive to collect kid-friendly foods needed to support Power Pack. Visit for more information on Power Pack and to access the list of needed foods.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Youth Volunteers Set Out to ‘Make a Difference’

by Nicole Milbradt, Sr. Marketing Associate

Volunteering is a powerful and tangible way to make a difference, no matter what your age. More than 100 youth volunteers did just that by participating in this year’s Make a Difference Day through United Way of Pierce County‘s Youth United program. Saturday, October 26th the teens served at four sites throughout Pierce County for a combined total of nearly 400 hours, a value of over $8,800 using industry standards! 

Students from Ferrucci Junior High, Mt. Tahoma High School, Annie Wright, Fife High School and several other schools signed up for projects at L’Arche Farms, Gateways for Youth and Family, Edgewood FISH Food Bank, and St. Leo’s Food Connection.  The volunteers helped with everything from planting plants, cleaning up greenhouses, packing Power Packs and passing out food at the food bank. 

For more than 20 years, USA WEEKEND Magazine and Points of Light have joined together to sponsor Make a Difference Day, the largest national day of community service. Millions of volunteers around the world unite in a common mission to improve the lives of others.

Youth United is a youth program of United Way of Pierce County intended for High School and Junior High students in Pierce County. Youth United offers a variety of ways to connect youth with meaningful volunteer opportunities, including Make a Difference Day.

View photos from Youth United's Make a Difference Day activities.

Learn more about Youth United by visiting

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Creating a Culture of Attendance

by Nola Renz, Community Impact Manager - Early Grade Excellence

Research shows that kindergartners who miss 10 percent of school, or just 18 days have lower academic performance when they reach first grade. When chronic absence becomes the norm, the loss in academic performance continues to grow each year, leaving the child further and further behind their peers who are regularly attending school.  
Across the nation, 11 percent of students kindergarten through grade 12 are chronically absent, but in Tacoma one in four kids K-3 missed 10 percent or more days in the 2012-2013 school year. Alarmingly, 28 percent of our kindergartners missed 18 or more days of school.  Unfortunately the statistics don’t improve greatly for first, second and third graders. Their numbers indicate that 24 percent of students in each of these grades missed 18 or more days annually. Equally alarming is that nearly half of the Tacoma School District’s students between kindergarten and third grade missed 10 days or more in 2012-2013.

Many parents and community members don’t recognize that good attendance means providing our children with more and better opportunities to learn. There is a lack of understanding of the extent to which absences, even when excused, negatively impacts learning. Additionally, many people presume that attendance only matters when the child is in middle school or high school. We must deliver a clear compelling message, backed by research, that every day missed is a day of instruction missed, a day of classroom interaction with students and teachers that can’t be recovered. Through this message, we must focus on creating a culture of attendance and personalize the school environment to address the specific needs of each child.

The facts include:

  • Students have to be present and engaged in order to learn.
  • Early chronic absence can leave children unable to read well by the end of third grade.
  • Early chronic absence sets a pattern for poor attendance, academic failure and potential drop out.
  • During the early elementary years, children are gaining basic social and academic skills critical to ongoing academic success.
  • Among low-income children, chronic absence in kindergarten predicts the lowest levels of educational achievement at the end of fifth grade, exacerbating the achievement gap.  
A recent Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department survey indicates that one of the key drivers of missed days in Tacoma is asthma, which can be attributed in part to poor air quality. The air quality is typically good in the Puget Sound region, where Tacoma is centered, for most of the year. However, in the fall and winter months, there are very high levels of fine particle pollution in the air in Tacoma and most of Pierce County. The biggest source of our wintertime pollution is wood smoke which comes from heating units and fireplaces in some of the poorest households in the region. Pollution levels from wood smoke are so high that they violate the U.S. Clean Air Act and have resulted in our region being designated as a nonattainment area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Though there are efforts to respond to the EPA mandate that we clean up our air by 2019, kids continue to suffer.

Our strategies for improving attendance fall into these areas:  

·    building awareness of the importance of attendance

·    building a culture of respect and partnership with families

·    developing and implementing strategies for early intervention

·    recognizing and rewarding good attendance and improved attendance

·    consistently tracking and monitoring of attendance and the reasons for the absence or tardy

Now with the initiation of the Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading, our city is taking another giant step toward assuring that all of our children, especially those in the most need, are assured of success in their homes, in their schools and in society. This coalition of partners that has come together to make this Campaign a reality is larger and more reflective of our city than any that has come before it. The Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading focuses on three specific areas: school readiness, school attendance and summer learning loss. The coalition has developed strategies and outcomes around each of these areas and has garnered agreements to track data and gather qualitative information in order to align and assess our work. We are excited about the opportunities this collaboration provides, and see it as an opportunity to significantly impact the success of our students. As we go forward, we will utilize our learning to create nimble, necessary responses to the issues that arise for our students. Additionally, we will take what we have learned into our future plans to move forward toward engaging other Pierce County School Districts in this work.
For more information about the Tacoma Campaign for Grade Level Reading, please review our Community Solutions Action Plan that has been submitted to the Campaign For Grade Level Reading.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back 2 School supply drive sends 1,208 kids back to school

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern

Each year as the summer comes to an end, the staff at United Way of Pierce County and the Volunteer Center gear up for the annual Back 2 School supply drive. Backpacks begin to pile in, stuffed full of school supplies, and excitement grows as donations arrive. This year's campaign was successful thanks to generous donors, and the volunteers who gave their time to build the backpacks. This year’s Back 2 School campaign included hundreds of incredible donors and volunteers and dozens of local companies. Ernie Music was one of those donors – he inspired us and exemplified what it means to LIVE UNITED.
Ernie is a decade-long friend and supporter of the United Way of Pierce County's Back to School Campaign. His commitment to the campaign is rooted in his experiences as a child starting the school year off feeling like "something was missing" because he did not have everything off of the school provided list.  Ernie generously donates $500 every year so that children of limited means have the tools they need to succeed and they feel accepted. He says, "I wanted to give them something, say something, be their friend, or do all these things - I wanted them to feel accepted. Accepted not for what they did not have, but accepted for the person they were and would become." Ernie is an example of all who fight for children and the education they deserve. He noted that, while his donation may not "fix the problem", it might make a few more children want to go to school, want to learn, and maybe grow up to help society improve, instead of becoming more of the problem.

For some, the Back 2 School supply drive is a team effort.  The team at General Plastics in Tacoma has made the Back to School a company wide effort and competition between departments. This is General Plastic’s second year participating in the drive and this year the team collected and assembled $8,130 worth of school supply-filled backpacks for Pierce County kids.
Thank you to all of the donors, volunteers and local companies who participated in the 2013 Back 2 School campaign! For the kids who receive the backpacks it means more than just having the supplies they need for school; it is about feeling accepted and ready for success. Your kindness and generosity are an inspiration – thank you!


Friday, August 2, 2013

Peanut Butter Toast

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern

At the age of five, I experienced my mom going into diabetic shock for the first time. I awoke on a normal kindergarten morning to find her still lying in bed, even though the digital clock told me she was running late for work. As my older sister and I tried to coax my mom awake, we realized that she was having one of the scary episodes that Dad always handled- an insulin reaction. With my dad already on his way to work, we watched in fear as her eyes rolled back and she spoke unidentifiable words. Then it hit me - Dad had always told me that peanut butter toast was the magic diabetes cure. My sister stood next to my mom in a panic while I ran to the kitchen to find a stool that would boost me up to reach the toaster and peanut butter. Mom always said that I was much too little to use a knife so with my hand, I smeared a glob of peanut butter onto a piece of toast and ran back to the bedroom. After force-feeding my mom bites, her blood sugar rose and she came to. My sister and I could finally breathe again.
Type-1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, affects both children and adults at any age. Each year, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults - approximately 80 per day - are diagnosed with type-1 diabetes in the U.S. To put that in perspective of cost, T1 diabetes accounts for $14.9 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S. each year (Juvenille Diabetes Research Foundation). Those numbers make it clear that type-1 diabetes management is crucial. Just as important is type-2 diabetes prevention and management. In 2012 the total cost of diagnosed diabetes, including type-1 and type-2, reached a record high of $245 billion. It is evident that type-2 diabetes is far more common, and actually accounts for 90-95 percent of diabetes diagnoses in America (American Diabetes Association). The two main causes of type-2 diabetes are obesity and lack of exercise, so the first steps in prevention are weight management and regular physical activity.

Although my mom has lived with type-1 diabetes since she was 12 years-old, it is a constant battle to manage her diabetes. It is imperative to seek help if you are struggling to manage diabetes, experiencing pre-diabetes, or if you need assistance with prevention. Specialists in the South Sound 2-1-1 Center refer callers who may be at risk for diabetes to Diabetes Prevention Education courses within their areas. They also refer callers to places that can provide diabetes testing, and clinics that can diagnose and treat diabetes. South Sound 2-1-1 refers individuals who already have diabetes to local clinics, support groups, senior centers that provide foot care, and programs that provide financial assistance for medication and supplies. Resources like recreational programs and camps for children with type-1 diabetes are also available.

If you or a loved one would like to receive more information on how to prevent or manage type-2 diabetes, or how to manage type-1 diabetes, contact the South Sound 2-1-1 Center by calling 2-1-1 or send an email to They are happy to mail educational brochures out to callers upon request.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Building Good Karma

by Lindsey Burks, Marketing Intern

I sat in the Tacoma Public Utilities cafeteria chest-deep in daydreams when a bubbly woman with wild hair flagged me down. I was there to meet Theresa Niemi and get her thoughts on volunteering but what I took away was a greater appreciation for one of Tacoma’s largest companies- Tacoma Public Utilities.

Theresa is an Oregon native with a charitable heart. She focuses on helping senior citizens, children, animals and the hungry. Most would consider helping one of those groups to be enough but Theresa is quick to refer to herself as “a speck” in terms of how impactful her volunteering is.  She notes that there are other people whose pockets run much deeper than hers so she gives her time. When asked what inspires her to keep volunteering, Theresa credits it all to karma.

“I believe in karma and that saying; do unto others as you wish others would do unto you… You’re doing something good and there’s no monetary compensation, so I know that I’m devoting my whole day’s pay to help those in need. It’s just a rewarding thing, and you hope that you’re helping one person at least. That’s all that I ask- that my volunteer hours helps one person. If I help more than that, that’s just a bonus.”
With significant volunteer experience under her belt and a philanthropic spirit, Theresa found her place at Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU). For nearly 20 years, TPU has been involved with United Way of Pierce County’s annual Day of Caring event and Theresa will take the lead as the coordinator for the fourth time this September. The TPU team is a group of generous, civic-minded people and committed friends of United Way of Pierce County.

The volunteers from TPU use vacation days to participate in United Way of Pierce County’s Day of Caring. This fact stunned me because it really demonstrates the team’s commitment to give back to their community. Theresa explained that the employees use their own vacation time because it wouldn’t be fair to the rate payers if the company gave them the day off because that is money out of their pockets. For a third year in a row, Theresa and her team will head out to Mother Earth Farm in the Puyallup Valley this coming September 20th. They all look forward to helping harvest fresh, organic fruits and vegetables for local food banks, get a couple nibbles in and say hello to their favorite farm cat.
Beaming with pride, Theresa spoke to me about her coworkers who are always giving back. She said that the consensus at TPU is “….to donate… even though the economy impacts some of the pockets here.” This collective generosity among the employees at TPU makes it easy to understand why the company has won numerous awards from United Way of Pierce County, most recently the 2012 Community Partner of the Year award.

Do you want to be a part of Day of Caring 2013 and build some good karma? Check out the available projects and submit an application at  Send your questions or concerns to


Friday, July 19, 2013

What I've learned from "my kids"

by Bethany Opstedal, Sr. Youth United Associate

What is it that creates a volunteer spirit? Why do teens care so much? I think many outsiders have a perception that students are “voluntold” and so they find an organization to volunteer at. With increasing competition for scholarships and college entrance it’s a resume booster for sure - but that is not why teens volunteer.  The students I work with through Youth United continue to amaze me year, after year, after year.  These students have a giving natures, caring attitudes and willingness to do whatever is needed for the greater good.  Seeing how involved many of these young adults are sort of puts the rest of us to shame.
“My kids”, as I affectionately refer to them, come out of the woodwork from all over Pierce County asking for service projects.  Some are interested in early childhood development; some are interested in health care…for others it is animals or the environment or assisting seniors.  I cannot even begin to name all the areas of focus and passion these remarkable teens have.  I don’t always have enough volunteer work for the number of request I receive.  I am lucky enough to join them at various volunteer projects and witness first hand their smiles and delight as they give back.  It is truly
heartwarming and inspiring.
I strive to be a better person for these kids - “my kids”. We should all strive to be better for them, to support them and to learn from them. They are not the leaders of tomorrow- they are the leaders of today.

I challenge you- what can you do to support a teen volunteer? What can you do to give back yourself? How can you make a difference in this community?


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Homeless but not hopeless

by Tammy Brown, Community Impact Manager - Strengthening Families

When people hear the word “homeless”, images of dirty beggars and sickly addicts flash across the widescreen of their mind in bold high definition color. Embedded deep within the circuits of their brain are thoughts of criminals, prostitutes, liars, drug dealers and thieves. To those who know no better, homeless individuals are likened to an incurable, contagious disease that is to be avoided at all cost.  However, the reality of the image and issue of homelessness, for those who have not bought into the media hype or stereotype, is much different.
The real image of homelessness belongs to people just like you and me. It could be our neighbor, our co-worker or friend. Each one of us may be only one paycheck, one major illness or one life-changing event away from losing everything. And then, there are the children; the innocent victims of circumstances beyond their control.

According to Washington OSPI data, there were 2,835 students identified and served under the McKinney-Vento Act in Pierce County during 2011-2012, which is only a portion of the real number of students who are homeless. The McKinney-Vento Act defines homeless children as “individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence”. The Act goes on to give examples of children who would fall under this definition as:
  • Children and youth living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations 
  • Children and youth sharing housing due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason
  • Children and youth living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camp grounds due to lack of alternative accommodations
  • Children and youth living in emergency or transitional shelters
  • Children and youth abandoned in hospitals
  • Children and youth awaiting foster care placement
  • Children and youth whose primary nighttime residence is not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (e.g. park benches, etc.)
  • Migratory children and youth living in any of the above situations

Of the 2,835 identified homeless students, 288 of those were seniors in high school, with kindergartners coming in a close second at 269. Now stop for just a moment think about the short- and long-term effects on a child who does not have a consistent or stable place to sleep at night and think about the effects being homeless has on that child’s social, emotional and cognitive progression.  Now add in other potential factors such as hunger, neglect or abuse. When you add it all up, these children have major obstacles to overcome to achieve success academically and in life.  The good news is many of these children do just that; they overcome and succeed. At a time when 30% of students do not graduate from high school, the fact that these homeless youth graduate and go on to higher post-secondary education is something to be celebrated.
For the past two years United Way of Pierce County has recognized this major achievement by providing laptops, backpacks and basic college necessities to homeless students through the Off-to-College Campaign. These students were identified by the McKinney-Vento Liaison in their school district. They confirmed the student was graduating and had firm plans to attend some type of higher post-secondary education (technical college, community college, university). A total of 31 homeless students from five school districts (Bethel, Clover Park, Puyallup, Sumner, and Tacoma) have now been recipients of this program due to the generous donations and support from the community. This is a small, but significant way our community has come together to help homeless youth and propel them into a better and brighter future.

As you lay your head on your pillow tonight, take a moment to count your blessings and remember those who may not have a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. Remember the children. They may be homeless, but they are not hopeless. 

Together, we can provide hope and make a difference in the lives of homeless youth. Give. Advocate. Volunteer.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tough Decisions Lie Ahead During This Legislative Session

by Nicole Milbradt, Sr. Marketing Associate & Events Manager

As the state legislative session opens, Washington State has some tough decisions to make. First on the list are the recommendations of the McCleary decision.

In January of 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the King County Superior Court decision in the caseMcCleary, Venema, and NEWS v. Washington State, concluding the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund basic education for Washington’s students. In 2009 and 2010, the state legislature passed Substitute House Bill 2261 (ESHB 2261) and Substitute House Bill 2776 (SHB 2776), which include plans to provide all-day Kindergarten classes in public schools and reducing class size for Kindergarten through third grade classes to 17 students per classroom (from an existing average of 25). Additionally, the bill would increase funds for maintenance, supplies and operating costs as well as fully funding transportation for students to and from school.
However, because of budget cuts in the 2011-2013 biennium, the court found the state has yet to make measurable progress toward fully funding basic education. The court ruling in the McCleary case requires the Legislature to make the implementation and funding for the reforms laid out in ESHB 2261 their top priority. The anticipated cost of the implementation is more than a billion dollars during the approaching biennium, with additional costs being covered in future years
No one would argue that making education a priority is a bad thing. However, if more of the limited budget dollars available are earmarked for education, another area will have less to work with. Many are concerned that the decreased funds will hit human services the hardest.
The number of people seeking human services spiked during the recession and is slowly receding. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Basic Food program saw a 60 percent jump in 2010 to nearly 158,000 people served in Pierce County alone. Without vital funding from the state, many of these services would not be available.
United Way of Pierce County includes advocacy in its work to help sustain Pierce County services. United Way’s community champions have identified key human service issues and will work to educate and inform legislative leaders of the impact cuts to services could have.
With so many deserving causes, one thing is certain. The legislature will have several tough decisions to make during this 105-day session.