Thursday, February 25, 2016

Connected Communities: Prairie Ridge

Prairie Ridge is an area that seemed to have fallen through the cracks. Residents describe that their struggle may have stemmed from the fact that they are a divided district: there are no businesses, churches, or community centers in their area, and the students are served by three separate school districts. Drugs and violence were heavily prevalent as well. They didn’t feel as if they were important to the rest of the community, and it became a self-perpetuating mindset that moved them towards a cycle of poverty.

United Way of Pierce County’s Community Conversation for their area changed everything. It gave people that wanted to help make a change a place to connect, get involved, and help move their previous efforts to the next level of action. And even better, the Conversation got more of the community, that hadn’t been previously interested, involved in these changes as well.

After discovering what was needed the most in their area, United Way set the residents up with programs targeted toward meeting those needs. Low-cost preschool was brought to the area, and it was set up to be payable on a sliding scale so that all children would be able to attend. After-school programs were introduced so that kids get off the streets and have activities to be involved in.

The community members began to feel more empowered, a sense of ownership over their neighborhood, and a voice to direct themselves toward a better future.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Employee Community Fund of Boeing as a Premier Partner

United Way of Pierce County collaborates with hundreds of businesses to make Pierce County a better place to live. Those who make extraordinary and wide-ranging contributions to our community are recognized as our Premier Partners. Their quality workplace campaigns, community service, in-kind support and sponsorship help create opportunities for a good life for all.

The Employee Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound is one of our largest Premier Partners. The Fund invested $564,354 in 2014 and $3 million over the past four years. In fact, since 1951, generous Boeing employees have contributed over $500,000,000 to local Puget Sound nonprofits.

They are our largest employee-donor campaign! And definitely on our Top 25 Campaign Giving list. Click here to see the impact of their generosity.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

LIL Readers & Miss Vera

By: Cristiana Ventura, Resource Development and Marketing Intern

The LIL Readers program is a partnership between the United Way of Pierce County and the Pierce County Library. LIL Readers volunteer at small, in-home child care centers to help with story time and activities for about an hour every other week. Program goals include building listening skills, comprehension and vocabulary.

As adults, we read to learn.
When did that start? Perhaps 3rd or 4th grade?
But we couldn't read to learn if we didn't first learn to read.

In Pierce County, 2 in 5 children entering kindergarten are not ready for school. Research shows that 85% of a child's brain development occurs before age 5. In fact, United Way Impact shares that young minds struggle with social skills, early reading and even language. And for kids in poverty, there are even greater gaps.

By going directly into low-income daycares, LIL Readers are able to share the excitement of reading with young minds. When modeling reading and showing how important reading is, children are influenced to seek these literacy skills themselves.

Vera just began her journey as a LIL Reader. Here is her experience so far:

"On January 27, 2015 I began a wonderful journey of reading to children at a local in-home daycare.  I visit one day every other week and would love for it to be even more often.  The children look forward to my visits and let me know by saying “Miss Vera’s here!  Miss Vera’s here!”  I look forward to our reading times more than I can express.  I am always on the lookout for a book that I think the children will love.  The children interact with every story and I’ve found that they love mysteries.  They love the stories that ask them to respond.  It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by already.  I intend to continue sharing stories at this day care for as long as they’ll let me.  I am very lucky indeed." -Vera, LIL Reader

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Strong Families: Lisa

Lisa had moved from California to Washington with the intention of starting her career, but it did not end up panning out for her and she was left unemployed. Going from having a sizeable income to nothing at all was not a shift she was prepared for, and she quickly fell into debt.

Thanks to Family and Food Bank Services, Lisa had a place to turn to. They offered Lisa the resources she needed to get back on her feet. They paid off her electrical bill for several months, to take some of the worries off her shoulders. A local church in connection with Family and Food Bank Services agreed to help her pay her rent as well.

The Food Bank was a place she went regularly for several months, until she became more stable. This help released a significant amount of stress and helped her get re-employed and stable.

The Food Bank still check in monthly with Lisa, and because of their continued support, she is now more aware of her financial situation and wants to make sure she’s making the best decisions for her and the family that rely on her. Family and Food Bank Services is just one of the many programs receiving funding from United Way of Pierce County.

Looking for food banks near you, or know of someone in need of assistance?
Find a list of food banks in Pierce County, here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hunger Initiative: High Tunnel at Mother Earth Farm

By: Cristiana Ventura, Resource Development and Marketing Intern

Hunger initiative update from the Hunger-Free Pierce County Collaborative:  Investing $8,157.63 for 1 high tunnel growing space at Emergency Food Network’s Mother Earth Farm.

Emergency Food Network’s Mother Earth Farm is an 8-acre organic farm that produces over 150,000 pounds of fresh produce and honey each year. All of the food produced at Mother Earth Farm goes directly to food banks where food-insecure families in Pierce County have access to fresh, healthy, organic, and locally-grown produce.

To expand MEF’s ability to produce food every month of the year, UWPC invested $8,157.63 to help them purchase their second high tunnel.

When Mother Earth Farm started, it was only able to distribute fresh produce 5 months of the year following a normal growing season. In 2015 with their first high tunnel in use, they had already distributed 24,000 pounds of food by that time. This more than tripled production during summer months, and helped Mother Earth Farm grow sensitive crops like tomatoes that are in high demand at food banks. 

"Last year when we didn’t have the hoop house that we have we had, by July we had distributed 7000 pounds of food. This July, because we had the hoop house, we distributed 24,000 pounds of food." Helen McGovern-Pilant (Emergency Food Network)

However, the greatest benefit of the high tunnel will come when it is able to produce food year round—even during winter months. During winter months, it can be very difficult for a low-income family to acquire fresh and healthy food. Mother Earth Farm’s season extension will allow them to access healthy, local produce year around.

Helping MEF purchase their second high tunnel has had such a huge impact on the farm, it has also allowed them to bring their seasonal assistant on full-time and acquire another grant to purchase two additional hoop houses to expand their indoor growing spaces.

"... it allowed us to go out and get a grant for two more growing spaces. So now we will have two high tunnels and two low tunnels. Big changes." -Helen McGovern-Pilant (Emergency Food Network)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Hunger Initiative: South Outreach & SNAP

Hunger-Free Pierce County Collaborative initiative: investing in South Outreach and their ability to connect our neighbors in need with their Basic Food program and SNAP assistance

For the 200,000 residents in Pierce County who are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but have not yet enrolled in the program, signing up could be the difference between putting a healthy meal on the table or going hungry. SNAP offers nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. 

SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net, providing an electronic benefits card (EBT) to purchase groceries at stores and fresh produce at farmers markets. 
Basic Food is one of the only areas of work at Sound Outreach where there is not a staff member dedicated specifically to helping sign people up. Understaffed, they are only able to process 5 SNAP applications each week. This means that out of the 200,000 Pierce County residents who qualify, only 250 people can be reached each year.

Signing people up for SNAP has more benefits than just helping a family put food on the table. The more Tacoma-Pierce County residents there are receiving SNAP benefits, the more funding from DSHS Sound Outreach receives, enabling them to expand their services.

When South Sound came requesting funding for the coordinator position, they made a clear statement regarding the impact this position would have...

"Our Basic Food Coordinator will increase the number of interns and volunteers to sign people up for SNAP and conduct outreach in the following areas throughout Pierce County:

Food Banks
Community Centers
Health Fairs
Senior Centers
Other nonprofits working with low-income families (YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Health Centers, etc)

UWPC invested $15,000 to help Sound Outreach hire a full-time Basic Food Outreach Coordinator. While this will only cover the first few months of this position, the position eventually pays for itself as an increase in SNAP applications means an increase in funding from DSHS for Sound Outreach. 

UWPC’s $15,000 is not only helping to create a paying job for a Pierce County resident, but it is also going to be solely responsible for 336 of the SNAP applications and nearly $900,000 of the economic activity that will result from them. Since helping them hire a full-time Basic Food Outreach Coordinator, they are now able to process 20-30 applications each week which could generate up to $1.7 million in purchasing power for low-income Pierce County families in the first year alone

Click here for more information on applying for SNAP benefits through Sound Outreach

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

City of Tacoma as a Premier Partner

The City of Tacoma is another one of our highlighted Premier Partners. The City of Tacoma has been a long standing workplace campaign participant and Premier Partner of ours. Last year they raised $72,886 in Employee Giving. And have even raised $310,297 over the past 5 years!

Some of their awards include: 2014 Nominee for UWPC Campaign of the Year Award for Public Sector & 2013 Overall Campaign of the Year Winner.

Greer Todhunter, UWPC Resource Development Officer says, "The City of Tacoma ran a very well-organized campaign with three chairs and department coordinators, which lead them to the most successful United Way drive they have had in the past 7 years. Just over last year they increased the amount of participants by 45% (over $90,000!) and overall dollars by 25%, thanks to tremendous effort by individual departments and incentives such as a signed Russell Wilson football."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Strong Families: Jose's Story

As a young boy, Jose was taught by his parents to give back. He was always the guy in the office collecting food or leading the fundraiser. 

However, when he was laid off unexpectedly, Jose soon found himself relying on the programs he had supported. Unprepared for a 40 percent cut to their income, Jose and his wife Lori couldn’t make ends meet.

 “We were fighting to feed our children. We were fighting to keep our home,” said Lori. 

That’s when they turned to FISH Food Bank for help. The nutritious food provided by their weekly trips to the food bank, helped stretch their income and stabilize their family. 
Watch Jose's Story 

“Suddenly, I found myself using the resources I had helped,” explained Jose. “United Way can make a difference.” 

With a little more time on his hands, Jose also continued his passion for giving back by volunteering at the food bank every week. FISH Food Banks is just one of the many programs receiving funding from United Way of Pierce County. 

By focusing on programs that help young children and their families, we can remove the barriers preventing them from breaking the cycle of poverty.