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.