Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Curbing the Summer Slide: Read United At Meal Sites

Summer break is highly anticipated and celebrated by most children. However, for children who rely on school for meals and reading enrichment, it can be a challenge. Did you know that children can lose up to two months of learning over the summer break? For children in high-need areas with no access to books or summer learning activities, the loss can be even greater. Read United: Summer is designed to keep children engaged and excited about reading and learning over the summer months. United Way of Pierce County staff, interns and volunteers visit free summer meal sites in high-need, low-access areas throughout the summer to read with kids and give away books for the children to keep and read at home anytime!

For the first time, United Way of Pierce County is helping to ensure children are receiving supplemental snacks to feed their bodies in addition to books to feed their minds over the summer! On United Way Worldwide’s Day of Action in June, 3,050 Summer Snack Packs and 150 Summer Learning Packs were assembled. We are grateful to our corporate sponsors and volunteers, whose support made this project possible. The snack packs, which include healthy packaged items and shelf-stable milk, will be distributed each week to 150+ children at the Read United: Summer sites in Tacoma, Lakewood and Franklin Pierce school districts. Children in attendance will also have the opportunity to sign up for ongoing engagement for 6-8 weeks and receive a Summer Learning Pack to keep them motivated.

Research on book deserts, areas that lack of access to print reading materials, show that the summer months drastically limit book access in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to Urban Education. The effects of the summer slide are cumulative: losing months of learning each summer can place children an entire grade behind their peers over the duration of their elementary education and researchers estimate that by the time a struggling reader reaches middle school, summer reading loss has accumulated to a two-year lag in reading achievement.

Join us and make a difference for a child in need this summer. By bringing together caring individuals, resources and summer feeding and reading programs,you can take advantage of a great opportunity to support summer learning and cultivate a love of reading with children. This is a multi-disciplinary approach with  Hunger-Free Pierce County to enhance the educational component of their work. Through effective partnerships, we trust more children can be impacted by this approach.

For more information about Read United, please email volunteer@uwpc.org or register for a lunchtime volunteer session here volunteer session here





Monday, July 1, 2019

A Fresh Start for Melissa

We recently received a letter of thanks for South Sound 2-1-1 support. Elvia, one of our amazing team members, got this lovely thank you that we want to share with you. Without your support we would not be able to help tens of thousands of Pierce, Thurston and Lewis County residents every year!

"My name is Melissa. I have a 19 year old daughter named Stephanie who I had when I was 16. Now I’m having a baby boy due on August 13th. We were leaving a domestic violence situation and were homeless, living in a car, when I reached Elvia at 211. She provided many resources that helped me to meet our needs, including a gift card to help me get some things for the baby. I was able to find a more consistent job and an apartment for us! With the financial help that was provided, we were able to move into our new home on June 15th.... in time for my baby boy! I am so grateful for the help and fresh start for me-- and more importantly my children. Thank you so much!" Melissa
To learn more about South Sound 2-1-1 visit our web page, download the annual 2-1-1 report or make a gift to support our work!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Paying it Forward with 2-1-1



By Guest Blogger, J'nai Starks, South Sound 2-1-1 Workforce Navigator 

I have always been a person that has a passion to help people in need. Even in grade school, I always made a point to speak to our janitors because I knew that there is more than what you see on the surface.

Everyone has feelings and is important to someone else.  In fact, without workers like this, our infrastructure would crumble.

I have carried this attitude throughout my life. In my late teens and early 20’s I would go out and feed homeless people on my own. Taking my own money and making sack lunches, and not just PB & J sandwiches either, but full-on lunches. The look on their faces when they opened those bags filled my heart with happiness and gave me hope.

I myself have been in crisis and there was nowhere to turn. This left me in a position of feeling hopeless. One day, I saw a sign somewhere that said just that, “Nowhere to turn? Call 2-1-1.” So, I did. I was connected to resources to help me in my time of need. 

I personally know the struggle of the 2-1-1 caller being vulnerable and feeling shame in asking for help. That’s why I know I must always bring compassion, empathy and empowerment with me every day to work so I can be that bright spot in someone’s day.

Many times, I have had someone call in tears, to say they don’t know what to do-- or where to turn. By the end of that call, I have identified resources and provided words of encouragement so they know to keep fighting and also to know, that this storm will pass.

One person I remember very well is Gary. He was scared and crying and worried about his health. He wanted to know where to go to get a health test. During that call, Gary shared that he was homeless and living in his car. He also told me, he didn’t want to live anymore, because life has gotten so hard.

I wanted Gary to know that it was going to be ok and life was worth living.  So I took the time to talk to him but mostly I listened.  Much of our job involves listening so we can find the best solutions for each person.

I encouraged Gary to be strong and whatever challenges he faced-- to know he can get thru it.  By the end of our call he was laughing and told me he had the will to live. Gary said he felt that no one listened to him, but I took the time to let him vent, speak his heart and listen to him as he explained his life to me.

Not only did I provide resources for where he can go to get a health test but I also provided resources to Gary over the phone and thru email which included shelters, safe parking, local food pantries and gas vouchers.

Gary responded to me later that day saying: “You gave me hope this evening, your voice made me feel like I was not alone anymore. This is a testament to your courage and ability in your job and your unwavering support for broken people. You gave me hope and it instilled. I cannot express how deeply your words meant to me. You took away my fear regardless of the pending outcome.”

One week later, I followed up with Gary and he told me:  “Everything is going great! Your help, helped! So far, I'm doing much better and I guess I had to go through all of that to sharpen me more.  I have utilized church services for: Gas, a phone card and food pantry services-- so far my health is better! And my test was negative.”

That is just one of many stories. Which is why I do what I do and why I love it. Without 2-1-1, many lives would be at stake financially, emotionally and physically.  Each of us are here on earth to do our part – and building up our community to be the best that it can be, by being a member of the 2-1-1 team, I am given the opportunity to do just that every day.

I love working at 2-1-1. To know that I am helping our community, one member at a time warms my heart and makes me want to be a better person every day. Thank you for your time and I hope each of you are doing your part as well.


My Story...So Far


By Guest Blogger Markiss Cooper, owner/partner, iHAUL

I became a father at the early age of 16. I was soon paying child support, which is tough when you’re a kid and you’re still in high school. In no time at all, I was $3,000 in debt and that debt just kept growing. I dropped out of high school so I could work. As you can imagine, that debt stacked up and I was on an uphill battle just to survive, much less find a path forward.

Fast forward, I got my high school diploma and started community college where I earned my associates degree. During that time, I got married and we have a wonderful 7-year old daughter.

I moved to Tacoma where I worked in a charter school where things were very tumultuous. My uncle introduced me to Tim at Sound Outreach and with Tim, who runs united Way’s Center for Strong Families. Right away, I connected with Tim—he’s someone I can really talk with. I got myself set up with a financial coach, went through literacy training. I grew my savings while I improved my credit score. These may seem like small things, but they grew into bigger things.

For example, my credit score went from the low 500s to the high 700’s. Once I understood more about what I could do with the assets I had, then it opened up my eyes to other possibilities.

I was so proud the day I could buy a 2012 Sierra pick up. Because you see, I had always been entrepreneurial and taken on odd jobs to help people move things and it was Tim who planted the seed in me. What if I could start my own business?

That’s exactly what I did. In January 2018, iHAUL, was launched--the hardest working logistics partner in South Puget Sound.  It’s true. Today, I am running my own business. It’s a small start-up with big ideas. We provide White Glove Delivery Service, Room-of-Choice Service for Residential and Commercial Deliveries. Each of my team members are expertly trained, hard-working and honest home delivery movers, who are just as dedicated to their work.

They’re like most people who struggle but work hard. I am proof that you can reach your goals and I am grateful for United Way’s Center for Strong Families and for Sound Outreach for taking a chance on me. It was also one best decisions I’ve ever made. Besides marrying my wife and having our family together.


Nourishing our Community


By Guest Blogger, Sue Potter, Executive Director, Nourish Pierce County. 

Sue Potter (right)
Nourish is the largest network of Food Banks in the County, operating 24 distributions sites.  Our reach is vast.  Last year, one-third of all food bank visits in the county are to a Nourish food bank. In fact, 7% of Pierce County visited a Nourish food bank at least once last year.  We couldn’t reach that many people in need without partners like the United Way.

I’d like to publicly thank United Way for the generous donation of a refrigerated vehicle. It sounds so simple, but let me tell you, it has helped us to redistribute thousands of pounds if fresh produce to over 61,000 food bank customers. The addition of a refrigerated box truck, brings the total number of vehicles in the refrigerated vehicle fleet to five. These vehicles are used for food rescue, meal delivery, gleaning and perishable donation pickups, resulting in nearly 250,000 pounds of food and the equivalent of more than 220,000 meals. Thank you all for making it a priority to move people out of hunger in our community.

Having fresh produce has helped us to improve the variety of nutritious food options. Fresh fruit and produce at food banks is The Gold Standard and because of United Way, we meet this standard. The latest truck in our fleet is gold and we lovingly refer to her as Goldy.
I want to tell you about Debbie, who still tears up when she talks about her trips to the Nourish Pierce County food bank. “It’s just temporary … just temporary,” she says.

She and her husband recently suffered through a series of difficulties and suddenly found themselves not able to make ends meet. Since she lost her job, they’re on one income for five people.. She was working in a warehouse and making a decent wage, but physical limitations and trying to “keep up with the kids” left her out in the cold.

Adding to the woes, both her car and her husband’s car died on their way to work just a few weeks apart. After 12 years without car payments, they now have two. She tells us, if it wasn’t for the food bank, we would have to decide between food and paying our expenses. This is a godsend. The food they get here lets them know they are going to have enough food to last you a week or so.

'Goldy' the newest in the fleet
Debbie and her family are one of thousands of people in our community who would not have food if it wasn’t for the support of partners like United Way of Pierce County. They are one of the driving forces behind Hunger-Free Pierce County. And by driving, in my case, I mean literally. United Way has funded mobile food delivery in the County.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Innovative Cooking Skills Program Addresses Hunger in Pierce County


National Nutrition Month contribution by guest blogger, Shawn Paton, Director, Community Building & Investments, United Way of Pierce County

There is a growing body of evidence that supports the theory that when people eat well, they stay healthier and are better able to control chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease or perhaps avoid them altogether. 

Those who are food insecure are more likely to develop chronic diseases, which means higher health care costs for both insurers and individuals. 

The problem with healthy eating, particularly for those who are food insecure, is that healthy foods are not easily accessible and/or are not affordable. Even for those who have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, some lack the right tools, skills and knowledge to prepare healthy meals.

That's why United Way of Pierce County works with food bank partners, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Washington State University Extension’s SNAP Ed team and Emergency Food Network for Colorful Cooking Made Easy, a nutrition education program designed to help those who struggle with food insecurity eat healthier. Trained volunteers do cooking demonstrations at food banks with the fresh produce, allowing visitors to try what they have prepared. Food bank visitors are able to watch how easy it is to prepare a healthy meal and possibly try something new. Trained volunteers also teach cooking classes and lead grocery store tours, helping participants with meal planning, shopping on a budget, understanding nutrition and developing cooking skills.

Colorful Cooking Demonstration
Last month, we partnered with a Family and Consumer Science Teacher at Bethel High School and Cooking Matters to host the very first Colorful Cooking 6-week series for students. A trained volunteer leads the class, teaching students cooking skills and nutrition information tailored to fit their interests and needs. Students attending the class will bring home a bag filled with the ingredients for what they prepared in class each week to practice the recipes at home and also promote the healthy eating with family members.

We are looking for opportunities to host Colorful Cooking classes at locations where there is a high need for healthy food and nutrition education but with limited resources, with a focus on caregivers to children from birth-5 years old. This is a crucial developmental stage for young children. Promoting healthy eating with caregivers will have a positive impact on their own health along with creating a healthy food environment for the kids in their care.

To find out more about Colorful Cooking Made Easy, visit our volunteer opportunity site

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Helping Families Set Financial Stability Goals


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

Poverty is often described as an individual experience or personal challenge. For example, someone not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter. It can also be associated with being sick and not being able to see a doctor or pay for medications; not having access to educational opportunities; lack of social support networks; and a quality of life below the living standard for the area. 

We also know that sometimes a job is not enough. Many American households can’t afford the basics of housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation, despite working hard. Even among those who are employed and often have more than one job, they struggle with monthly expenses that exceed their income. They are fighting an uphill financial battle that, without room to build savings, grows more unsustainable.

The experience of poverty and financial instability area also fluid as households move back and forth from financial crisis to stability depending on their income, assets and expenses. That’s the reality facing millions of underemployed residents who are walking a financial tightrope. 

The best way I’d like to describe the complexity of persistent poverty, low-wage stagnation and financial instability is to identify the all of the core factors that help provide economic stability. Many organizations have created versions of a “self-sufficiency matrix” that takes a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to fostering economic mobility.

EMPath’s Bridge to Self-Sufficiency® is one notable theory of change that describes a person’s advancement from poverty to economic self-sufficiency as a journey across a bridge supported by five critical pillars—family stability, well-being, education and training, financial management, and employment and career management. 

For families experiencing financial instability, the range of possible areas to consider working on are broad. I've created a modified version of the bridge to help quickly assess where households are on a scale from crisis to thriving. The assessment includes eight core areas of financial stability: housing, mobility, family, health, social network, debts, savings, education, and career.


 Often individual goals can be in multiple areas at the same time, so sometimes you need to step back, have a conversation with the client about the big picture for their lives, and then determine what areas to really focus on. Over time people can review their progress where they are now to when they started tracking. This also broadens what success looks like based on the individual’s goals, rather than one set income metric. 

Poverty and financial instability are complicated. People’s lives are complicated and they are the experts.  Moving toward economic stability should be based on individual goals and hopefully they live in a community that can support their efforts. That why United Way is here. That's why our staff and thousands of volunteers take up the call to Live United.



Tax Credits and Free Volunteer Income Tax Prep Services Make a Big Difference for Hard Working Families

By Guest Blogger, Kelvin Ceasar, Community Impact Manager, United Way of Pierce County

It’s tax season and for many, the duty to settle our annual tax obligation generates feelings of dread, fear, irritation as well as other negative feelings.  However, for many families, especially those that struggle to make ends meet throughout the year, tax season is often a time of relief. It’s an opportunity for people to address many of the financial burdens weighing on them during the year. That’s because the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit help moderate to low-income families keep more of the money they earn. In some cases, they may even receive a larger return than the amount withheld from their earnings during the year. 

These credits help hard working families pay for reliable transportation, childcare, groceries and other essentials as well as funding family savings plans for emergencies or future goals.
Here in Pierce County and across the country Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) workers give their time preparing taxes for free to households that meet the income limits or special circumstances including low- and moderate-income households, seniors and people living with disabilities.

The VITA program, run by the Internal Revenue Service, provides training for volunteers. In turn, IRS-certified volunteers prepare taxes accurately and ensure that people receive all deductions and qualifying credits, as well as education about financial services and available community resources. VITA tax sites throughout Pierce County are available up to April 15 and can found here or you may dial 2-1-1 to learn more.

In Pierce County alone, 5,000+ households annually are served at preparation sites across the county. The result-- millions of dollars go back into our community through tax credits and refunds, which not only helps families directly but also stimulates the economy.

Several years ago, I spent a tax season as a VITA volunteer. The training and preparation were thorough and I was fully prepared when the time came to prepare tax returns.  During that tax season, I met many people who were working hard every day but still struggled to make ends meet.  This population has been formally identified as Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed (ALICE). ALICE represents the men and women of all ages and races who get up each day to go to work, but who aren’t sure if they’ll be able to put dinner on the table each night. 

Many shared their stories of challenging financial situations they faced and told me how much of a difference that annual refund made.  It really felt good when I was able to show someone the “bottom line” of his or her tax return that revealed a significant tax refund. At those moments, I felt pride knowing that a government program was making an immediate difference for families.

South Sound 2-1-1, Associated Ministries, Sound Outreach, Goodwill and AARP Foundation Tax-Aide have partnered with the Pierce County Asset Building Coalition to provide tax preparation services. For households making less than $55,000, they can get free tax assistance and file free at one of 25 sites throughout Pierce County from late January through April. Volunteers will prepare client taxes free of charge, determine if they qualify for  EITC and find other credits to boost their bottom line. 

For households making less than $66,000 a year, they can access MyFreeTaxes.com to file their taxes free. The site provides easy, fast, secure federal and state tax filing online through software partner, H&R Block.

I am proud that I am a partner in this work and proud that United Way continues to advocate on behalf of individuals and families in our community.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Paying Tribute to Local Leaders: Black History Month in the Making

Paying Tribute to Local Leaders: Black History Month in the Making 

by Dona Ponepinto, President and CEO, United Way of Pierce County

February is Black History Month and while there are a number of incredible past and current leaders across our country, this month we would like to acknowledge the many African American members of our community who are making history in Pierce County. 

Below you will find just a few of the impressive accomplishments of men, women and organizations that have made their mark and are leading positive change in our community today. This is by no means a complete list, but it includes educators, spiritual leaders, politicians and passionate people lending their voice and power to create positive change.

The Black Collective is a community of black people dedicated to civic engagement through volunteer service. Since 1968, they have advanced the political interests of black people, improve the educational outcomes of black students, provides social justice advocacy to black individuals and communities and increased black economic development. 

Melanie Morgan is a Democratic member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 29a. As the only woman of color serving on the Franklin-Pierce School Board, Melanie was instrumental in the passage of the district’s $157 million bond measure in 2016 and two school levy renewals in February 2018.

Melannie Denise Cunningham is the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize Laureate a/k/a/ 253 Peace Queen,  for her exemplary work promoting racial reconciliation.

Dr. Carla Santorno, Superintendent Tacoma Public Schools where she initiates and directs projects that positively affect students’ academic achievement and general well-being. Acting upon the strong belief that every learner can achieve and ultimately succeed.

Dr. Isiaah Crawford is president of University of Puget Sound, a recipient of national awards and he has been published on topics including post-traumatic stress, racial inequality, HIV/AIDS, sexual abuse, visual impairment, poverty, depression and more. 

Dr. Ivan Harrell, President of Tacoma Community College strives every day to lead a group of professionals in providing the best environment, programs and services students need to complete their academic and career goals.

Willie Stewart was hired by Tacoma School District in 1960 and assigned to Gault Junior High to teach life science and physical science. Stewart taught at Gault until 1966, when he was promoted to assistant principal. He was later  hired at Lincoln High School as assistant principal. In 1970, he became that first black principal in the Tacoma School District.1.

Mabel Edmonds is Vice President for Instruction at Clover Park Technical College. she provides leadership for the College's Instruction Department, which includes Baccalaureate Degrees, Professional Technical Degree and Certificate programs in a variety of career fields, Academics, Transitional Studies, eLearning, Library, Northwest Career and Technical High School, and Workforce Development/Continuing Education/Contract Training.

Andrea Cobb is Executive Director of the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning, where she acts as the State’s Educational agency’s chief research officer. She leads efforts to connect policymakers, schools, families and communities with research and information about effective educational improvement strategies.

Lyle Quasim has held leadership positions in public health and administration in Tacoma, Pierce County and the state of Washington.  In 1995, he became the first African American to head Washington's Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). ). For 7 years he was Chief of Staff for Pierce County Executive, John Ladenburg.

Keith Blocker is a Tacoma City Council Member (D3) and he is currently the director of middle school programs for the non-profit Peace Community Center, providing academic coaching, life skills training, and early college preparation to students at Jason Lee Middle School.

T’wina Nobles, President and CEO at The Tacoma Urban League, is devoted to empowering African Americans and other disenfranchised groups to enter the economic and social mainstream. For 50 years the Tacoma Urban League has worked in a variety of ways to strengthen and support the local African American community. T’wina is also a board member on the University Place School Board.

Mary Moss is Councilwoman (Position 1) on the Lakewood City Council. Lakewood is the second largest city in Pierce County and is host to Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and Camp Murray. 

Victoria Woodards is the current mayor of Tacoma, Washington. She formerly served on the city council for two terms and served as the President of the Tacoma Urban League. Woodards grew up in Tacoma and attended Lincoln High School. Woodards previously served in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis.

Marilyn Strickland left office as Mayor of Tacoma after 8 years, where she was active in the U.S. Conference of Mayors and brought national attention to Tacoma. Today she is president and chief executive of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Harold Moss was the first African American to serve as mayor of Tacoma, Washington. He was also the first to serve on the Tacoma City Council and Pierce County Council.  He has been active in the Tacoma community since the 1950s when he was a member of the local branch of the NAACP.

Jim Walton was the Director of Tacoma’s Human Relations Department in 1970 and in 2003, he became the first black city manager. In 2018, he was awarded the Community Health Care Humanitarian of the Year. He also serves on the board of United Way of Pierce County.

Jessie Baines, Jr. is the Commissioner of Metro Parks helps help shape the future of the parks he grew up in, He also helps low-wage workers develop career advancement plans through the Tacoma Urban League.

Aaron Pointer was a pro baseball player for more than a decade that included playing for the Houston Colts, which later became the Astros, Chicago Cubs and later the Tacoma Cubs, a farm club. He serves as the President of the Metro Parks Board of Commissioners.

Tom Hilyard is Program Development Specialist in Tacoma’s Human Development Department. He served on the Pierce County Health Council, instrumental in writing the Federal Urban Health Initiative grant, which stabilized clinic funding.

Tom Dixon started the Tacoma Urban League in 1968. For 50 years the League has worked in a variety of ways to strengthen and support the local African American community and is devoted to empowering African Americans and other disenfranchised groups to enter the economic and social mainstream. 

Kelly Richardson is Tacoma Poet Laureate and is a writer, artist, and educator whose work explores the intersection of race, class, and gender with specific emphasis on themes of love, loss and longing.

Reverend Toney Montgomery is a spiritual leader at Fathers House Church and serves as the chair for the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance. The organization works collaboratively with many other community and faith-based organizations by advocating for freedom of worship and social and economic equality.

Reverend Gregory Christopher is the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Tacoma and president of the local chapter of the NAACP. In 2017 went to Washington D.C. ready to face arrest during a demonstration supporting the Affordable Care Act. Capitol police took him and 46 other demonstrators away in handcuffs. He continues to fight for affordable care for all.

The Black Education Strategy Roundtable is a volunteer-led coalition that  actively advocates for and providing information to policymakers at all levels about the disparate conditions of educational achievement for Black students in the state of Washington, which impacts all facets of life and our communities.