Monday, October 21, 2019

Celebrating National Financial Goal Day

 By guest blogger, Jeff Dade, Director, Family Stability Initiatives, United Way of Pierce County

"I did it again! I promised myself I wouldn’t use the card this time. How am I ever going to make headway on this credit balance or get the new tires I need? I’m horrible with money!"

 "My girls will never have it as bad as I did growing up. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they have the best of the best. I’ll figure out how to come with the money for bills later."

"I can’t believe this bank. I’ve been a customer for years and they won’t forgive this little mistake. Sure, I’ve had a lot of NSF’s recently, but doesn’t loyalty mean anything anymore?"

 "No, I don’t want to see my credit. That stuff is confusing and it probably doesn’t matter anyway. I’m pretty sure mine is bad."

I’ve spent 25 years in finance with the last five, focused wholly on financial well-being and these comments are paraphrases that clients have consistently shared. Coaching thousands of people has given me a rare view into a “forbidden” world. Somehow it gets passed on that we must always show a strong front when it comes to money. Yet, virtually everyone has money problems. For some that may just mean making critical decisions, but others face dire situations daily; many of them with long-term repercussions. 

In honor of National Financial Goal Day I’d like to quickly share a few things with you: 
1) My personal message, 2) A definition for financial well-being and  3) Some strategies to move forward. Let’s begin!

1) Shame OFF you! You are resilient, whole, and able to make changes in your life. If you’re like me, you didn’t grow up with any financial education other than what not to do (and I still did it). Remember that money is emotional and money shame unsettles us, keeping us from making our best choices or seeking help. Finally, you are never weak for accepting financial guidance. In fact, it’s a point of pride for the affluent to regularly have multiple advisors their lives.

2) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ‘s national survey and research coalesced to define American financial well-being. It says that we feel the most financially capable when we:
·         have control over day-to-day, month-to-month finances
·         have the capability to absorb a financial shock
·         are on track to meet financial goals, and
·         have the financial freedom to make choices that allow one to enjoy life
Makes sense, right? Most folks read that and nod their heads, but it’s not enough to just state the truth. What are we going to do about it? Here’s a very quick snapshot for clarity and self-assessment. Visualize your life and consider this path below:
3) At United Way's Center for Strong Families we adopt an Earn, Keep, Grow attitude and offer free financial and employment coaching along with benefits screening at seven locations throughout Pierce County. Our staff is trained with robust national industry standards so that they can be your trusted partner. There’s no judgment, just good work that matters and a proven track record. Since 2016, our clients have continued to make the decision to commit themselves to their own financial well-being and self-sufficiency in areas like budgeting, credit upgrades, debt reduction, savings development, cash management, and more.

So, back to those four measures of financial well-being. Here are some ways to make them actionable right now:

  • Use a budget form regularly together with automation (online bill pay, banking apps, etc.) to control and maintain your mental money picture
  • Start as small as you need to, but open that savings account and ask HR to make a separate direct deposit into it every payday. You’re allowed to use your emergency fund as a buffer, but don’t negate its existence by transferring all the time. Set it and forget it…until you need it.
  •  If you don’t state your goals, how will you ever know you made it? Think about what you REALLY want. At the end of our lives, most of us value people and experiences over stuff (yes even over cars). Does your money reflect your real values?
  • Find accountability partners. Take some time to discuss this with people you trust, then write your goals down. You can even post them around the house for reinforcement. This will help you to live without regret and buyer’s remorse.
I hope this message helps you or someone you know. We’re dedicated to the financial self-sufficiency movement, but we know we can never be fully successful without your help. Share this with someone you know. Start conversations at home, work, church, and the gym. Shining the light on financial well-being and making it commonplace takes the power of money shame away. Let us know if we can help and best of luck as you personalize your financial goals today. Learn more about our Center for Strong Families.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Read United Wraps Up for the Summer

By guest blogger, Allison Loft, Volunteer Engagement Manager, United Way of Pierce County

Fall is here in all its glory, but don’t forget to savor the memorable moments of summer. Summer highlights at United Way of Pierce County included supporting the Hunger Free Pierce County Collaboration meal sites with books, activities and snack packs. For the past five years United Way has helped prevent ‘the summer slide’, when students can lose up to two months of learning over the summer. READ United: Summer is designed to keep children engaged and excited about reading and learning over the summer months. 

United Way  staff and volunteers visit free summer meal sites in high-need, low-access areas to read with kids and give away books for the children to keep and read at home anytime. The impact made over the 2019 summer at meal sites through Read United: Summer. With the help of six corporate partners, community volunteers and two interns, Read United: Summer 2019 engaged:
  •  236 children participated at four sites
  • 1,036 new books were distributed
  • 90% of children reported that the program helped them focus on reading
  • More than 1/3 of the children who participated, reported that they did not have new books at home before this program. 

We also provided supplemental snack packs for the children to take home with them. Thanks to the efforts of our corporate sponsors and volunteers we were able to assemble 3,050 snack packs which were distributed throughout the summer. They were a BIG hit, as 100 percent of the children reported the snack packs made a difference during their day. Thank you to our sponsors and volunteers for helping us lift 15,000 local families out of poverty. For more information on Read United: Summer and other volunteer opportunities, email

2019 Summer Highlight
This year, Brown & Brown participated in Read United: Summer by sending volunteers every week to Salishan, where over 30 children participated every day. One Tuesday, Leslie from Brown & Brown volunteered and was inspired by one young man’s love of reading. 'Sam', a 14 year old who participated in the summer activities, told Leslie about how much he enjoyed reading a certain book and was excited to have his own copy. He and Leslie visited about different books they enjoyed and Sam made a lasting impression on Leslie. 

The next day she reached out to United Way to see if she could give him a whole set of the books that he enjoyed,“…I have had a few opportunities in my life to see someone so happy and excited to own a book and it has made a big impression on me every time. Thank you so much for sharing your enthusiasm. It’s so wonderful to see the excitement and love of books in someone who obviously loves to read so much, ” said Leslie.

Sam was amazed when he received the gift from Leslie a few weeks later with a note, “I thank you for the books that you gave to me. I was surprised that someone took the thought and care to gift me with something so incredible. It was refreshing to know that there are good people out there in the world. The book set is awesome and the start for my own library. My mom has a dream of getting a house of our own and creating a library in it.”

What a difference one person can make!  Visit to find out how you can join us for volunteer opportunities throughout the year. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Ride United is Here!

By guest blogger Danielle Robertson, South Sound 2-1-1 Transportation Specialist

“Thank you for calling South Sound 211, how can I help you?”

“I need transportation assistance today to get to my medical appointment at 2pm. I have had to cancel the past two appointments because I couldn’t find transportation.”

As I sit listening to the urgency in the caller’s voice and I learn that my caller is unable to safely get to the bus from where she lives and does not have the money to pay for a transportation program such as Lyft. I stare at the screen of transportation resources that my caller is not eligible for, preparing myself to tell my caller that there are not transportation options that can help get them to their appointment today at 2 pm.
If only there was a program that was designed specifically for this situation…

“Thank you for calling South Sound 211, how can I help you?”

“My car won’t start and if I am late to work one more time, I will lose my job. I need to be there in a half hour.”

Once again, I find myself taking a sharp breath preparing myself to tell another caller that there is not a transportation resource that is able to provide transportation right now to get them to work. The only option that is able to provide immediate transportation is the bus or a paid ride sharing program like Lyft. I sit there knowing that if this caller is unable to get to work and loses their job, they won’t be able to afford rent and could become homeless.
If only there was a program that was designed for this situation…

“Thank you for calling South Sound 211, how can I help you?”

“I couldn’t make it to my appointment to receive utility assistance because the bus does not run where I live. I missed my appointment. Our utilities were shut off for a week and half. Now I have to pay a late fee and reconnection fee in addition to the utility bill. All of this could have been prevented, if I had only had transportation to get to my original appointment”

If they only had transportation. Their utility bill would have been paid on time. They would not have had their utilities shut off and have to replace the food that went bad. They wouldn’t be scrambling to find the money to pay these late fees and reconnections.
If only there was a program that could have prevented this situation.

Ride United to the Rescue!
Transportation remains one of the largest barriers facing 211 clients who are trying to secure employment, access medical care, obtain healthy food, and escape emergencies and crises. Without reliable transportation people struggle to complete the most basic daily activities.
That is why Ride United was created. 

In June 2018, Lyft partnered with United Way and 211 to launch a pilot program to address this gap in resources. When eligible individuals call 211 and express a transportation need, a 211 specialist assesses their need, looks for available resources, and if none are available, they are able to utilize Lyft’s Concierge portal to dispatch a free round trip ride on behalf of the individual. This summer, Ride United expanded to twenty-five 211 communities across the US, including South Sound 211, to start providing free Lyft rides for qualifying individuals seeking to meet the highest unmet needs in our communities.

We are excited about the partnership between United Way and Lyft to add Ride United as a resource available to individuals in our community. This is a wonderful opportunity to provide even better service in the area of transportation.

This means that people living in 5 targeted Tacoma zip codes (98404, 98405, 98408, 98409 and  98444) can receive an on-demand round trip Lyft ride when no other transportation option is available for:
Medical Related Transportation Needs
Medicare Appointment
Non-Emergency Medical Appointment
Pharmacy/ Prescription Pick Up
Non-Emergency Hospital Visit

Employment Related Transportation Needs
Job Interview
Job Training
Job Fair
Pre-job Requirements
One Time Work Trip

Public Benefits
Department of Social and Human Services
Social Security Administration
Rental Assistance Appointment
Utility Assistance Appointment
WIC Appointment
Tax Preparation Services
Financial Coaching
Medicaid/CHIP Benefits Access
Housing Benefits Access

Ride United Works Wonders
Over the past year, United Way has seen great success and benefit in partnering with Lyft through Ride United. Across the nation, 211’s are able to provide transportation when there were no other options for people.

In Houston, a 66-year-old needed assistance with transportation to her last physical therapy appointment and a follow-up appointment with her physician. She explained that she’d suffered from a stroke and lost the ability to care for herself with daily tasks, including brushing her teeth, washing, and getting dressed. Even a simple task became seemingly unmanageable. She shared that her son usually drove her to the appointments, but had finally started a new job.   The local 211 was able to provide her with a ride to and from her appointments to ensure she received the care she needed.

In Denver, 211 was able to assist a disabled veteran who had been homeless through the Ride United program. This individual had been homeless for some time and was only able to move with the help of a walker.  Knowing he was in need of transportation to the Veteran Services Center in order to get assistance applying for housing and other essential services, he called 211 for help. When he was told that he would receive a ride and get the help he needed, he was very happy, thankful, and hopeful that things were beginning to change for him.

The value and need for transportation is often overlooked by most people who have reliable transportation, but for those who do not have reliable transportation it becomes a barrier and affects their lives in multiple ways. South Sound 211 is excited to be able to provide transportation to individuals in our community in a new way that can change their lives and help remove barriers for individuals and families in Pierce County.

To learn more visit

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

South Sound 2-11: Get Connected. Get Help.

By Guest Blogger, Walter Neary, Content Manager, Internal Communications at MultiCare

Thirty seconds into the phone call, there is a piercing scream that would give you tinnitus in your ear if you don’t already have it. J’nai Starks smiles. This isn’t new to her when she answers a call to South Sound 2-1-1.

A child began screaming while her mother is on the phone. Of course, the mom must pause in her conversation with Starks. “I’m sorry I don’t know what just happened,” the mother says to Starks as the mother makes sounds consistent with comforting a child.

“It’s OK. I have children. I can wait for you,” Starks says.

The mom settles the child, and the call to 2-1-1 continues. The Parkland woman had just started receiving food aid, and workers had suggested she call 2-1-1 for other services that might help her.

When you support the United Way, you support this 2-1-1 service. United Way is well known for allocating funding to nonprofits with a proven track record of lifting people from poverty. But United Way also operates a service used by countless MultiCare patients and their families: the information resource 2-1-1. By calling 2-1-1, the same way you’d dial 911 in an emergency, a caller can get an enormous amount of advice and resources to provide support in difficult times. 2-1-1 is operated in South Puget Sound by United Way of Pierce County and supported statewide by a broad variety of United Ways including United Way of Spokane County.

Starks is not only building empathy during the call, but also filling out a form about each caller that then taps a database of thousands of resources. The names, numbers and hours of social service agencies that might help this particular caller fly up on the screen. On her second screen, Starks cuts and pastes those resources for a text message she’ll be sending the mom. It will be a personalized survival guide for someone dealing with poverty.

“Thank you. I don’t know what to ask for because I don’t know what is out there,” the mom says.

Starks is one of a dozen operators in the mini call center at the time of this visit. Some of them have more than a crying baby to deal with. On the other side of the room, another conversation is pausing for a different reason. The caller must be distraught, for the 2-1-1 specialist can be overheard telling the caller, “It’s OK. Take a long, deep breath for me.”

“We get that a lot,” Penni Belcher says later. Belcher is the Director for South Sound 2-1-1 at United Way of Pierce County.

United Way is presiding over a revolution in how they provide 2-1-1 service. The new 2-1-1 is not your father’s 2-1-1 or even your big sister’s 2-1-1. Lately, the organization wants to get to know people when they call. And in a new twist, there are times when 2-1-1 is just as likely to
call someone who might otherwise call in.

Getting to know you
The 2-1-1 specialists are in a call center. They’re not selling anything, far from it, but they’re sitting at cubies and conducting call after call. So that’s why this new approach is so surprising.
In most call centers, you want to make the sale and get the customer off the phone so you can take the next call and make another sale. In the old days of 2-1-1, it was totally appropriate to get one question – What’s the food bank closest to me? – and answer it and boom, all done and good. Next call.

Today, 2-1-1 specialists are told to trust their instincts and try to determine if there might be reasons someone wants the food bank or whatever resource they’re looking for. Have they lost their job? Are their bills overwhelming? Are they about to be homeless?

And so, Belcher’s team is drawing out conversations.

“We want folks to call in because we want to have a conversation with them. We want to hear their story. We want to dive deep and understand what’s going on throughout the household so we can offer wraparound services and build that rapport and trust,” Belcher says. “This is about supporting the person during the conversation, not about spelling out the name of the street that a resource is on.”

So how do you get to know someone on the phone when they’re just asking for one thing?

“Usually our people start with ‘Can you tell me more? Can you tell me why you need help; did you lose your job? What happened that you had to pay this unexpected bill?’” says Denise Cervantes, Transportation and Training Associate. “We might ask them  to tell us more about what happened, find out why they don’t have money for their rent. “

So to become a 2-1-1 specialist, you must be able to do more than just look up a food bank address quickly. When hiring, “We look for a high level of energy and personability, the ability to have deep conversations that go on for a long time with people who they don’t know,” Cervantes says.

So you heard it right. This is a call center that actually wants its calls to be longer. Of course… some people just want the address. And that’s just fine. But on the longer calls, 2-1-1 usually finds it can recommend more services than the caller had first predicted.

“A lot of times, people may call about bills or particular services. You may not find out, until you dig deeper, that they need child care to help lift themselves out of their situation,” Belcher says. ”We allow people to tell their story. We’ve trained our people to listen more.
That’s been eye opening.”

2-1-1 calls you
There are a couple of reasons that 2-1-1 might be the one calling you. For one thing, there’s a great emphasis on measuring their results. So when 2-1-1 refers someone to a place, 2-1-1 will follow up with a call to see if the person actually visited or called.

But the most innovative reason to call is a pilot program where 2-1-1 is trying to prevent homelessness. It’s part of a program established by Pierce County to try to help families at risk of homelessness. The program has been going on for years now through in-person visits. Someone identifies the household at risk, and someone from a social service agency then visits the person.

That’s exactly what United Way of Pierce County is doing, but they’re not visiting. They are calling people from the call center.

One of the people making the calls is Elvia Beltrane. Beltrane used to be one of the specialists helping people who call in, but now in the pilot her role is called “Housing Solutions Navigator.”

Beltrane calls people and in a conversation that could take hours, works to identify solutions to their situation and most importantly, help people understand that they have it within themselves to find answers.

“When I hear expressions of self-doubt, I try to encourage them that there’s ways of dealing with their situation. When I hear signs of self-doubt and self-pity, it’s my cue to try to boost them up,” Beltrane says.

She uses the example of a pregnant woman who was living in a car with her first child, who’s now 19. She had originally called 2-1-1 to get resources. The staff flagged her as someone homeless, and Beltrane called her. She helped the woman set some goals and identify temporary solutions; the woman and her daughter now have a place to live and the woman is working in a call center in Lacey.

“The other vital piece besides listening is to work with them on their goals and their next steps. We talked about how we will we take what we’ve learned today to build momentum to get out of this current situation,” Beltrane says.

What that means in practical terms is that people are staying in touch and letting Beltrane know how they’re doing, even after they’re no longer homeless.

Belcher says, “Families are staying in contact with Elvia longer-term, I’ve seen her get messages like, “Hey Elvia, I wanted to let you know I just got my GED. Or I’ve got a job interview. There’s a relationship where she’s been supporting them.”

This is different than the old 2-1-1 where the employee had to be careful to spell out street names and was just trying to offer a resource. Now United Way of Pierce County is offering communications and empathy – and more assistance and support to those who need it most.

Would you like to support 2-1-1 and the United Way’s attack on poverty? Click here to learn how to support the United Way campaign.

United Way of Pierce County operates South Sound 2-1-1, which connects nearly 90,000 contacts each year in Pierce, Thurston and Lewis Counties.

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 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 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.