Making A Difference: United in substantive and transformative change
The United Way of Collier County has long been known for partnering with local non-profit human services agencies that provide hundreds of health, education and income programs which help more than 100,000 adults and children each year.
Funding to do all of that, and for the 26 agencies, comes from us and our contributions to the annual United Way campaign.
But then Hurricane Irma changed everything for some residents. The United Way has pumped nearly $7 million into the community to help those needing assistance with recovery. United Way collected and distributed nearly $2 million on its own for hurricane relief. And in partnership with the Community Foundation of Collier County, a $2,197,446 Collier Comes Together Fund was used to assist with short-term recovery efforts aimed at rebuilding homes and lives.
The United Way of Collier County’s director of programs, Spencer Smith, sees this as the way the United Way gets things done. “We are truly able to adapt to our community’s needs in an instant,” he tells us. “After Irma’s landfall, we were able to create brand new programs to help meet the specific needs of our residents essentially overnight.”
The Salvation Army is a partner involved in administering the grant. Ashley Jones, director of social services/disaster recovery for the Salvation Army, says that “diversity has been a hallmark of both the financial and human support the United Way has brought to our community. Their involvement has been broad, but the primary goal is very focused: improving the quality of life in Collier County.”
That’s kind of the way for the United Way in everything they do. They identify their “market” as ALICE: Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed residents of Collier County. In other words, people living from paycheck to paycheck. It may surprise you to learn we’re talking about 45,000 households with a family income of less than $56 thousand.
The goal is to reduce the ALICE population by focusing on enhancing programs and services to promote economic empowerment and self-sufficiency.
Andy Robinson, the United Way’s 2017-2018 board chair, joined the board because he was especially interested in the evolving focus on ALICE families. “Our 2020 strategic plan leverages the United Way’s leadership as a volunteer hub and platform connecting area employers and donors toward the vetted needs of the hard-working families in our community, those who are struggling to improve their lifestyle,” Robinson explains.
Katie Schweikhardt, the United Way’s director of resource development says, “I believe it is critical that we stabilize working families so that they can continue working.” By the way, she says she loves her job “because the United Way has the ability to make a difference to the most families in Collier County.”
Then there’s Collier 211 which is the United Way’s free 24/7/365 non-emergency human services helpline. It’s accessible online, by phone or text at “211.” Smith calls this “our first line of defense.” Callers are referred to health and social services agencies providing things like food, medical assistance, housing or child care services.
The United Way is also the leading platform for connecting volunteers in Collier County, matching them up to needs within the community.
The bottom line is the United Way does so much in so many ways to help so many people. “It’s an honor to be a part of such a dedicated team working together with community partners and collaborators in making ‘real’ substantive and transformative change in the lives of so many within Collier County,” says Steve Sanderson, United Way’s president and CEO.
To find out how to donate or volunteer or apply for assistance, go to www.unitedwayofcolliercounty.org.
Joe Landon is a communications consultant having retired as executive director of communications for the Collier County School District. Send suggestions for future columns to JoeLandon@Outlook.com.