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Access to Health 2017


When it comes to supporting healthy behaviors, access to services and education go hand in hand. Just ask Joyita (pictured far right), a young girl who struggled to stay in school due to inefficient facilities.

A few years ago, Joyita’s school in Kolkata had only one source of water, two urinals and a single toilet for 350 students. She and her friends would stay home on days they were menstruating; some dropped out. In response, United Way Kolkata and local partners developed a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program aimed at keeping young girls in school and improving community health. United Way educated students on healthy hygiene, renovated the bathrooms and offered free menstrual products, among other efforts. Today, the girls don’t miss school when they are menstruating.

Doing their part to increase health standards, United Way of Chennai conducted a hand washing awareness drive during this year’s United Way Day of Action. Volunteers taught the importance of good sanitation practices—such as handwashing with soap and water—to 100,000+ students in government schools. The event supported United Way’s Wash in Schools (WINS) program, which aims to instill good sanitation practices in children, prevent health problems and reduce school dropouts by providing proper sanitation facilities. From installing hand-washing stations to building girl-friendly toilet blocks, United Way made it easier for students to stay healthy.

Throughout India, and in other developing nations, many children and families don’t have access to toilets. In fact, 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to proper sanitation. United Way’s partners, like Kimberly-Clark, are working hard to tackle the issues that result from lack of sanitation. In 2014, the company launched its Toilets Change Lives program in the United Kingdom, and has since expanded  it to more than 15 countries around  the world. The program is delivered in partnership with UNICEF,  WaterAid and Water for People, to provide funding, hygiene education and expertise to build, repair and maintain toilet infrastructure in impoverished communities.


Good health is both a community responsibility and benefit. It goes beyond personal diet, exercise and the other individual choices we make. Other factors, including where we live and work, play a role in our ability to lead a healthy life. Each year, through a Culture of Health Prize, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—a United Way health partner—recognizes communities that are making the health of their residents a priority. United Way of West Central Mississippi and United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg helped their communities win the national prize in 2017.

United Way of West Central Mississippi worked with Shape Up Vicksburg, the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce, the school district and other partners to decrease the obesity rate and prepare children for college and the workforce. Meanwhile, United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg leveraged local and national research to empower individuals, remove health barriers, dismantle broken systems and give residents clear paths to success, leading to a healthier culture. These United Ways are a testament to what can happen when passion meets purpose.


Across the nation, healthy living is becoming an afterthought. Many cities and towns are not being designed to support the health and wellness of their residents. United Way is fighting to reverse this trend by building environments where the healthy choice is the easiest choice to make.

Our commitment to “built environments” was on full display in August when United Way of Genesee County mobilized 125 volunteers to create a community playground in Flint, Michigan. The playground had a two-fold purpose: Give youth a safe place to exercise, and help with the healing process amid the water crisis. Building playgrounds is part of a larger response to the crisis, which includes medical and educational intervention, and gives youth a fun way to stay active despite the health concerns.

United Way is also making communities healthier through leadership development. In Ohio, United Way of Central Ohio and Fifth Third Bank partnered to deliver the Neighborhood Leadership Academy. The Academy offers training to community leaders in the areas of advocacy, communication, consensus-building and collaboration, helping them become agents of change in their own backyard. Thanks to the Academy,  residents  are  building upon existing community assets and introducing improvements that contribute to the overall health  of their neighbors.

The foundation for a healthy life is in the neighbor- hoods we build and environments we create. When people have access to parks, bike paths and play- grounds, they are more likely to succeed in school, work and life. And when people are given the knowledge and skills they need to create lasting change in their own communities, everyone wins.


When it comes to accessing healthy food, a person’s ZIP code should not be a deterrent. And yet, for many people, that   is a reality. Addressing hunger and health is a multifaced issue that requires a variety of community solutions, and United Way is uniquely positioned to tackle both.

Across the nation, United Ways are incorporating healthy food options  into their hunger-relief work. This year, Greater Twin Cities United Way and General Mills launched the Full Lives program. Their goal: To support and strengthen a healthy, equitable and sustainable community food system by addressing food access and access to food-related jobs. From farm plots that enable families to grow their own produce to a nonprofit grocery store with healthy and culturally relevant food options, 14 projects across 11 nonprofits are currently underway.

The impact of United Way’s work is also being felt in Canada. In New Brunswick, where one in 10 people experience food insecurity, United Way of Central New Brunswick is working to increase access to nutritious and affordable food through school breakfast programs, bulk food-purchasing clubs, food banks and community kitchens. Meanwhile, in Halifax, United Way Halifax is providing a lifeline for people facing hunger. Of their many programs, YWCA Halifax Food First is educating local women about nutrition, healthy living and cooking on a budget.

Food security and nutrition are also priorities globally—just ask John Deere. When they weren’t working with United Way Spain to prevent secondary school dropouts, or helping United Way Poland prepare youth for jobs, John Deere employees were supporting food-donation campaigns in Germany and France. This year, they prepared 13,000 meals in Germany, and with United Way Tocqueville, sorted 56 tons of food for food banks   in France. In all, 236 employees and their families helped 112,000 people receive healthy meals. Across the world, United Way and its partners are giving the hungry a helping hand.