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Measure of a Society

Former President Jimmy Carter once said: “The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens.” United Way believes that protecting vulnerable groups in society is not just a moral imperative; it’s also practical.

When we turn a blind eye to people who aren’t able to get a good education and obtain the skills they need to succeed in the workforce, we fail to invest smartly in human capital that would make our economy more competitive and improve quality of life for all of us. When we give the forces of injustice and inequality free reign, we allow feelings of resentment to fester and deepen the divides that keep us from achieving more together.

United Way is dedicated to building stronger communities where everyone has an opportunity to succeed. It’s an ambitious goal, and we’ll be honest: it will never happen if we only push for solutions for a select few. When we fight to improve life for people of every color, creed, gender, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, and nation of origin, we can affect sweeping change that benefits us all.

Improving Relations between Police and Communities

In the wake of unrest across the nation, including the communities of Ferguson, Missouri and Madison, Wisconsin, United Way of Dane County partnered with the NAACP and the Dane County Chiefs of Police Association to create a set of new recommendations. The use of force recommendations form a call to action for all local law enforcement agencies to examine their practices. The Special Community/Police Task Force’s 35-page report, intended to improve relationships between police and communities of color, offers four main recommendations:

  • Change key policing practices that will reduce excessive use of force (e.g., allowing the use of Tasers in more situations)
  • Police Academy training (e.g., training officers to become equally competent in de-escalation and weapons use)
  • Engage and educate the community (e.g., increase public awareness about certain behaviors more likely to trigger police use of force)
  • Ensure the well-being of officers (e.g., new practices and work schedules to help police officers decompress and deal with everyday trauma)

The members of the task force are the first to admit the report is not going to fully solve this critical and complex issue, but they are confident it is a significant and essential step forward. They also plan to issue future reports on implicit bias and diversity inside police departments.

Support for Homeless LGBTQ Youth

As we look back on 2015, it’s worth remembering that while we’ve made great strides toward equality, we still have a long way to go before we can truly call ourselves united. LGBTQ people face all kinds of challenges every day, and they need our love and support, every day.

For example, did you know that 40% of homeless youth served by agencies in the United States identify themselves as LGBTQ? These kids often become homeless because they’re fleeing discrimination and rejection. Once they’re on the streets, however, they end up facing a greater risk of violence and exploitation than their straight peers.

In Minneapolis, through Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Arise Project focuses on LGBTQ youth homelessness. The giving community, sponsored by 3M, supports local agencies that connect LGBTQ youth with housing, peer support, leadership opportunities and counseling. In 2015, they placed 150 LGBTQ youth in housing and referred another 450 to essential services and resources provided by partner agencies.

No one should resort to living on the streets because of who they love. Together, we’re working toward a future where no one ever has to.

Syrian Refugees in Canada

The Syrian civil war has forced more than four million Syrian citizens to flee their country. Member nations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have pledged to accept more than 170,000 refugees, including Canada, which has resettled 25,000 refugees so far.

In some regions of Canada, United Way’s 2-1-1 referral and information telephone helpline and website has become a crucial resource for Canadians who wish to help Syrian refugees, either by donating goods and services or volunteering to sponsor a Syrian family. In Nova Scotia, calls to 2-1-1 increased by more than 50% as more Canadians reach out to learn how they can assist their new neighbors. Increasingly, Syrian refugees have been making use of 2-1-1 to get connected to essential resources, including housing, language classes, skills development, and employment opportunities.

Rescuing Children from Sex Trafficking

In 2014, former President Jimmy Carter appeared before a group of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s women leaders. In his remarks, President Carter spoke forcefully about the scourge of human trafficking – especially in Atlanta, which the FBI ranks as among the top 14 American cities in sheer volume of children bought and sold for sex.

The women leaders in attendance were inspired to take the issue on as their signature cause. Throughout 2015, they passionately advocated before lawmakers and raised awareness about the issue. As a result of their efforts, the Georgia state legislature voted in favor of the Safe Harbor YES Amendment, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would create a Sexually Exploited Children Fund permanently dedicated to providing care and services for child victims of sex trafficking.1

The fund would be directed toward services urgently needed for children rescued from sex slavery, including treatment for physical and psychological abuse and trauma. It would NOT mean a tax on Georgia taxpayers; instead, penalties on sex traffickers and fees on the adult entertainment industry would finance this crucial work.

The need is clear: the average age for children forced into sex slavery is 12-14, and many are as young as nine years old. The lives of these innocent kids are marred by violence, forced drug abuse, and constant fear. The good news is this is a fight we can win – if we band together.

1 Having passed the state legislature, the Safe Harbor YES amendment will appear on the ballot in Georgia on November 8, 2016.

More about Our Mission to End Modern Slavery

Experts estimate that there are nearly 30 million victims of human trafficking around the world – today. This evil institution is not a relic of another century; slavery is alive and well in every country of the world and in all 50 U.S. states. Indeed, there are more victims of slavery today than anytime in human history.

Victims of modern slavery come from every walk of life. They are men, women, boys, and girls. They are exploited for free labor and commercial sex, either through force, fraud, or coercion.

We can be the generation that ends slavery, once and for all.

On June 23, 2015, United Way Worldwide brought together more than 120 nonprofits, faith-based groups and government leaders for the opening of the United Way Center on Human Trafficking & Slavery.

We’re advocating for new laws, and more government funding to enforce those laws. Right now the U.S. government spends $120 million each year on this issue – a drop in the bucket when you consider human trafficking is a $150 billion industry.

United Way cannot end slavery on its own. We need individuals and organizations from every sector of society to join the fight. To be effective, this alliance needs an honest broker that can bring people together in common cause and drive results – all around the world. For more than 125 years, United Way has proven itself as a leader with the influence and trusted brand needed to be that unifying force.

More about United Way Women Leaders

United Way has built a vibrant, diverse community of 70,000 women leaders who leverage their time, talent and resources to improve lives in over 160 markets. Since 2002, women leaders have raised more than $1 billion to create stronger communities – communities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they joined with the local United Way and other local partners to cut the teen pregnancy rate by 56% in six years. Groups of United Way’s women leaders are active in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, United Kingdom and France.

Health Insurance for Immigrant Children

Today, 17,000 lawfully residing immigrant children in Florida now have access to quality health care, thanks to the collective efforts of all 32 United Ways in the state and a legislature that rallied to provide bipartisan support for much-needed change.

Previously, Florida statute required a five-year waiting period for lawfully residing immigrant children to enroll in the Florida KidsCare program. That’s five years too many for kids who can’t possibly succeed in school if they’re too sick to show up to class. And it’s five years too many for children whose very lives may depend on the medication and care now available to them, because of a community that came together to protect the most vulnerable among us.


In the wake of unrest in Baltimore, United Way of Central Maryland, UPS and more than 40 other companies teamed up to deliver 400 boxes of essential supplies to area senior centers and elementary schools.

This joint effort between United Way and UPS is the latest success in a decades-long partnership to build stronger communities. Just ask Felix Gunto, long-time UPS driver and United Way volunteer. When he's not working, he collects 8,000 to 10,000 toys a year (mainly from other UPS employees) and donates them to local hospitals. Like many UPS drivers, he was happy to help the citizens of Baltimore in their time of need. "The community needed this", he told us. “People will rebound. You saw people in the streets giving back. People believe in making this a better place. I've lived in Baltimore my whole life. I love Baltimore."

United Way of Central Maryland also used crowd fundraising on mobile devices to raise $500,000 to support affected neighborhoods. Their text call-to-action helped make it easy for people to get involved. Since then, they’ve run additional mobile campaigns, including Harvest of Plenty, which helped provide Thanksgiving meals to 4,000 local families in need.