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Leading the Charge 2017

FIGHTING FOR YOUR FINANCIAL FREEDOM

In a year marked by political division, local United Ways, partners and supporters rallied together to advocate for communities, fight for individuals and pave the way for impact at scale. From letters to Congress and Capitol Hill Days to targeted outreach and social media campaigns, we raised the volume on issues impacting lives across the nation. We’re proudest of our work to restore funding for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

VITA is a model public-private partnership that provides huge returns on investments for individuals and communities. Most VITA clients earn an annual household income of less than $40,000 and come from under- served communities. Often, clients can access critical working-family tax credits, allowing them to keep more of what they earn. Approximately 380 United Ways fund, operate or support VITA sites. As a network, we invest $17.4 million in VITA and other free tax-preparation initiatives each year.

But this summer, funding for VITA was under threat. The budget was cut  in half from $15 million to just $7.5 million. In response, United Ways educated lawmakers on the important role VITA plays in their communities, and asked for a restoration of funding. After collaborating with national partners and allies on Capitol Hill, and engagement on a local level, our message got through—funding was fully restored. United Way’s leading voice on VITA was again recognized when Karina Ron, director of the United Way Center for Financial Stability in Miami, was invited to testify before Congress about VITA. She shared her experiences with VITA clients and volunteers’ experiences with the program.

MAKING WAVES WITH WOMEN UNITED

Maria Blet is more than just a member of her Miami community—she’s an architect of its future. Maria and her 70,000+ peers in Women United have strengthened their communities by investing $1.5+ billion since 2002. Across 165 communities around the world, these women leaders are raising their voices for better policy, leveraging their leadership for local causes and volunteering to make a mark.

“As part of Women United, I get to connect with Miami’s most dynamic, caring and driven group of women,” said Maria, an immediate past chair of the Women United Global Leadership Council. “Connecting with smart, passionate and powerful women in my community to do good together not only builds my professional and personal network, it enriches my perspective—all while I’m giving back.”

That giving has created real change this year. In Wisconsin Rapids, United Way of Inner Wisconsin’s Women United launched the Learning for Life Reading Mentor Program, which matched volunteers with students from five elementary schools to help them read at a proficient level by third grade. And in Maine, United Way of Greater Portland’s Women United announced a $100,000, multi-year investment in two-generation strategies exclusively for single mothers and their children.

In Illinois, United Way of Champaign County’s Women United helped women attend college and achieve financial independence, while also bringing 73 families out of homelessness. And in Hawaii, Aloha United Way’s Women United supported victims of domestic violence; worked to improve maternal, child and family health; and assisted women with basic needs like wellness, housing and employment. Women United is making waves by giving, advocating and volunteering to impact their communities.

YOUTH LEADERSHIP IN ACTION

For many high school students, the thought of preparing for— or even affording—college can be daunting. From the scholarship application process to financial aid, pursuing higher education is a complicated process. For teenagers in Atlanta, it’s especially difficult.

In Georgia, 16.5 percent of youth (ages 16–24) are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market. An inability to access critical financial and postsecondary support is a contributing factor. Committed to curbing this trend, Youth United—United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Student United Way— partnered with United Way LINC® to host a college-readiness workshop. Their goal: to equip students with the knowledge, tools and networks they need to excel in and outside of the classroom.

Held in September, the event brought 18 young professionals and 20 high school students together for a day of experience sharing and skills-building. The learning kicked off with a speed-networking activity, where participants were taught how to navigate the interview process, and a panel discussion with speakers from high school, college and local industries. Group breakouts followed, with each student creating a college resource guide filled with scholarship deadlines, SAT dates and other notes.

This workshop is just one example of youth leadership in action. Every year, Student United Way, United Way LINC and Young Leaders Society members are helping people in need. Whether they’re leading health-awareness campaigns, conducting food-collection drives or running marathons for a community cause, today’s young leaders are stepping up to build a better world.

MAKING EVERY DAY A DAY OF ACTION

United Way makes it easy for people to improve lives through volunteerism. Every June 21, during United Way Day of Action, volunteers come together to create lasting solutions to local issues. From distributing books to under-resourced schools and packing nutritious meals for hungry families, to providing job training for youth, each action contributes to stronger communities.

This year, tens of thousands of volunteers joined 450+ United Ways from 19 countries to fight for the health, education and financial stability of their neighbors. A valuable opportunity for employee engagement, Day of Action inspired thousands of employees from local and regional companies to get involved, along with 60 Global Corporate Leadership partners, including Bank of America and UPS. From financial donations to workplace campaigns, volunteers gave back so others can get ahead.

With a focus on education, United Way South Africa partnered with Eli Lilly and Company to bring together 50 employees from different corporations to pack 200 school bags for children in the Gauteng province. United Way Peru mobilized 300 volunteers from 14 companies to help restore a school damaged by a natural disaster. United Way of Kern County volunteers distributed 2,600 books to homes and libraries in their California community. And Fondo Unido México partnered with 3M México to promote STEM skills through curriculum from the Smithsonian Institute, which was adapted for Mexico by INNOVEC. The program lasted throughout the school year, impacting 74 teachers and 2,164 children across 10 schools.

From a financial stability perspective, Souris Valley United Way volunteers collected and distributed more than 18,000 diapers and 38,500 wipes to North Dakota families who couldn’t afford them. And in Idaho, United Way of Treasure Valley volunteers delivered thousands of resources for homebound seniors, as well as individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and collected 92,500 books for children in need. Health was a priority for United Way of Regina volunteers, who created 10 pallet gardens to provide individuals in Canada with nutritious food. And in Utah, United Way of Salt Lake organized 350+ volunteers to assemble 1,000 hygiene kits for 1,275 homes and schools.

These are just a few examples of how United Way, our corporate partners and community members joined forces on June 21 to create meaningful experiences. You don’t have to wait until the next Day of Action to make a mark in your community. Ask your local United Way about volunteer opportunities by visiting www.unitedway.org/find-your-united-way today.