Bergen County’s United Way (BCUW) in New Jersey is where I started my non-profit career 24 years ago this month. It turned into my longest tenure at a job, and I have often wondered why I left.
The experiences I had in the non-profit sector, the people I encountered, and the impact on numerous causes I feel I had post BCUW, proved to be extremely rewarding. So, no regrets. Although now having an opportunity to once again be part of the United Way’s work here in Chicago is truly satisfying.
United Way, for over 100 years, has been helping people and making communities better. United Way convenes other non-profits poised to tackle the issues unique to each community, fosters collaboration to solve problems, and raises the resources needed.
It’s never one issue, one disease, or lack of investment in a single area that causes deterioration in the quality of life for some. And this is why the United Way’s collaborative approach is so needed.
The United Way network is made up of nearly 1,800 autonomous 501c3 organizations, each governed and funded locally. The network spans more than 40 countries and territories and 6 continents. It serves 61 million people across the globe, fueled by 2.9 million volunteers and 8.3 million donors (United Way Worldwide, click on link to find the United Way that serves your community).
I felt very fortunate to be working with United Way in the suburbs of New York City on September 11, 2001 and the days, weeks and months that followed. Our response to our community in crisis was important work that gave me a sense of purpose.
Now here in Chicago, amid a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected our country and more accurately has disproportionately affected low-income families, I feel I can make an impact.
Each local United Way knows it’s community, it’s resources, and what it needs to thrive. United Way is uniquely positioned to bring together community-based non-profits, government leaders, businesses, and individuals to tackle issues.
The United Way of Metro Chicago (UWMC) has been focused on two areas:
- Programs and Partnerships that work across our region to provide for the health, education, financial stability and crisis intervention for our most vulnerable residents;
- Neighborhood Networks which focuses our work on a number of targeted neighborhoods.
39% of households in Cook County struggle to meet their most basic needs. In Lake County it’s 32%, and in DuPage County 30% of households are classified as “ALICE” – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are the families of four with household incomes less than $28.57 an hour. This is 2017 data, so well before the pandemic.
“ALICE households are the backbone of our communities, working hard but forced to make tough choices, such as deciding between quality childcare or paying the rent, which have long-term consequences not only for ALICE, but for all.”(LiveUnitedChicago.org)
Through our Programs and Partnerships, UWMC is committed to…
…improving access to quality health care by supporting organizations that help people navigate insurance options and connect them with primary care physicians, preventative programs and mental health services.
…ensuring all kids have access to quality pre-K and after-school enrichment programs, prevention interventions, and physical and mental health services.
…increasing financial stability by focusing on job training, financial literacy and tax assistance for residents who need it most.
…working with social service providers to ensure fundamental needs are met—such as food, housing and safety from abuse.
This is also the population hit hardest by the pandemic. Job loss. Inadequate nutrition and healthcare. Lack of resources for children’s online learning. Lack of childcare for essential workers. Fear of eviction.
United Way of Metro Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Community Trust and the City of Chicago created the Chicago COVID-19 Relief Fund and began making grants before the end of March. In the first three months of the pandemic, thanks to the generosity of foundations, business, and individuals like you, close to $25 million was dispersed to our non-profit partners doing the work on the front lines. For more on the Chicago Community COVID-19 Relief Fund, click here.
One remarkable initiative coming out of the COVID-19 response is Chicago Connected which will assure that Chicago Public School students have high-speed internet access. Not just for the duration of the pandemic but for four years! The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the city’s digital divide and this program will give students the ability to participate in remote learning and increase their digital literacy. For more on this program, click here.
We were able to respond quickly to this crisis because of the work we were already doing within our partnerships and neighborhoods across the city.
Since 2013, our Neighborhood Network approach has been helping targeted neighborhoods solve problems. There are currently ten Neighborhood Networks each led by a “Community Quarterback” – a lead agency already working within the neighborhood with an understanding of the needs and how best to create needed change.
It’s a “for and by the community” approach that empowers neighborhoods to create the kind of place they want to live and work. United Way provides the resources. We don’t tell them what to do. Only they know what’s best for their community.
“As Chicagoans, we have a great love for our neighborhoods across the city and suburbs. There is plenty to celebrate, but the zip code you live in can have a significant impact on your access to opportunities. By tackling issues—neighborhood by neighborhood—we can stabilize our community and improve the quality of life for all our neighbors across the entire region. A community-led approach, supported by both the public and private sectors, will help ensure all residents can thrive.”(LiveUnitedChicago.org)
The United Way’s ability to create stronger neighborhoods, and respond to our neighbors in crisis, is limited only by the resources we can raise. This is where you come in. We cannot do it without the generosity of our communities. When United Way comes to your workplace this fall, please be as generous as you can be. Your neighbors need you!