Started in 1887 by five individuals in Denver, Colorado, the United Way of America is a non-profit organization whose outreach has now expanded from a national level to a worldwide level, reaching through 45 countries and territories. Their mission is simple; to mobilize individuals to give, advocate, and volunteer to promote positive growth in their communities. (United Way, 2013). To do this, the organization breaks up their programs into three different categories – education, income, and health. Each sector possesses their own set of goals and objectives as well as different methods of how to achieve these milestones.
United Way invests heavily in the education of young people, as exhibited by their extensive list of education geared programs. One way the organization strives to combat the rising high school drop-out rates is by fostering academic readiness in the child’s early years of development. United Way see the importance of quality childcare, early intervention, and family support. Born Learning is a project launched by the United Way. The campaign and website are intended to provide a tool for parents and caregivers of young children.
Born Learning promotes awareness, education, and action towards the early development of young children by providing educational materials and research-driven products through a grassroots network (Born Learning, 2013). On a more concentrated level, the United Way unit in Chattanooga, Tennessee created a resource center including 23 mini-libraries and a mobile reading van for low income families to develop the critical skills children need upon entering the public school system (United Way of Greater Chattanooga, 2013). Another project supported by the United Way is the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading that seeks to create proficient readers by third and fourth grade.
A collaborative effort, the Campaign advocates for children of low-income families to reach literacy through promoting school readiness, combating chronic absences, and demolishing summer learning loss through continuous programs (The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, 2013). The education section of the United Way not only focuses on young children, but young adults as well. By collaborating with organizations such as America’s Promise and Ready by 21, mentor programs for middle school and high school students were developed. Since then, the United Way has seen an increase in the amount of student participants advancing to the next grade level (United Way, 2013). By establishing a positive attitude towards school and preparing students for learning, the United Way has been able to make a difference in the education of many students.
Education is the foundation of a fruitful community. However, financial stability is also an important aspect and the United Way recognizes this. The organization outlines the five factors that drive their progress – family sustaining employment, income support, savings and assets, manageable expenses, and affordable housing (“United Way’s Income Strategies and Approaches”, 2010). There are over 300 sections of the United Way geared specifically towards financial stability for low income families. Throughout these, there are various projects that are utilized to achieve this goal.
To promote the placement of individuals into family sustaining employment, the United Way provide opportunities for career and technical education programs. In addition, the organization works to connect low income family members with jobs that provide compensation steady enough to support a family. To make this possible for everyone, the organization provides public and private income supports including transportation and childcare to ensure that adult members of the family are able to work. In an effort to combat homelessness, United Ways have programs which assist low income families in obtaining transitional, supportive, or publicly-funding housing. When it comes to income support, the United Way also assists families in acquiring the services they need through education, enrollment support, and referral.
In order to keep these families stable once they have acquired employment, housing, and income support, the organization also educates the families on how to maintain management expenses. By equipping them with knowledge, the programs prepare families to make educated buying decisions. The program also strives to help families reduce debt and fix their credit scores (“United Way’s Income Strategies and Approaches”, 2010).
Another aspect of maintaining financial stability that the United Way focuses on is the garnering of savings and assets. Teaching families how to save is an important part of the income section of the United Way. Providing financial education including the utilization of direct deposit, saving mechanisms on tax returns, and long-term investments are all intended to promote financial stability and independence that will extend towards the families future.
Last but certainly not least, the United Way puts a strong emphasis on the importance of health in our nation. The main goal of the health section of the organization is to ensure that everybody – regardless of medical condition, socioeconomic background, or even age – has access of affordable and quality care (United Way, 2013). Additionally, the United Way strives to educate individuals belonging to all age groups on health risks and ways to shield themselves from unnecessary effects of risky behavior. This is in an attempt to increase the amount of young people as well as adults who are healthy by the organization’s goal date of 2018 (United Way, 2013). The organization works to change policy and practices of health care coverage through advocacy.
However, as with the education and income levels of the organization, equipping individuals with knowledge is the goal of these programs. Projects such as the Healthy Zone School Recognition Program first established in the Dallas sector of the United Way sets up initiatives for schools to instill healthy practices on campus. Practices that can earn the school designations from the program include promotion of a healthy lifestyle, development of physical activities, and the serving of nutritionally sound meals (Healthy Zone School, 2013).
The United Way also focuses on the mental aspect of overall health. In a collaborative effort, the United Way participates in the Creating Community Solutions project that promotes awareness about mental illness and encourages discussion on how to solve community based issues stemming from this topic (Creating Community Solutions, 2013). Through various projects, the United Way promotes overall health, including physical, mental, and emotional.
As a non-profit organization, the United Way is funded through donations, investments, fundraising, and sponsors. Many work places have a pledging option where an individual is able to donate directly through their work compensation. This includes a write-in option or a percentage to be donated throughout a time period. Without funding, the United Way would not be able to support the various projects it does. Through visibility and awareness, the organization has become a successful supplement for families. With projects that are able to fulfill educational, financial, and health needs of families, the United Way is on a clear path to achieving its mission: to foster positive growth within communities.