Budget Halloween Costumes

October 8, 2015

Budget-Halloween-CostumesThe countdown to Halloween has begun. Soon ghosts and ghouls will be roaming the streets, asking the age old question: “Trick or treat?” In the buzz of costume hunting, candy collecting and visiting haunted houses, it’s easy to lose track of your budget. However, Halloween is a great opportunity for DIY which can add up to huge savings. Instead of spending big bucks on a store made costume for your children, check out some of these wallet-friendly, classic ideas:

  • With the zombie craze still going strong, this is a popular choice with lots of creative options. Either go to the thrift store or raid your child’s closet for items that are no longer worn or have been outgrown, then have fun destroying them! Cut holes, roll in the mud and add fake blood (try mixing corn syrup, red food coloring and cocoa powder) to “zombify” the outfit. Put some dark eye shadow under your child’s eyes and have fun practicing their zombie walk.
  • Secret Agent Spy. Stop by the thrift store for a black jacket and pants for your child. To complete the outfit, get some fun accessories such as a pair of dark sunglasses or briefcase. Build up your child’s spy arsenal with an old watch to act a secret communication device.
  • Stick Man. This costume requires a white shirt and pants, black duct or electrical tape, a paper plate and some string. Use the tape to create a line down the front of the shirt to create the body, and lines for the arms and legs. Draw a simple smiley face on the paper plate, cut out eye holes, and use the string to hold it in place.

If instead of the classics your trick-or-treater is looking for something more “of the moment,” there are plenty of options to recreate outfits without having to go over budget. Here are a few ideas:

  • Joy from Inside Out. With Inside Out coming out to DVD soon, Joy is a great emotion to feel and emulate in costume. Check thrift stores for a yellow dress and spruce it up with some blue glitter paint. Pick up a can of blue hair spray from the dollar store or party store and your child will jump with joy at the great costume.
  • Charlie Brown. The Peanuts Movie is due out later this year which means Charlie Brown has begun to make a comeback. All that is needed for this costume is a yellow t-shirt or polo, black pants and black duct (or electrical) tape. Use the tape to create the zig-zag pattern along the bottom of the shirt. To really spruce up this costume, use a washable black marker to draw the curly hair on your Charlie’s forehead and have your child carry a white stuffed animal dog to be faithful Snoopy.
  • Minion from Minions Movie. If your child has a yellow shirt and blue jeans, you already have half the costume ready. You can add suspenders, black gloves or a yellow stocking cap to help complete the outfit. Swing by the dollar store for safety glasses and hot glue the rims of two mason jar lids for minion goggles and your minion is ready to go!

No matter what your kids decide to be on Halloween, a little creativity will go a long way in helping keep costs low. Most thrift stores carry discounted Halloween outfits this time of year and dollar stores are packed with dress up clothes and accessories. If you have a cardboard box and some paint, there are plenty of options! No matter what the costume, the key to a successful Halloween is lots of fun at the end of the night.

Heart of Florida United Way is focused on addressing the five major building blocks of financial stability in order to provide low-income working families the services and support necessary to succeed. For more information visit www.hfuw.org or if you are in need of assistance, call 2-1-1, our 24-hour Information and Assistance helpline.


Tips to Use LinkedIn Effectively

September 29, 2015

How-to-Use-LinkedIn-EffectivelyLinkedIn can be an effective tool for job hunting, networking with like-minded professionals and opening doors that may have not opened otherwise. Of all the social media platforms, it ranks third in users, just behind Facebook and Twitter. With nearly 400 million users, it is important to utilize your profile to stand out and showcase your unique abilities and talents to potential employers. With some homework and preparation, you can build a strong LinkedIn presence:

  • Have a professional profile photo. Just by having a photo on your profile, you’re 11 times more likely to be viewed. But save the selfies for Instagram and opt to have a friend snap this photo. Dress professionally and look your best since this will be the first impression recruiters have of you, even before reading your dazzling profile info.
  • Do your research. Before you start filling out all those text boxes on your profile, take some time to research what other users have done in the same career field. Find out which titles and descriptions are used the most and utilize them. Recruiters use key words to wade through piles of profiles, so optimize your profile with those words to grab their attention.
  • Fill out your profile. All of it. While some consider LinkedIn just to be their online resume, it’s better to consider it a chance to take your resume to the next level. With LinkedIn, you aren’t limited to a single page of career history. Expand upon previous job duties, list your skills and strengths, boast your achievements, awards and volunteer work. Entice recruiters with a charming summary that paints a full picture of who you are as a person and a professional.
  • Post examples. Recently, LinkedIn has begun to offer users the opportunity to post pictures, videos and links to samples of their work. If you are a chef, post pictures that’ll make a foodie drool. If you’re a blogger, attach a link to your blog (and you might get even more readers). Post the PowerPoint presentation you spent weeks creating or the rousing speech that took a month to write. Potential employers will gravitate to those who have concrete examples of their craftsmanship.
  • Ask for recommendation from your connections. A recommendation can go a long way to potential employers. Ask previous co-workers and supervisors to write a short blurb praising your work ethic and achievements. If you don’t seem to have luck in asking someone to write a recommendation, try writing a few for others instead; oftentimes they will return the favor.
  • Join a group. Groups are a great opportunity to network outside of your personal social circle and connect with like-minded professionals across the world. If you are looking to break into a new field, this is a chance to ask experts what credentials and skills to pursue. When job hunting, group members may offer new connections or suggestions you wouldn’t have found on your own.

Heart of Florida United Way is dedicated to changing lives for the better by helping families and individuals gain access to resources they need to stay afloat and succeed financially. For more information about Heart of Florida United Way’s efforts to improve employment and financial stability in Central Florida, visit www.HFUW.org.

A Lifetime of Service:  Bill Wilson, Holland & Knight

September 24, 2015

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson,  Partner at Holland & Knight, goes beyond normal standards of dedication. First becoming involved with United Way when he was just 20 years old, Bill views United Way as an essential part of the community and an important part of his own life. Now a major contributor to Heart of Florida United Way’s Investing in Results Council and Board, Bill shares his expertise and experience to help guide United Way’s efforts to make the most impact.

What inspires you to be involved with United Way?

I have been very fortunate in my life and I firmly believe that for those to whom much has been given, much is expected. It is my duty to serve the community and help those who need it.

At the Corporate Leadership Breakfast in September, I had the opportunity to meet a woman named Madelyn who was helped by United Way. Her story was amazing and an incredible example of the kind of work United Way does. Madelyn moved to Orlando from Massachusetts and she really struggled finding a job. Her skills just weren’t translating to a good job here. She enrolled in the United Way-funded Culinary Training program at Second Harvest Food Bank and spent six months learning essential job skills. She now has a great job as a line cook at a popular Italian restaurant. She loves her job and she now has stability. That makes me proud to know I support an organization that helped make that happen.

What is the greatest community need in your opinion?

Our infrastructure is what makes it so difficult for our ALICE—Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed—population. With few affordable housing options and unreliable public transportation, it makes it so much harder to have a good job and earn and steady wage. Without a car, it’s difficult to improve one’s circumstances.

What do you think the business community can do to address this?

It will take the business community to partner with organizations like United Way and local politicians to advocate for change. We need to make access to affordable housing and transportation options a priority to help people get employed and on their feet.

What is one word you would use to sum up United Way’s work?

Opportunity. United Way is the place to connect individuals to new opportunities and personal growth.

What is one thing about United Way you think most people don’t know about?

2-1-1 is still a hidden gem. From serving veterans through Mission United to offering crisis support, 2-1-1 is a major asset to the community. 2-1-1 helps those facing unemployment, medical bills or a unexpected car repair bill and is a key service for Central Florida.

United Way at Work: Help Now of Osceola

September 23, 2015

WomanTammy Douglass, Executive Director of Help Now of Osceola, feels the importance of her work every day.

“We call ourselves the Help Now Family,” said Douglass. “We’re helping people, we’re saving lives. We’re agents of social change.”

Indeed, Help Now of Osceola’s United-Way funded Domestic Violence Prevention Program is focused on changing the cycle of abuse. The shelter is the hallmark of the program, offering a safe living space for women and children feeling threatened or in danger.

One case stands out vividly in Tammy’s mind: the story of a young woman named Jane. After moving to the area, her boyfriend had beaten her so badly her jaw had to be wired shut. Furthermore, Jane’s landlord was trying to bill her for the blood stains left in the apartment after what her abuser had done. Jane made the decision to seek help and called Help Now of Osceola, who admitted her into the shelter. Once there, Jane met with counselors to go over her situation and discuss how it impacted her emotionally. Legal advocates worked on her behalf to clear things up with Jane’s landlord and to serve an injunction against her abuser. As she progressed, Jane entered the Help Now of Osceola’s Job Club to learn new employability skills. With the help of the program, Jane was able to get a new apartment on her own, find employment and she continues to heal emotionally.

Now in safe housing, Jane is self-sufficient. Moreover, she knows more about what a healthy relationship looks like and has an increased knowledge of the warning signs of domestic violence. Thanks to Help Now of Osceola and United Way, Jane is able to get a fresh start on life.

The shelter has 52 beds, but Help Now of Osceola’s policy is to never turn anyone away who needs help. Working creatively to make space or by working with partners, they will find a safe haven for anyone who needs it. Many people come to the shelter through referrals from 2-1-1, United Way’s Information and Assistance Helpline.

The shelter is more than just a place to sleep. For those who seek help, individuals are at the shelter anywhere from just a night or two to six months. Many come to the shelter only with the clothes on their backs. After they arrive at the shelter, they get comprehensive support to help them rebuild their lives. From securing identification documents, building a career wardrobe and learning new job skills, Help Now of Osceola helps these individuals reintegrate into society and become self-sustaining.

Staffed by just 21 incredibly dedicated people, Help Now of Osceola has tremendous impact, helping 200 women and children a year through the United Way-funded program alone.

For more information about Help Now of Osceola, please visit their website. To find out more about United Way’s work in the community in the areas of education, income, health and basic needs, please visit www.hfuw.org.

Mission United PushUp Challenge

September 22, 2015

Heart of Florida United Way has announced the launch of the Mission United PushUp Challenge. The rules are simple: do 20 pushups–without resting or stopping–or donate $20 to Mission United. For more information and details, check out the video below.


7 Simple Tips to Succeed In College

September 9, 2015


7 Simple Tips to Succeed in College 

With school now well under way, it means stress is looming just around the corner. There are tests, quizzes and final exams, all while maintaining a social life. Being a successful college student is a daunting task, but doable with a little planning and preparation. Here are a few tips and tricks to start prepping now before the first exam sneaks up on you:

  • Go to class. It doesn’t get more obvious than that, but late nights and early morning classes make hitting snooze pretty appealing. Life has a tendency to get in the way and when a professor doesn’t take attendance, it’s easy to make excuses to skip class. If you want to know what you’ll need to study, it’s best to get it straight from the source.
  • Take good notes. Using a laptop or tablet makes jotting down important tidbits quick and easy, but also carries the heavy temptation of distractions, like checking emails or blowing up Twitter with #MostBoringLectureEver updates. If you are going the good old fashion route of pen and paper note-taking, use different ink colors or highlighters for marking potential vocab words, important facts or when your professor flat out says, “This is going to be on the test.”
  • Start studying now. Maybe your first test won’t be for another few weeks, but now is the perfect time to start committing information to your long term memory. Spend just a few minutes each day reviewing your notes or create a small stack of flash cards to have an easy, portable study tool to use. Set aside small chunks of time every day and when test day arrives, you’ll find most of the information is much easier to recall.
  • Find a study buddy. Get together with a classmate or two to divide and conquer the class materials. Take turns learning about different sections and teaching it to one another. When you are able to teach the subject to someone else and answer their questions, chances are you have a firm understanding of the core concept and can move onto mastering the next one.
  • Set up a study-only zone. When it comes to effective study, the key is location, location, location. Remove yourself from potential distractions by avoiding areas with televisions, radios, friends or even your phone. Conveniently, the library has already done this for you which makes it an ideal location. But if it’s after hours or you don’t live near one, find a room at home with the least ambient noise. Ideally, silence is the most conducive for effective study time.
  • Schedule your distractions. A general rule of thumb is for every hour of class, you should have two hours for studying and completing assignments. Schedule a short ten to fifteen minute break during study time to use the bathroom, move around a bit and check Facebook. Set an alarm to mark the beginning of your break so you won’t feel the need to compulsively check the clock and a second alarm to sound when it’s time to get back to work.
  • Be physically ready on exam day. It’s tempting to spend a few extra hours of cram time the night before a big test, but being bleary-eyed and exhausted during the exam is far more harmful to your grades. Avoid caffeine the night before as it stays in your system up to 8 hours and instead aim for 8 hours of sleep and getting a filling breakfast. The energy will help you power through your exam and keep your stomach from being a growling distraction.

Keep calm and test on!

Heart of Florida United Way believes education, both in and out of the classroom, is a lifelong experience and the most influential factor in ensuring a child will grow up to succeed.  To help ensure students get the education they deserve, we fund many programs that serve people from cradle through career, such as mentoring and tutoring services, literacy initiatives, food pantries, medical services and clothing. To get help, please call the 2-1-1 Information and Assistance line. For more information about how Heart of Florida United Way invests in education, visit our website.  

Credit 101

September 3, 2015


If you’ve ever applied for a loan or financing, such as when buying a car, you’ve probably been asked about your credit score. However, according to a recent survey, the majority of Americans do not know their score or what a credit report is. Your credit report is an important source of information. By understanding what it is and how to maintain or improve it, you can save money in the long run.

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a biography of your credit use. Your report has a list of all debts you have taken on, from student loans to credit cards. If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, that will show up too. Inquiries others have made into your credit — such as a landlord or car dealer checking your background — will also be listed.

Despite what ads you may see advertising credit reports for a fee, your credit report is completely free for you to access once a year. To get your free credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228.

When you get your report, check it over for any discrepancies or issues. You may find a credit card you did not open, a typo affecting your report or even evidence of identity theft. By getting your credit report, you can tackle these issues right away and get them removed from your credit report.

What is a credit score and how is it different from a credit report?

A credit score is a three digit number that is based on your credit report. The score lets lenders know your credit worthiness — that is, how likely you are to repay your debt on time. Scores range from 300 (the worst score) to 850 (the highest). The higher the score, the better off you will be. Individuals with strong credit scores — 750 or above — can get lower interest rates on loans. If you have a poor credit score, you may not be able to get a loan at all, which will limit your options when shopping for big items, like a car or a mortgage.

Several different factors affect your credit score. These include:

  • Credit utilization: This is how much you use your credit cards. The lower your credit card balance, the better.
  • On-time payments: This is how often you make your payments on time. The more on-time payments and fewer late payments, the better a candidate you are to lenders.
  • Derogatory marks: This is the amount of major issues on your report. This can include bankruptcies, accounts sent to collections, or a tax lien against you.
  • Variety of accounts: This is the different types of credit you have. Lenders like to see you can carry debt responsibly, so having a range of credit — such as a credit card and a car loan — is actually beneficial to your score.

Your credit score is not part of your free credit report. To get an actual credit score, you will need to purchase it. Reputable sites include Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

What if my score isn’t good?

Don’t panic. Your credit score isn’t set in stone and you can take steps to improve your score.

  1. Be on time: Above all, make your payments on each account on time. Even if you can only afford to pay the minimum, it’s better to pay that amount for each account on time every month.
  2. Apply for credit wisely: While credit card reward offers can be tempting, applying for several different cards will raise eyebrows for lenders. Only apply for cards you really need and if you will use it — and most importantly — will pay off it on time.
  3. Minimize your overall debt: Pay down your debt to keep your credit utilization low and your credit score up. Pay a little extra each month to bring your debt down.

Now that you know about credit reports and credit scores, get to work! Use that information to improve your credit health. It will go a long way to help you save money and protect your financial future.

Heart of Florida United Way is focused on addressing the five major building blocks of financial stability in order to provide low-income working families the services and support necessary to succeed. For more information visit www.hfuw.org or if you are in need of assistance, call 2-1-1, our 24-hour Information and Assistance helpline.

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