Lend Your Voice to the 2015 Legislative Session Starting Tomorrow

March 2, 2015

Advocacy is about championing a cause. It’s about taking time to understand the issues, promoting them to friends and family, and increasing awareness of important issues. It’s about lending your voice to people whose voices are seldom heard – children, the elderly, those who are down on their luck.

As the 2015 Legislative Session gets underway tomorrow, here is what Heart of Florida United Way has identified as priority issues for our neighbors in need.

  • Provide access to high quality early learning programs for children. Early learning, as well as early detection and treatment of childhood developmental and behavioral challenges, sets the foundation for a lifetime of success. Read more.
  • Expand access to free tax preparation and financial education programs. Helping hard-working Floridians attain and maintain self-sufficiency is good for the economy and results in more stable and well-functioning families. Read more.
  • Expand access to healthcare for all Floridians. Access to affordable health coverage for all Floridians will improve educational outcomes, result in a healthier and more productive workforce, and prevent Floridians from paying hidden taxes through increased healthcare costs. Read more.

Achieving real, sustained change in community conditions requires the engagement of everyday citizens as well as policy leaders and decision makers at the local, state and national level. As a community advocate, you can play an important role in influencing outcomes that directly improve our neighbors’ lives. Here are 4 easy ways to get involved:

  1. Review United Way’s 2015 Consensus Legislative Agenda.2015 Legislative Session cover image
  2. Write a letter or email to elected officials representing your area to let them know about your priorities.
  1. Submit a 30-second video to advocate@hfuw.org explaining how our legislative priorities impact your life.
  2. Share key issues and articles with your social media networks to help educate your peers on important community issues.

Got lunch plans on Wednesday?

February 16, 2015

We’ve got spirit! Yes, we do! We’ve also got tacos… How about you?

Tijuana Flats is hosting a Spirit Night benefiting United Way’s Dress2Learn, a clothing program for homeless students. Generously, 20% of proceeds from customers who bring in the flier below to one of the three locations on Feb. 18 (11 a.m. – 9 p.m.) will be donated to Dress2Learn.

Stop by with your colleagues or family to pig out and pitch in to help homeless children in Orange and Osceola counties. Can’t make it out? Share on Facebook or Twitter to let your network know!


  • 8 N. Summerlin Ave.(In Thornton park at the corner of Central Blvd. & Summerlin Ave.)
  • 7608 University Blvd. (Winn Dixie shopping plaza at University and Goldenrod)
  • 7560 W. Sand Lake Rd. (Publix Shopping Center)

Dress2Learn Spirit Day

Volunteer Spotlight: Malcolm Barnes, Duke Energy

January 15, 2015

Since he was a kid, Malcolm Barnes, now Residential Markets Operations Leader for Duke Energy, had a giving spirit … whether he knew it or not. Malcolm and his sister would walk with his grandmother through his neighborhood picking up aluminum cans. They made a game of it, as children do. What they didn’t realize until later was why they were doing this. They weren’t just spending time with their grandmother, they were also giving back. The money collected from the cans was donated to the church. This memory has inspired Malcolm through the years to be giving of time, energy and treasure.

2015-Newsletter-Windows-Malcolm-BarnesHow did you first become involved in United Way?

It all starts with my grandmother. She made a strong impression on me. It was very important to her to give back to the community in whatever way you can. She set that example for me as a kid. As I got older, I looked for ways to give back, both financially and through sweat equity. United Way was always there in our community. Through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about all the work United Way does behind the scenes, which made it more of a focus for me. Now, I’m a board member and very involved in the Duke Energy campaign.

You were honored as the 2013-14 Phenomenal Executive Champion at last year’s Live United Victory Celebration. What is your philosophy when it comes to inspiring others?

To make it personal. First, you have to understand that philanthropy is a very personal choice. We aren’t there to tell people how much to give. We’re here to help them understand the level of need in our community. As leaders, we have an obligation to share that message and increase awareness.

The second piece is that you have to share personal stories. Everyone in our building either knows someone or has been helped by United Way themselves. Even our CEO shared a story of being helped by United Way, which was an eye-opener to many staff.

By sharing these stories, you wind up with testimonials from everyone – the CEO, all the way down – who have been impacted by United Way. It brings a different perspective of how far United Way reaches and allows people to make up their own minds about giving.

Which of United Way’s focus areas (Education, Income, Health or Basics Needs) hits closest to home for you?

Having a high school daughter, I think student homelessness is one of the biggest issues we face. It brought the issue much closer when my daughter told me she knows students in her class who are homeless. They’re hungry and don’t have the tools they need. High school is hard enough as it is for a young person, without having to deal with such adult issues. I think homelessness is a huge need in Central Florida, but especially among children.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest value United Way brings to our community?

United Way has the ability to get the most good out of the dollars it’s given. Instead of donors researching all the nonprofits they could potentially give to, United Way vets them for you. United Way is a giving outlet for all causes… education, financial stability, homelessness, you name it. You’re able to give to United Way and know that your dollar is going to be used by a reliable agency to impact many important causes in our community.

How do the issues United Way is addressing overlap with your perspective as a businessman?

The interconnectedness of all the causes. They have to be aligned. We call it a balance solution, but the principle goes back to the old “three legged stool” example. To be successful as a whole, we must have balance in the areas of education, income, health and basic needs. If you’re just satisfying one, the stool won’t stand. They all have to be supported.

What one word would you use to describe United Way?

“Opportunity.” United Way provides opportunities – not just for young people in schools, but all throughout our community.

Lots of Donations Make for Happier, Healthier Babies

December 5, 2014


Basics for Babies items being sorted by McGladrey volunteers.



Hundreds of packages of wipes, diapers, formula and other infant essentials are being sorted and boxed as Heart of Florida United Way wraps up its annual Basics for Babies supply drive. This community-wide effort benefits at-risk mothers struggling to provide basic care items for their infants. The drive, which launches in October, calls upon local businesses, churches and social groups, to set up drop-off locations for a fairly short list of items. Requested items include diapers, wipes, formula, new infant clothes, blankets and baby books.

The drive ends in early December, at which point dozens of McGladrey volunteers come together at United Way to sort through the 11,748 diapers, 32,308 wipes and 1,253 other assorted items collected. The items from this year’s drive, which ended today, were assembled into care packages and then distributed to the partner agencies that work most closely with at-risk mothers:

Beta Center
Harbor House of Central Florida
SafeHouse of Seminole
Salvation Army of Orlando
Help Now of Osceola, Inc.
Heart of Florida United Way Emergency Homelessness Services.

The cost of diapers alone is a hardship for lower income mothers. At least one study estimates that a single working mother earning minimum wage would spend more than 6% of her gross income on diapers alone. Basics for Babies helps to provide much needed relief for these families, and it helps keep babies healthier as it prevents mothers from being forced into re-using diapers. The estimated fair market value for everything collected during the 2014 drive is $13,853.92.

The ALICE Report

November 19, 2014

Cover imageThe phrase “working poor” can elicit images of someone who is severely under-employed and living at the federal poverty line. But a new report released by United Way says not only is that picture inaccurate, the phrase “working poor” is inaccurate.

Developed by Rutgers University, the report calls attention to a population it refers to as ALICE, an acronym for ASSET LIMITED, INCOME CONSTRAINED, EMPLOYED. Set aside the jargon, and what’s being talked about are workers, some with families, who earn either just enough to get by, or are not quite making ends meet. These are everyday people who hold jobs as hospitality workers, daycare teachers, landscapers and so on. Their incomes simply don’t meet the cost of living.

“We all know ALICE,” says Heart of Florida United Way President and CEO Robert H. (Bob) Brown. “ALICE is the recent college graduate unable to afford to live on his or her own, the young family strapped by child care costs and the mid-career professional now underemployed. These folks are vital to our future economic well-being, and they face barriers beyond their control frustrating their ability to become financially stable.”

More than 203,000 tri-county households fall into what United Way calls the ALICE population. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living. This is more than double those considered in poverty by federal standards, which accounts for over 101,000 households in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. Combined, ALICE and poverty households, account for about half of all households in Central Florida.

According to the United Way ALICE report, 45 percent of Florida households are struggling to afford food, housing, childcare and transportation. However, a closer look at local numbers tells an even stronger story of hardship.

• Nearly 50% of Central Florida families do not earn enough to consistently cover the basic living expenses highlighted by the ALICE Threshold.

• 69% of all jobs in FL pay less than $20 an hour and most pay between $10 and $15 an hour. The jobs forecast shows that low-skill and low-paying jobs will dominate Florida’s future if the economy continues on its current trajectory.

• Of the ALICE population in Osceola County, 47% are homeowners and 1/3 of homeowners are cost burdened (pay more than 35% of their income on their mortgage). Likewise, in Orange County 39% of the ALICE population owns homes, with 29% cost burdened; and in Seminole County 34% own with 27% cash burdened.

• A significant majority of households below the ALICE threshold rent (69% Orange County, 62% Seminole County, 71% Osceola County). Approximately half of all renters are cost burdened (pay more than 35% of their income on their rent).

• Central Florida needs more than 95,000 affordable rental units to meet the current demand for affordable homes, with more than 65,000 of those needed in Orange County.

• Florida became less affordable from 2007 to 2012. Despite the Great Recession the cost of basic housing, child care, transportation, food and healthcare increased by 13%.

• Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties all rank in the bottom 1/3 of counties in Florida for overall housing affordability, with Orange County being the 4th worst in the state.

• Orange, Seminole and Osceola all rank in the top 1/3 of counties in Florida for job creation.

This is a population that United Way has been serving for over 75 years, but this new report sharpens the focus on the overall economic health of our community, which could ultimately lead to improvements for ALICE. Awareness can bring business and community leaders together to find workable solutions to affordable housing, affordable childcare, affordable healthcare and access to transportation that can help bring incomes more in line with the cost of living.

United Ways in six states commissioned Rutgers University-Newark, School of Public Affairs and Administration to conduct the ALICE research. The report was funded by grants from AT&T, Atlantic Health System, Deloitte, FamilyWize, Novartis, Post Foods, and The UPS Foundation.

Step Right Up! Volunteer Carnival Teaches Importance of Giving Back

April 26, 2012

GIVE. ADVOCATE. VOLUNTEER. This is the credo that Heart of Florida United Way lives by and this weekend’s Step Right Up! volunteer carnival was a perfect illustration of this belief.

Despite threatening weather, nearly 350 people came out with their family, friends and co-workers to help make a difference by participating in hands-on volunteer projects and learning about volunteer needs in the Central Florida community.

Each of event’s onsite volunteer projects supported United Way’s focus on Building Safe Communities through Education. They included assembling 150 “Hi-5” food packs for children served by Second Harvest Food Bank, 225 letter of encouragement written to students served by the Interfaith School Turnaround Project, creating 150 education kits for the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County, packaging 198 hygiene kits for Clean the World, and sending 68 personal emails to local elected official, urging their support of education funding.  

Guests also had a chance to learn about ongoing volunteer opportunities by visiting 25 booths staffed by local nonprofit agencies. Other fun activities included a bounce house, dunk tank and interactive presentations by the Orlando Police Department’s K-9, mounted patrol, motorcycle and SWAT team units.  

While helping guests draft e-mails to support school funding, I was taken aback by the large number of volunteers wanting to participate. Many were teachers or parents who understood the value of education, including one mother who took time to read the e-mail to her six-year-old daughter. When the little girl asked why anyone would want to cut school funding, the mother replied, “Because people like you and I are not asking them not to.”

For me, this moment really exemplified the importance of being engaged in the community, advocating for what you believe in and showing that making a difference can start at any age.

All in all, Step Right Up! turned out to be a great success, full of food, prizes, volunteerism and advocacy that showed Central Floridians how easy and fun it is to be engaged in the community. 

To view more photos from Step Right Up!, visit United Way’s Facebook page. To learn more about volunteering through Heart of Florida United Way, click here.

Katrina Ganzler
United Way 2-1-1, Marion County Liaison
Heart of Florida United Way


United Way’s First-Ever Statewide Legislative Agenda Supports Positive Change for Children, the Elderly and Volunteers

February 8, 2012

For the first time ever, United Way organizations across Florida, including Heart of Florida United Way, have joined together in a unified effort to advocate for legislative issues that are of critical importance to the communities they serve.

As outlined in the 2012 Florida United Way Consensus Legislative Agenda, these priority issues include:

  • Creation of a comprehensive background screening system that ensures the protection of children, seniors and other vulnerable groups without excessively impeding volunteers, nonprofit agencies and others who provide assistance.
  • Maximizing funding for Community Based Care for the Elderly and Home Care for the Elderly.
  • Providing greater access to high-quality school readiness programs for Florida’s children.

“Supporting these three issues will ensure that volunteerism can continue to thrive; the elderly can live with dignity and with less cost to the state; and our future work force will be improved,” said Ted Granger, President of the United Way of Florida. “At the same time, they will save taxpayer costs for nursing home placements, juvenile justice, crime fighting, corrections, education and more. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The agenda, drafted by a statewide panel of community, business and nonprofit leaders, addresses some of the most pressing problems facing all Floridians, according to Robert H. (Bob) Brown, HFUW President and CEO. “The breadth of United Ways’ relationships across all sectors of the communities they serve ensures that the Consensus Agenda is not a special interest agenda, but is an agenda ‘of the people,’” he said.

For additional information about United Way’s 2012 public policy agenda, click here. To learn how you lend your voice and make a difference, e-mail advocate@hfuw.org.

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