United Way at Work: Rad Dads Wanted

July 16, 2015


It’s a crowded party on a Thursday evening. It’s standing room only in the main area with streamers everywhere and a cake just waiting to be cut. Women, men and children of every age line the walls, crouch on the floor and huddle in every corner. It’s full of noise and smiles as songs fill the room, voices joining together.

A little girl in a tutu and a tiara begs her father to twirl her to the music. He does his best in the crowded space and she gleefully completes her ballerina spin. Father and daughter both burst into giggles as she stumbles but still finishes with a flourish and a bow.

It’s the one year anniversary of the United Way-funded Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative at the Children’s Home Society of Florida. As usual, tonight’s meeting starts off with singing with the children and playing games before the dads split off into their own group meeting in the specially designed “man cave” — a space complete with couches and television.

Designed originally as a program for expecting or new parents, the initiative helps parents learn about child development and parenting skills. Through emotional support and mentoring, the program gives new parents the foundation needed to bond with their children.

After several years of the occasional brave dad attending the predominantly female group, several got together and asked to form their own father’s section.

“Having a fathers-only peer group gives them a safe place to talk,” says Perinatal Initiative Director Jo Howard. “They can discuss issues they’re facing, questions they have and be a support network for each other.”

Topics discussed in the United Way-funded Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative often include appropriate discipline and effective techniques, communicating with a small child and common challenges new parents face as a couple. The sessions are relaxed and casual in nature, allowing for open discussion and honest exchanges.

“Our goal was maybe 15 dads for the first year,” said Howard. “But after one year, we have almost 30 dads who take part in this.”

First time parents until their first child reaches age 3 are welcome.  Many parents grew up in stressful or neglectful homes and want better for their own children. Others are simply overwhelmed and do not know what to do as parents. Either way, all parents are joined together by a common goal: To surround their children with love, safety and a nurturing environment.

United Way is focused on developing healthy children and families for the betterment of the community.  Through initiatives like the Perinatal Fatherhood Initiative, we foster supportive conditions at home, allowing all generations to thrive together and build a better life.

For more information about the Children’s Home Society of Florida, please visit www.chsfl.org.


Depression vs. the Blues

May 18, 2015

DepressionMay is Mental Health Month. As part of Heart of Florida United Way’s focus on health, we are featuring mental health articles and information on all of our social media platforms. To follow the conversation around mental health, follow us on Twitter & Facebook.

Just about everyone has had a point in their lives when they felt down or sad. But this is vastly different than the 25% of Americans who have been diagnosed with clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder. How can you tell the difference between just feeling blue and true depression? Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose you, so you should consult a doctor if you don’t feel like yourself. Differences between depression and just feeling down may include:

  • Symptoms: If you’re feeling blue, symptoms will include feelings of sadness, lack of sleep, or loss of appetite. Depression has these symptoms and more, including prolonged insomnia, significant weight loss or gain, and extreme fatigue or disinterest in regular activities.
  • Intensity: Depression is more intense than just feeling blue. If you’re feeling down, you may be sad but are still able to perform daily functions, like going to work or school and caring for your family. Those with depression may find themselves unable to function, having difficulty getting out of bed, missing school or work and doing normal chores. They also experience feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of suicide. If these feelings or thoughts occur, get help right away. Contact Heart of Florida United Way’s 2-1-1 Crisis Helpline by simply dialing 2-1-1. Staffed by trained multilingual operators 24/7, 2-1-1 is your connection to mental health services, crisis and suicide counseling and many other resources.
  • Length of Symptoms: With depression, the individual will experience depression for a prolonged period of time. People who are just feeling blue may feel sad or down for just a few days and are able to “go back to normal” afterwards. Depression can last for months or even years.
  • Cause: Feeling down is often related to life stresses or events, such as an overwhelming workload or the death of a loved one. Depression, while it can be triggered by life events, seems to instead be a result of genetics or biochemical factors, occurring without life traumas or influence.

If you experience prolonged feelings of sadness and just don’t feel like yourself, it’s important to get treatment right away. Getting appropriate care for depression can make a huge impact on quality of life.

If you are facing a mental health crisis situation or know someone in need of help, call 2-1-1, United Way’s free information and referral helpline. For more information, visit the 2-1-1 page on the Heart of Florida United Way website.

Mental Health Month & 2-1-1

May 6, 2015

MHM2015 B4Stage4 FB Cover Image

When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4 — we begin with prevention. When people are in the first stage of those diseases, and are beginning to show signs of symptoms like a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms. We don’t ignore them. In fact, we develop a plan of action to reverse and sometimes stop the progression of the disease. Shouldn’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness?

When you or someone close to you starts to experience the early warning signs of mental illness, knowing what the risk factors and symptoms are will help catch them early. Often times, family and friends are the first to step in to support a person through these early stages. Experiencing symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious, or hearing voices, shouldn’t be ignored or brushed aside in the hopes that they go away.

If you recognize these symptoms, reach out for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, contact Heart of Florida United Way’s 2-1-1 Crisis Helpline by simply dialing 2-1-1. Staffed by trained multilingual operators 24/7, 2-1-1 is your connection to mental health services, crisis and suicide counseling and many other resources.

Like other diseases, we need to address these symptoms early, identify the underlying disease, and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. Mental health conditions should be addressed long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process—before Stage 4. Many people do not seek treatment in the early stages of mental illnesses because they don’t recognize the symptoms. Up to 84% of the time between the first signs of mental illness and first treatment is spent failing to recognize the symptoms.

May is Mental Health Month — an opportunity to discuss mental health issues, bring awareness to those in need, and focus on prevention — a key tenant of United Way’s philosophy.

Mental health America has chosen  “B4Stage4” as this year’s theme—mental health concerns are no different than any other illness. It’s important to recognize mental health issues during the early stages, rather than waiting for the critical “stage 4”.

To find out more about Mental Health Month visit www.MentalHealthAmerica.net.

If you are facing a mental health crisis situation or know someone in need of help, call 2-1-1, United Way’s free information and referral helpline.. For more information, visit the 2-1-1 page on the Heart of Florida United Way website.

United Way At Work: Dental Care Access Foundation

April 9, 2015

IMG_0675 The Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish Project Offers Preventative Care to Local Students Michelle Lawton remembers vividly the moment she became a dental care advocate—she had been working as a dental assistant at a local practice when a patient found out she needed over $7,000 worth of dental care and started to cry.

“That was it for me,” Lawton recalls. This led to her to pursue volunteering with the Dental Care Access Foundation, helping uninsured and low income adults.  “I knew I needed to help. By the time adults are grown, the damage to their teeth is already done. We need to help kids early.”

It’s the focus on prevention instead of intervention, a key tenant of the United Way philosophy, which caused Lawton and her friend Julie Michael, Executive Director for the Dental Care Access Foundation, to work with Heart of Florida United Way to develop the Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish project which is funded through the United Way’s health focus area.

In its second year of operation, the Varnish project has served approximately 4,000 students; 1,100 which were funded by United Way. As a result, more of the students are getting appropriate dental care and are missing less school due to tooth-related problems or pain. As part of this initiative, Michelle and Julie have partnered with Valencia Dental Hygiene students and the UCF Pre-Dental Student Association to go directly to Orange County Public Schools. Through the program, they offer one-on-one dental education, where they teach proper dental hygiene, brushing tutorials, and nutrition information.Each child is also provided with an age-appropriate dental hygiene kit, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss.

Afterwards, they then apply a topical fluoride varnish to help prevent cavities from developing. Michelle and Julie also help families navigate the healthcare system and explore their options. If during the consultations larger problems are discovered, they can refer families to low-cost clinics and community health centers for treatment. This program is a huge change for students. The varnish can be applied in a matter of seconds and the one-on-one sessions serve as a gentle introduction to the dentist.

With a laid-back approach and appearances from the UCF Pre-Dental program mascot Timmy the Tooth, the kids learn the dentist is not something to be scared of.

“For many,” Julie Michael says, “our dental hygiene kits give them the first opportunity to have their own toothbrush and not have to share one. It helps pave the way for a life-time habit of good dental hygiene and health.”

For more information about the Dental Care Access Foundation and how you or your company can support the Children’s Dental Education and Fluoride Varnish project, visit www.DentalCareAccess.org.

Volunteer Spotlight – Ron Piccolo, Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College

March 16, 2015

2015-Newsletter-Windows_Piccolo-SpotlightRon Piccolo’s students at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College would probably agree that he’s a passionate guy. Listen to one of his enthusiastic lectures about processes or vehement dialog regarding organizational management and you’ll be a believer, too. United Way is fortunate that Ron brings equal passion to solving complex community issues.

How did you get involved with United Way?

I became meaningfully involved with United Way in 2010 when I began serving as the chair of the developing healthy children and families cabinet. All of these community leaders were around the table who are determined to make a difference. I knew this is where I wanted to be. I also serve on the board of directors for Heart of Florida United Way.

Sitting on the cabinet, you’re one of the subject matter experts who decide how the dollars United Way raises are allocated. How do you see the organization’s actions making an impact?

I see United Way as an important steward of community resources – the crystallizing organization for the nonprofit sector in Central Florida. United Way does provide direct services – like 2-1-1, case management, and more – but I see it as the place to steward resources, funneling time, dollars, talent into one place and distributed accordingly.

What was your “aha” moment as to why you’re involved in the community?

I visited one of United Way’s funded partner agencies, BETA Center. There, I saw 13-year-old girls with heavy backpacks on one shoulder filled with books they needed for the 8th or 9th grade. On the other shoulder, they carried diaper bags. These girls were living dual lives – mother and high school student. I remember thinking, “And they’re the lucky ones who have support from a program like this… How many others don’t?” There are so many other kids out there facing adult situations – parenthood to homelessness to abuse – who need our help. That’s what inspires me to continue to be involved.

Are you hopeful for what the next generation of business executives will bring to the table in terms of caring for the community they do business in?

At Rollins College, service-learning and social responsibility is built into the curriculum from undergraduate studies to my business classes. It’s our hope that all of our students go on to be responsible citizens and will recognize the importance of for-profits practices to address non-profit needs.

If you were to describe United Way in a couple of words, what would it be?

“Prudent steward”

In what area do you hope to see more from United Way in the future?

What United Way has been doing is what is needed most… creating meaningful collaboration between sectors to share resources and develop solutions together. It takes an entity like United Way to break down silos and encourage a more systematic approach to issues. There can be much more cross sector and inter-agency partnerships, so I hope United Way continues down that path.

United Way at Work: Here To Stay

December 16, 2014

Those ele2014-Newsletter-Header-UWAtWork-Aspiregant swaths of twinkling lights draped across Central Florida homes may not bring smiles to everyone’s faces. For some, the countdown to Christmas simply compounds feelings of stress, tension and depression. People who have suffered significant loss, are separated from loved ones or who suffer from mental illness can find the holidays a difficult time of year. According to NAMI, 64 percent of people diagnosed with mental illness say the holidays worsen their symptoms.  But in one Orange County community, depression doesn’t exactly spike at Christmas.

“That’s what it’s like in Bithlo all year long,” says Dale Budha.  Budha is the Aspire Health Partners Director of Outpatient Therapy Services and lead for the United Way-funded Bithlo Transformation Effort: Expanding the Continuity of Care.  It’s a program specifically created to bring mental health services to Bithlo as part of the Bithlo Transformation Effort.

Located in remote east Orange County, Bithlo spans roughly 10 square miles and is home to about 8,200 people. Originally an incorporated city, Bithlo fell into financial despair in the late 1920’s and has remained impoverished ever since. It hasn’t been an actual city for over 50 years.  Generations of residents have lived with a foul water supply, no public transportation, no access to health, dental or mental health services, inadequate schools and few jobs.  But in recent years, United Global Outreach has spearheaded an effort among community partners to improve life in Bithlo.  It turns out that one of Bithlo’s biggest needs is mental health services.

“We encountered families desperate for help from the moment we landed in Bithlo’s Transformation Village approximately two years ago,” says Budha.  Initially, Aspire Health Partner’s work was centered on building relationships with Bithlo residents and assessing the community needs.  Budha says United Global Outreach and local volunteer church organizations held community spaghetti dinners that drew from 150 to 400 Bithlo residents monthly. Budha would attend regularly, and each time through Bithlo residents’ anxiousness to tell their stories, the organization gained first-hand accounts of the pre-existing untreated mental/emotional health issues facing the community.

“We also discovered that residents in Bithlo were finding their way to our facility by deliberately threatening suicide or homicide, forcing law enforcement to transport to them to *Lakeside Behavioral Healthcare inpatient hospital,” says Budha. She says because access to mental health services, as well as transportation, is such an issue in Bithlo, being Baker Acted became a means for some people to receive treatment. So, Aspire Health Partners began providing services in a tiny, makeshift room in what was becoming Bithlo’s Transformation Village.  But limited existing resources, the services were very limited as well.  More needed to be done. Then, in January 2014, Budha learned about United Way’s Investing in Results Grants Request for Proposals. One of the requests specifically targeted mental health services for Bithlo.

“The fact that there was a grant targeting the Bithlo community for mental health services was like a dream come true,” says Budha. Writing the grant was a big undertaking for the Director who runs a department of 50 clinicians. She felt the Bithlo resident’s story had to be told in hopes of leveraging resources. The awarded funding allowed Aspire Health Partners to hire and train staff to work in Bithlo, including a full-time therapist to work in Bithlo’s Transformation Village, and two outreach specialists who can make home visits. Aspire Health Partners mental health team in Bithlo has also expanded its partnership with Orange County Public Schools to provide school-based counseling services on five campuses.  Since services have become fully available in September 2014, Aspire Health Partners has opened 65 families into services.  Twenty of those clients are under the age of 17, the other 45 clients are adults.  They paint a telling picture of Bithlo. Among the adult clients:

  • 23 out of 45 adults report a history of or current substance use
  • 13 report a history of sexual abuse or violence
  • 27 out of 45 adults report a history of domestic violence
  • 32 out of 45 adults are unemployed or on disability

Open cases don’t necessarily mean on-going treatment. Bithlo residents are still suspicious of the influx of do-gooders now in their community.  And sub-standard living conditions don’t provide a lot of motivation for self-improvement.  People make appointments for mental health services, but are frequently no-shows.

“We had a woman request an appointment who then was a no-show for five or six appointments, and she finally asked, ‘what happens if I keep skipping my appointments?’ We let her know if it was ok with her, we would keep checking on her and inviting her in. That’s what she was looking for, she wanted to know if we were going to give up on her,” says Budha.

That is what people in Bithlo are used to, society giving up on them. It may take a while for residents to build enough trust to allow themselves to make the most of the services becoming available.

“That is what makes the United Way funding a blessing. It sends a message to Bithlo residents that service providers are here to stay and the community will not be abandoned,” says Budha.

*Lakeside Behavioral Healthcare is now part of Aspire Health Partners.


Volunteer Spotlight: Patricia Maddox, President of Winter Park Health Foundation

December 15, 2014

Patty-Maddox_100KBYou could say Patricia Maddox likes big challenges. After all, an equestrian who rides jumpers is taking on big fences. And anyone who owns two warmbloods and a thoroughbred clearly likes big horses. Oh, she likes big dogs too. Gordon Setters, specifically, which she breeds and shows. So perhaps it’s not surprising that she’s willing to take on the significant challenges of community need and improving community health.

How did you first become involved in United Way?

I initially came into United Way through 2-1-1, because, as you may know, prior to 2-1-1 being part of United Way, it was an independent organization called the Community Support Network, or CSN. There was such a community effort to figure out what was the right place for that service to reside, and it seemed obvious that United Way was the place to do that. So a strategy was designed and implemented that brought CSN under the wing of United Way. It ultimately adopted the name 2-1-1 and became a department of United Way. And that’s how I came into United Way, I was the chair of 2-1-1 and still am the chair of 2-1-1 this many years later.

2-1-1 is frequently mentioned as something people should know about United Way. What are your thoughts on that?

2-1-1 is one of those kinds of services that sits in the background quietly, and no matter how much marketing you do, if that’s not in your set of immediate needs, you really don’t put it in the forefront of your mind. What I continue to see is that people who are engaged with United Way know about 2-1-1, but they don’t know a lot of detail. We see this same thing here at the Winter Park Health Foundation in dealing with services for seniors. People don’t really pay attention to what’s available until they need it. That’s the case with 2-1-1, it’s a message that’s received when it’s needed.

How can United Way make sure that message is, in fact, getting to those who need it?

I think one of the opportunities we need to look at is how we get the 2-1-1 message clearly to service providers, because I think that’s really where the most valuable marketing time is spent. In the world of service providers, there’s a constant churning of people. You have people moving from job to job within an organization, and we see people moving from organization to organization. Sometimes the institutional memory of 2-1-1 gets lost when people move around. So there just needs to be a constant reminder that 2-1-1 is there.

I also think it’s important for community leaders to understand 2-1-1. That’s improved a lot, but I think there’s a lot more opportunity there. That’s really one of my roles within United Way, to be the 2-1-1 cheerleader.

What do you see as a community need?

If I’m looking at it as a community citizen, clearly there are all kinds of big picture needs that relate to poverty, nutrition, education, those kinds of things. From my vantage point of CEO of a health foundation, I see huge needs in the area of the provision of health care, and in a lot of cases, it relates to having coverage and being able to get care. We do a lot of work within the schools, and we see huge need among the population of children in our community, unfortunately particularly in the area of mental health.

The challenge really for any organization is, there’s no end to the need and there’s no end to the great things that could be supported. The challenge is always figuring out those things on which you’re going to focus and maintain that focus, while making sure that what you’re doing is really making a difference.

How does United Way help to address the needs health and mental health care among our children?

I think United Way’s strategy to focus in on populations is a good strategy. And I think the work United Way has done in the area of helping children puts an important focus on families. If you have a family that is in crisis, and you find ways to help that family get out of crisis by helping with education, employment, getting people out of poverty, those kinds of things, you find that it has other effects, for example, in the area of mental health. So I think that United Way does a lot of good in creating foundations of success for people in our community so that you can see not only the results of that foundational effort, but all of the other subsequent results.

Horses and dogs both require a big commitment in terms time and energy. How does being an equestrian and a dog breeder play into your professional life?

They are a part of who I am, I can’t imagine a life without animals. But the great, unintentional consequence of owning horses and dogs is they force a real work/home balance. I have to be home every day to walk the dogs, to feed and groom, to take care of all of them, and I find that it’s a real de-stressor. Working day-in and day-out with complex, community problems of such great magnitude can create stress and tension. For me, taking time out every day for barn chores or to work with the horses or the dogs releases that tension.

How does your involvement with United Way add to that?

I find it to be a very fulfilling relationship. United Way is very well run with very committed people. But the board is exceptionally engaged. The board meetings always have good discussion that connects the organization to the work. That’s what’s great about 2-1-1, it helps to create that connection. When you hear the stories of those who contact 2-1-1, you realize these are people who are not that different from the rest of us. It can be jolting sometimes, to hear the story of someone who was leading a comfortable life and then something changes, whether it’s the loss of a job or illness, and suddenly they’re in crisis. Just the sheer number of suicide contacts is something to think about. We’re realizing the 2-1-1 contacts are just the tip of the iceberg, and that’s a real striking image of what’s going on in our community.

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