During a special event hosted by Lockheed Martin on June 11, Heart of Florida United Way announced the launch of Mission United, a program designed especially for veterans and their families. Over 110,000 veterans call Central Florida home and forty percent of returning veterans report difficulties finding employment, accessing and completing education and connecting with necessary legal assistance. Through United Way’s Information & Referral Helpline 2-1-1, United Way’s Mission United will create a one-stop location for veterans and their families to receive services that they need, including mentorship, healthcare and connecting with potential employers. Once involved in the program, returning veterans receive a personalized plan and one-on-one case management. 2-1-1 call specialists are available 24/7/365 to assist veterans by phone, chat, or text message (text MISSION to 898-211). United Way’s Mission United came to life with the support and leadership of co-chairs Tommy Boroughs and Major General Doug Metcalf (Ret.), veterans themselves, who lent their time and expertise to make Mission United a reality. Army Staff Sergeant Kyle Evans (Ret), a Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq, shared his own experiences returning to civilian life during this special event. “The system was so confusing, so complicated, it was too hard on my own,” said Evans. “A program like United Way’s Mission United is so important because it will get veterans what they need, faster and more easily.” United Way Board member and Lockheed Martin Vice President Frank St. John also presented a $10,000 donation to kick start the program. It’s through partnerships with companies like Lockheed Martin and other neighborhood organizations, United Way’s Mission United will succeed and make a difference in Central Florida. To learn more about United Way’s Mission United, dial 2-1-1 or visit 211MissionUnited.org.
Ron 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?
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.
AmeriCorps week is upon us and it’s a time to salute AmeriCorps members and alum for their service. Each year, more than 80,000 men and woman help tackle some of the nation’s most critical challenges in education, public safety, health and the environment through intensive community service.
I’m proud to be an AmeriCorps alum – one of the 900,000 who have dedicated a year (or more) of service since 1994. I’m even more proud now to be part of a United Way team that embraces the value of AmeriCorps and its impact on our work in education. From our AmeriCorps Pathways members who are tutoring high school students and helping them plan for college/careers, to our Together for Tomorrow VISTAs who are recruiting volunteers to serve as role models for students in all grade levels, our AmeriCorps team is “Getting Things Done.”
Here are just a few facts about HFUW’s AmeriCorps programs:
- Seventy AmeriCorps VISTAs and Pathways to Success members have provided more than 87,000 hours of service to Title I schools.
- AmeriCorps members have recruited more than 2,700 volunteers giving 22,000 hours of service.
- Nearly 17,000 students have been impacted by the work of our AmeriCorps members.
- AmeriCorps members have generated $270,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to support our schools.
This week, Heart of Florida United Way will be sharing a few stories from our AmeriCorps members currently in the field who are making a difference in our community. Follow along on Facebook or Twitter. You can also follow the hashtag #ServeFL to see the impact being made across the country.
This blog post was written by Heath Wells, Director of AmeriCorps Programs, and proud AmeriCorps alum.
This past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day marked the sixth annual, “Financially Fit” Campaign put on by the Volunteer Resource Center of the Heart of Florida United Way. Volunteers carried on MLK Jr.’s legacy of creating solutions to various social problems during this National Day of Service by distributing crucial information regarding free tax preparation services through the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA), and the Earned Income Tax Credit program (EITC). Last year alone, more than $600 million was returned to Central Florida residents through EITC.
Thousands of low- and middle-income residents in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties received door hangers with VITA and EITC information, as well as information on United Way’s 2-1-1 Crisis Helpline, which also aides residents in qualifying for free financial services. Over 40 volunteers, including AmeriCorps VISTAs and Pathways to Success members, participated in this initiative designed and implemented to help people achieve financial stability, which is one of HFUW’s four Investing in Results goals.
In total, an estimated 100 volunteer hours were logged over the course of the day, and nearly 6,000 low-income homes were reached. The volunteers not only provided much needed outreach to the Central Florida community, but also helped in fulfilling one of MLK Jr.’s last goals of solving economic injustice.
Those elegant 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.
Each year, the Florida Department of Education sponsors the statewide “Outstanding School Volunteer Award” competition to recognize the many school volunteers who give of themselves unselfishly to help students and schools. A panel of judges selected Richard Birmingham as the Osceola School District’s “Adult Volunteer of the Year.”
Richard is a Heart of Florida United Way VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer who was placed at Central Avenue Elementary in December 2012 to help with building the capacity of parent involvement at the school. VISTAs are part of United Way’s Together for Tomorrow education program, which supports 14 schools across Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. AmeriCorps VISTA members work in partnership with schools to recruit, train and support volunteers to help improve student attendance, behavior, course performance and access to college.
Richard is a strong advocate for parent involvement and partakes in all school-wide workshops and trainings. As a member of the School Advisory Council, he has helped recruit other members and has helped with the School Improvement Plan.
Richard has also helped to increase volunteers for the school district as a whole by recruiting faith-based members from local churches and organizations. He has helped with training these faith-based members on being a volunteer, and has developed a good relationship with students and staff. In addition, he has partnered with the OASIS Department and the Education Foundation to help in the recruitment efforts for volunteers.
Whether serving as a mentor, tutor, classroom assistant, or in a variety of other ways, Together for Tomorrow volunteers are part of a team effort striving to help our students succeed. For more information or to get involved, please contact Heath Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-429-2170.
The Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW), in collaboration with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Florida Prosperity Partnership, announced the launch of Bank On Greater Orlando, a public-private partnership among the area’s regional financial institutions and community-based organizations aimed at increasing the financial stability of the “unbanked” and “underbanked.”
Nearly one-third of Orlando residents are either unbanked (no checking or savings account) or underbanked (have an account, but frequently use alternative financial services, like check-cashing). It’s estimated that a full-time worker without a bank account spends $40,000 over the course of a lifetime just to cash paychecks. In Orlando, 9.6 percent of households don’t have bank accounts – surpassing the national average of 7.7 percent. Likewise, 22.2 percent are underbanked – topping the national average of 17.9 percent. This equates to 30,249 households in Orlando alone.
“Through our focus on improving financial stability, we are proud to support Bank On Greater Orlando,” said Robert H. (Bob) Brown, HFUW president and CEO. “Helping families increase their stability through financial literacy programs enables them to spend smarter and build savings, which strengthens our overall local economy.”
Bank On Greater Orlando was modeled after the Bank On Florida blueprint. The Bank On program has spread throughout the country and is based on a collaborative effort with local communities and their financial institutions, local governments, and community-based and nonprofit organizations, like the Heart of Florida United Way.
“Helping our families and residents keep more of their own money in their own pockets is important to me,” said Orlando Mayor Dyer. “This program will connect our residents with financial institutions who can provide assistance tailored to their specific needs and help them to achieve financial stability and independence.”
Several HFUW board members represent financial institutions that are members of Florida Prosperity Partnership, which focuses on improving financial situations for Floridians in the low-to-moderate income bracket. They include Fifth Third Bank, SunTrust, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo.
“A successful relationship starts when a financially educated client is able to choose from a variety of checking and savings account options,” said Bill Mills, Bank On Florida Director. “This initiative provides families with reliable choices being offered by banks and credit unions that care about the communities in which they operate.”