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.

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Dress2Learn Delivers New School Clothes and Hope to 5,400 Local Homeless Students

March 12, 2015

The day that Jenny Gibson-Linkh, principal at Evans High School in Orange County, discovered a student washing her clothes in the bathroom sink after school was the day she realized that clothing was a significant need among her homeless students. It’s estimated that more than 10,000 students in Orange and Osceola counties are homeless and are faced with many challenges – both personally and academically.

Evans High Principl Unpacking“It’s not just about dressing to look good or feel good, although that is significant to a student’s self-esteem, but it’s also to improve attendance, to provide the opportunity to stay on track academically, to graduate and ultimately move on to that next step in life. We may not think of clothing as a significant need, until you’re the one without it.”

In October 2014, Heart of Florida United Way launched Dress2Learn, a clothing program for homeless students in Orange and Osceola counties. As a result of the program this year, more than 5,400 homeless students across 250 schools received new Levi’s brand apparel. Jeans, khakis, shorts, polo tops and graphic tees were distributed to K-12 children in need. Not only is it about attendance and performance in school, but it’s also about relieving the financial burden of purchasing clothing for growing kids.

“When parents are concerned about keeping a roof over their kids’ heads and putting food on the table, clothing is a need that gets pushed down the priority list,” said Robert H. (Bob) Brown, president & CEO of Heart of Florida United Way. “Through Dress2Learn, we hope to level the playing field for our homeless students and allow them and their familiesDSC_0285 to focus on next steps beyond their current situation – whether that’s graduating or regaining stability.”

Evans High senior Romicha Baker was one of the 5,400 recipients of the Dress2Learn program.

“I’m glad that I have the help because there are people who make jokes out of what you wear and pick on you,” Romicha said. “It makes it harder to be in an environment where you’re supposed to learn when people are laughing and then get the whole class laughing at you. I used to worry about that. I’d go into class quiet, sit in the back so I wouldn’t have anyone laughing at me.”

Not only did Dress2Learn provide Romicha with a new set of fitting clothes, but also a renewed sense of hope.

“When I heard about [Dress2Learn], I thought this would be a way for me to actually sit up front and not have to worry about what other people have to say and try to graduate like the others.”

It’s easy to see the interconnectedness of United Way’s focus areas – education, income, health and basic needs – through Dress2Learn. A balance must be achieved in all four of those areas for stability. Although, United Way believes that education is the change maker: get kids to focus in school, they may be able to break the cycle. And sometimes, it’s something as small as a new t-shirt to get them there.

“I think sometimes we forget that it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in education,” said Gibson-Linkh. “We focus on test scores … we focus on curriculum … we focus on all the assessment, and sometimes we forget about the child. We forget about the basic necessities. We forget about them as a human. Dress2Learn brings it back to them and puts them first. I’m glad we’re doing this because our students should always be first.”

To learn more about ways you, your company or organization can get involved with Dress2Learn, visit UWDress2Learn.org. Just $50 can supply one homeless child with a full complement of school clothes. Fundraising for the program is year-round, so your help is always needed and welcomed. Thank you!


United Way Celebrates AmeriCorps Week March 9-13

March 9, 2015

ACWeekBanner-Feb2015-05-ProgramsAmeriCorps 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.

These numbers speak to the impact our AmeriCorps members are having in our schools, but numbers alone don’t tell the story. Americorp Week March 9-13

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.


United Way at Work: Better Income Outcomes

February 17, 2015

Jordan Olive is a 23-year-old single mom who is working hard to provide for her baby. She is diligent about her spending, especially when expenses are avoidable. “A lot of places will charge you money to do your taxes. Last year I got it done, they charged me around $300. As a single mom, to get my taxes done for free, it means a lot. I’m really grateful.”

United Way believes that improving financial stability is one of the four keys to leading a quality life, along with education, health and basic needs. Recently, partners invested in improving Central Florida’s well-being gathered for a one-stop-shop event related to all aspects of United Way’s focus areas. The Super Saturday event was held at Barry University School of Law and saw hundreds of people turn out for the free services which covered education, income, health and basic needs.

In addition to free tax preparation through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Healthcare Marketplace Navigators were on-site to help residents enroll in health insurance before the February 15 enrollment deadline. This year, under the Affordable Care Act, penalties for adults without insurance climb significantly – from $95 or 1 percent of income to $325 or 2 percent of income, whichever is higher. So not only is enrolling good for your health, but also for your wallet.

“Too often people just pick the first – or cheapest – plan that pops up and don’t take the time to explore all of the options available to them,” said Anne Packham, marketplace exchange project coordinator at Primary Care Access Network. “Even when consumers do dig deeper and evaluate their options, they often don’t know the questions to ask to identify the best possible plan, which is why it’s so important for people to meet with someone who has comprehensive knowledge about the health insurance marketplace. We’re happy to be enrolling people before the deadline today. ”

When it comes to education and basic needs, those focus areas were also covered with opportunities for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) applications and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) enrollment.

“Many people don’t realize that they qualify for these programs,” said Mark Batchelor, manager of Financial Stability Initiatives for Heart of Florida

building-blocksUnited Way. “But, these resources are there to help them through tough times. It’s our job to make sure we’re connecting those in need with the support available to them.”

With support mechanisms in place to fill in the gaps, struggling families won’t have to choose between food and utilities. They will be able to make their way to greater financial stability and United Way’s ultimate goal of self-sufficiency. Like Michelle*, a current client of United Way’s Homelessness Prevention Program. She approached the United Way table in the vendor fair close to tears.

“Thank you for your help. I don’t know where I’d be without United Way right now,” she said as she showed pictures of her healthy three-month-old baby boy. “This event is great because I don’t have to take a taxi all over town to take care of my taxes and other business. I’m sorry I’m emotional, it’s just such a relief.”

United Way’s focus on improving financial stability clearly seeps into all other aspects of life. Education, income, health and basic needs are all interconnected. That’s why United Way works hard to get to the root issue, to provide people like Michelle and Jordan relief and solutions.

*Name changed due to privacy.

 

 

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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!

Locations:

  • 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


6 Ways to Get Free Money for College

February 5, 2015

United Way believes that education is the single most influential factor in determining the success of a child. Research shows that, too. But many times, students (especially first-generation college students) face financial and information barriers, making the dream of attaining a post-secondary degree or credential very challenging.

Here are a few tips on how to navigate the system and find “free money” for college.

  1. Request a Federal Student Aid PIN: Every student and parent that enters information on a FAFSA form is required to have a unique PIN number. Take care of this first so that once you get to the FAFSA site, you’re ready to go. Here’s where to request a PIN.
  2. Complete the FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA provides more than $150 billion each year to help millions of students pay for higher education. All students and parents should fill out this form each year to remain eligible. When you fill out the FAFSA, you are applying for aid for a specific year. Here’s a quick video that provides an overview of the whole process.
  3. Check Eligibility of Pell Grants: The federal government gives out grants of up to $5,730 to about 9 million students a year. They can be used for tuition, fees, books and living expenses. It’s based on financial need, and those making less than $60,000 typically qualify for at least some award. View more about eligibility requirements here.
  4. Claim Your Tax Credit: Every student is eligible for a tax refund each year. Students making less than $80,000 are eligible for a maximum of $2,500 (up to $1,000 is refundable). That can buy a lot of Ramen noodles! Although tuition has to be paid up front, the credit on the backend is nice to have at the end of the year.
  5. Talk to Your Employer: Some companies, big and small, offer discounts on college tuition, but they often dictate which school is eligible. It never hurts to ask, right?
  6. Stay On Top of Important Deadlines: Sign up to receive text messages from your Florida school of choice regarding financial aid deadlines. United Way’s Going to College Project helps navigate the application, financial aid and enrollment process at your specific school. See if your school is on the list and sign up for free.

BONUS:

Super-Saturday-Shareable-Graphic-Facebook

If you want help with your FAFSA form and need to complete your taxes anyways, come out to United Way’s “Super Saturday” event on Feb. 14, 2015 at Barry Law University from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. At this free event, you can work with a VITA tax preparer to file for the Earned Income Tax Credit, speak with a Healthcare Marketplace Navigator about health insurance enrollment (deadline is Feb. 15), and also begin your FAFSA form. For more information, or to schedule a tax/healthcare appointment call 2-1-1.


National Day of Service Focuses on Financial Stability

January 26, 2015

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.


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