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!

Volunteers Share the Love On Valentine’s Day to Fight Hunger & Homelessness

February 18, 2015

On any given night in the United States, approximately 643,067 people experience homelessness. One of Heart of Florida United Way’s focus areas is alleviating hunger and homelessness for residents in Orange, Osceola and Seminoles counties.

This Valentine’s Day, the Heart of Florida United Way’s Volunteer Resource Center called on volunteers to share the love to fight hunger and homelessness. The 2nd annual day of service allowed volunteers to fill hearts with gratitude and little bellies with food through a variety of projects including sorting food donations at Second Harvest Food Bank, serving a meal to homeless families with Salvation Army, putting together weekend snack packs for low-income elementary students to take home, and decorating for Orlando Day Nursery’s Sweet Tart Dance.

“Thanks to the volunteers from United Way, our children not only enjoyed the Valentine’s Day Sweet Tart Dance, but also learned about their body’s most important muscle, the heart. United Way volunteers help children listen and feel their heart beat, learn how it pumps blood, and learn about the four ventricles,” said Mata Dennis, executive director of Orlando Day Nursery.

We would like to thank our awesome volunteers for helping to make this event such a huge success! On behalf of our partner agencies who benefitted from your generosity, thanks for sharing the love!Share-the-Love---Logo

  • BETA Center
  • Christian HELP Foundation
  • Orlando Day Nursery
  • Orlando Salvation Army
  • Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Winter Park Day Nursery

Check out photos from the event on Facebook or Google+.

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Share the Love with United Way on Feb. 13

February 3, 2015


Roses are red. Violets are blue. Volunteering is fun! And it warms your heart, too.

United Way invites you and your significant other, co-worker, friends or family to Share the Love this Valentine’s Day. Add to your bouquet of Valentine’s Day fun by bringing a smile to a neighbor’s face. Dozens of projects will be scattered throughout Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties to help individuals and families affected by hunger and homelessness.

Some projects that are still available include:

  • Making and serving lunch to seniors at Salvation Army
  • Cleaning and organizing the food pantry at Christian Service Center of Central Florida
  • Assembling snack packs for toddlers and organizing the food pantry at BETA Center
  • Sorting food donations at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida

Join in making a difference in the lives of others on Friday, Feb. 13.

Click here to view available projects and sign up.


Check out some photos from last year’s event.

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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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