Preparing for a Disaster

August 10, 2015

HurricaneIt’s been ten years since Florida experienced a devastating hurricane. With such a long gap, it’s easy to forget just how devastating a hurricane can be and get lax in emergency preparedness.

We never know when or where a storm will hit, so it’s important to be prepared at all times.

Preparing for a Hurricane:

  • Make sure you have a family plan: Depending on when a storm hits, your family may not be all together. Kids could be in school or you could be at work, so you’ll need a plan on how to contact each other and where to meet. The Florida Division of Emergency Management offers the “Get a Plan” site, where they offer personalized advice and recommendations to develop a plan based on your family and location.
  • Register on the Florida Special Needs Registry if applicable: Those with special needs should register with the local emergency management agency in order to receive assistance during a disaster. To sign up, visit the Florida Special Needs Registry
  • Update your insurance policy: Not all home and renter insurance policies cover flood damage, so be sure your policy does. Take an inventory of items in your home, including photos of valuables, and keep them in a water-proof container or safe. Better yet, save an electronic copy on Google Drive or another cloud storage system so you can access your documents even if you cannot get back into your home.
  • Prepare a home emergency kit: Keep non-perishable foods, a manual can-opener, batteries, first-aid kit, flashlights, a crank radio, bottled water, blankets, and important documents in a secure container. It’s a good idea to set aside 5 days of water and food to prepare for the worst. If you have pets, make sure you have food and water set aside for them as well. Since credit card machines and ATMs may not be working during a disaster, it also is a good idea to keep an emergency stash of cash in your kit to get you through the first few days.
  • Fill up containers: If a storm is incoming, fill up the bathtub and other large containers with as much water as you can. In case of power and system loss, you can use this water for washing, cooking and even flushing the toilet.
  • Stay inside: During a hurricane, stay inside and get into a room in your home with no windows, even if that is a closet or bathroom. Use your emergency crank radio to stay updated on the storm and when it is safe to come out.
  • Evacuate when ordered: If an evacuation is ordered for your area, leave immediately! Delaying could make it impossible to get to safety or for emergency personnel to reach you. Channel News 13 offers a directory of shelters in your area. United Way’s Information and Assistance Helpline 2-1-1 will also be able to direct you to sand-bag locations, shelters and other disaster information.

In addition to providing critical information about evacuation routes, shelters and resources prior to a major storm, United Way’s 2-1-1 also helps residents find assistance with food, water, debris removal, power restoration and other critical needs in the immediate aftermath. During times of disaster, 2-1-1 also coordinates response efforts with Emergency Operations Centers in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, as well as local agencies that provide help with food, shelter and other essential services. 2-1-1 is available by phone, chat, text and email. For more information, visit the 2-1-1 website.


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.


HFUW Offers Two Ways to File Your Taxes For Free

March 10, 2014

2013-Wordpress---EITCFor many families, a tax refund provides an extra financial boost at the end of the year. Too many of us, though, end up with less than we deserve because of high filing fees and sometimes, fees for a quick refund. Heart of Florida United Way believes that you should hold on to your money – all of it.

Heart of Florida United Way has two ways to file your taxes quickly, conveniently, and best of all, for free.

First, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites are located throughout Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties to provide free preparation to individuals or families earning under $52,000 a year. Many are open weekends and select evenings. Filing for free at a VITA site means that you can hold on to the extra money you would have spent on preparation and get 100 percent of your refund quickly. Last year, over 10,000 taxpayers utilized VITA, saving the community thousands of dollars in filing fees.

Second, if you prefer filing online, we’ve got that covered too. Visit www.MyFreeTaxes.com/hfuw to file for free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition to the convenience of filing at a time that works for you, www.MyFreeTaxes.com/hfuw utilizes secured H&R Block software to provide peace of mind and can answer your filing questions through phone, chat or email.

If you haven’t filed your 2013 taxes yet, it’s not too late. To find a VITA location near you or to find out if you’re eligible for up to $6,000 through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), visit www.hfuw.org or simply dial 2-1-1.


United Way Exemplifies the Olympic Spirit

February 18, 2014

2013-Wordpress---HFUW-logoThe Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are in full swing, and I for one, couldn’t be happier.  The Olympics represent something different to everyone. For some, it’s marveling at the amazing achievements of the best athletes in the world. For others, it’s an opportunity to engage in political and social dialogue on a world stage.

For me, it’s about the Olympic spirit.  I must admit, I get caught up in medal counts and nationalistic pride like many, but then, inevitably, something happens that reminds me of why I truly love the Olympics.

I recently read a Washington Post article about a Russian cross-country skier who fell shortly into the race and damaged his ski. He hobbled along the best he could until he fell again, further exacerbating the problem. When it seemed as if all hope was gone of finishing the race, a man leapt onto the course with a new ski and helped the Russian skier replace it.

One might think that the Good Samaritan was a Russian teammate or coach, but instead, he was the coach of the Canadian team – Justin Wadsworth. When asked why he helped his competitor, Wadsworth responded, “I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.”

This spirit reminds me of what we do every day here at the Heart of Florida United Way. Sometimes, members of our community fall and they just need a little extra support to get up and keep moving.

Heart of Florida United Way serves  our community in a multitude of ways such as by connecting those in need to vital resources through 2-1-1, United Way’s free, 24-hour information and referral helpline, or helping promote student success through our Together for Tomorrow program. These efforts are always made by caring, dedicated professionals who understand the importance of preserving the dignity of those we serve.  I am proud to be part of this team!

Submitted by Heath Wells, Heart of Florida United Way — Manager, School VISTA Volunteer Programs

 

 


Congressman Daniel Webster Tours United Way 2-1-1 Call Center

September 20, 2013

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U.S. Representative Daniel Webster (R – Winter Garden) listens in on a call to the 2-1-1 call center during his visit to the Heart of Florida United Way office.

U.S. Representative Daniel Webster (R – Winter Garden) recently visited the Heart of Florida United Way office for a tour of our 2-1-1 call center. 2-1-1 is a free, 24-hour information, referral and crisis helpline that links people in need to local health and human service programs. Last year, 2-1-1 responded to more than 200,000 contacts –phone calls, online chats, texts and emails – from Central Floridians in need.

“Organizations like United Way provide an invaluable service to our community,” said Webster. “Through their 2-1-1 program, United Way offers access to resources and assistance, and has become a focal point in connecting needy individuals with local nonprofit groups and church organizations. It was an honor to visit Heart of Florida United Way and experience firsthand the work they do to benefit the Central Florida community.”

Heart of Florida United Way operates the largest 2-1-1 helpline in Florida and provides suicide prevention services as part of the National Suicide Prevention Line Network and under contract with the Department of Children and Families for Orange and Osceola Counties.

Heart of Florida United Way also provides 2-1-1 service under contract with the following five United Ways serving 15 counties:

United Way of North Central Florida
Alachua
Bradford
Dixie
Gilchrist
LaFayette
Levy
Union

United Way of Marion County
Marion

United Way of Pasco County
Pasco

United Way of Citrus County
Citrus

United Way of Lake & Sumter Counties
Lake
Sumter


United Way 2-1-1 Named as National Referral Service by Epilepsy Foundation

July 11, 2013

2013-07-10-July-Newsletter-2-1-1_Operator2-1-1 is a free, 24-hour information, referral and crisis helpline that links people in need to local health and human service programs. Last year, 2-1-1 responded to more than 200,000 contacts –phone calls, online chats, texts and emails – from Central Floridians in need. (Click here to see the June 2013 report for 2-1-1.)

“We are excited about working with United Way as we transform our information and referral service into a true 24/7 epilepsy information support and help line,” said Paul Scribner, Director of Information and Health Education Services for the Epilepsy Foundation.

“The foundation made test calls to our service and their experience with our 2-1-1 specialists was what tipped the scale in our favor,” said Caree Jewell, Director of Heart of Florida United Way 2-1-1. “I’ve always said we have the best staff ever and now we have even more proof.”

The Epilepsy Foundation of America is the national voluntary health agency dedicated solely to the welfare of the almost 3 million people with epilepsy in the U.S. and their families.

Heart of Florida United Way operates the largest 2-1-1 helpline in Florida and provides suicide prevention services as part of the National Suicide Prevention Line Network and under contract with the Department of Children and Families for Orange and Osceola Counties.

Heart of Florida United Way also provides 2-1-1 service under contract with the following five United Ways serving 15 counties:

United Way of North Central Florida

Alachua

Bradford

Dixie

Gilchrist

LaFayette

Levy

Union

United Way of Marion County

Marion

United Way of Pasco County

Pasco

United Way of Citrus County

Citrus

United Way of Lake & Sumter Counties

Lake

Sumter


United Way 2-1-1 Connects Residents to Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery Resources

June 11, 2013

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With the 2013 hurricane season underway, United Way 2-1-1 is ready to respond quickly and effectively in the event that devastating storms sweep across Central Florida this year.

Much like 4-1-1 or 9-1-1, 2-1-1 is a free community information, referral and crisis helpline that links those in need with everything from rent and utility assistance to affordable housing and child care. Since the start of the economic crisis more than 3,000 people per week have been calling 2-1-1, but those numbers are likely to double or even triple if damaging storms head our way.

In order to be ready, 2-1-1 call specialists are reviewing emergency procedures and communication plans. And according to Larry Olness, Heart of Florida United Way Vice President of Community Services, innovative technology also enables the 48-member staff to work remotely in the event that the call center becomes inaccessible. The goal, he said, is to provide effective, uninterrupted service 24-hours-per-day.

Vital Link Before, During & After Deadly Storms
In addition to providing critical information about evacuation routes, shelters and resources prior to a major storm, 2-1-1 also helps residents find assistance with food, water, debris removal, power restoration and other critical needs in the immediate aftermath.

During times of disaster, 2-1-1 also coordinates response efforts with Emergency Operations Centers in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, as well as local agencies that provide help with food, shelter and other essential services.

In 2004 when three powerful hurricanes struck Central Florida within just a few weeks, 2-1-1 call volume exceeded 20,000, a number Olness expects to be higher the next time disaster strikes.

“At that time, 2-1-1 was relatively new and unknown,” he said. “Since then, community awareness of the program has grown, as has our capacity to respond. 2-1-1 is uniquely positioned to help residents not just in the short term, but for the duration of recovery efforts, which can often last for months and even years.”

For more information on how to develop a personal plan and prepare a disaster kit, visit www.mysafeflorida.org.


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