United Way at Work: Ryan White Part B

June 16, 2015

Ryan White was an American teenager who became an advocate for AIDS research after contracting AIDS DSC_0010from a contaminated routine blood treatment for his hemophilia. Ryan’s case was a watershed moment for the HIV/AIDS community, shifting public perceptions, battling stigma and educating people about HIV/AIDS. Despite doctors’ predictions he would survive 6 months, Ryan White lived on for five years and served as a spokesperson for HIV/AIDS awareness, dying in 1990 just before his high school graduation.

The Ryan White bill was created in Ryan’s name to fund essential programs and support services for people with HIV/AIDS. As a lead agency, Heart of Florida United Way annually receives more than $2 million from the Florida Department of Health to fund patient care and support provided through a network of eight AIDS organizations and more than 200 service providers.

According to Enid Devine, Director of the Ryan White Part B/GR program with Heart of Florida United Way, the initiative plays a pivotal role in Central Florida.

“Florida is the highest nationally for newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases,” said Devine. “Particularly in people 50 years old and older, infection rates are growing at an alarming rate.”

That’s why the Ryan White program, beyond providing underserved people with medical care, case management, and food baskets, also supports awareness and prevention events like National HIV Testing Day on June 27.

Heart of Florida United Way – in partnership with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, Walgreens, Miracle of Love, The LGBT Center of Central Florida, Hope and Help, and the Community Food Outreach Center – is offering free and confidential testing at mobile sites throughout Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. If the results are positive, event staffers will connect individuals with essential resources, including assistance with basic needs.

Heart of Florida United Way served more than 4,600 people last year through the Ryan White Part B/GR program. Working as part of the Central Florida Aids Planning Consortium, Heart of Florida United Way’s Ryan White Part B/GR program has worked to decrease the numbers of people contracting HIV/AIDS and increased public awareness about the disease.

“Being diagnosed doesn’t mean what it did 10 years ago,” said Devine. “With an early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, people with HIV/AIDS can still enjoy a rich and fulfilling life with their loved ones. But it’s so important to get tested so you can get the care you need.”

For more information about the Ryan White Part B/GR program, please visit our website or, if in need of assistance, please call our free Information & Referral Helpline 2-1-1.

For information about HIV Testing Day and testing site locations, please visit the Central Florida AIDS Planning Consortium website.


United Way at Work: Osceola Council on Aging

May 19, 2015

Osecola Council on AgingThere’s a stunning portrait in the office of Bev Houghland, CEO of the Osceola Council on Aging. It is a wedding portrait of a lovely couple, stored in an old-fashioned frame and displayed in a place of prominence. When asked about it, Bev smiles. That portrait is a personal reminder to Bev of how important the work of the Council is.

During Bev’s first week of work at the organization as a new case manager, she received a call from the police. A woman had been found who had no idea how to get home. The woman, whose name was Opal, had advancing Alzheimer’s. When she met Bev, she burst into tears and begged Bev not to send her to a home. She had grown up in an orphanage and was terribly afraid of losing a home again.

Bev went to great efforts to care for Opal and keep her in her own home; for fourteen years until Opal’s death, Bev succeeded. She made sure Opal had groceries and regular check-ins and left notes throughout Opal’s home to remind her that she had someone to call if she needed help. When Opal was lucid, she worried to Bev what would happen to her wedding portrait when she died; Bev promised her she would take it and treasure it. It has been in Bev’s office ever since, a constant reminder of the people Bev and the rest of the staff at Osceola Council on Aging serve each and every day.

Originating as a home delivery meal service, the Osceola Council on Aging served 25 Osceola County elders with the goal of helping them stay in their own homes. Today, over 77,000 meals are delivered to homebound elderly and disabled adults. They also collected over 900,000 pounds of food in 2014 to be distributed to local food pantries. Hundreds of volunteers are needed to staff the United Way-funded food bank and Meals on Wheels programs, delivering food year round.

The Council’s Dining Club is a meal service that provides hot meals to seniors and disabled adults at community centers. While proper nutrition is a huge help, social and entertainment activities are also offered for the attendees’ enrichment. The Council also has an award-winning Meals on Wheels program, providing low income elders and disabled adults with nutritious food and daily visits to check their well-being and report back to the Council.

The holidays are especially important for the Council and its volunteers. So many of the elderly are alone on the holidays, so the Council makes sure they feel noticed and appreciated on these special days. For Mother’s Day, Council volunteers went out to deliver not just good food, but flowers and gifts as well. The Council is always in need of volunteers to join this initiative and they encourage whole families to come out to serve.

For more information about the Osceola Council Aging or how to volunteer, visit www.OsceolaGenerations.org.

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!

All in for Education: Pathways to Success at Evans High School

January 20, 2015

Before the sun comes up, Taylor Greenberg, an AmeriCorps member at Evans High School, arrives on campus. Uncertain of what the day will hold for her, Taylor is certain about at least one thing … Despite the long hours, and exhausting schedule, she knows that she will make a difference.


United Way AmeriCorps Member Taylor Greenberg

“The more kids that we can reach, the bigger difference we can make. I strongly believe that for many kids, the only way out of the unfortunate circumstance that they’re in is education. If they aren’t getting the education that they deserve and that they need because of the surrounding issues in their lives, they’re doomed. They need this support.”

Beginning in September, Taylor and 19 other AmeriCorps members were deployed to Evans and Oak Ridge High Schools in Orange County under United Way’s new AmeriCorps Pathways to Success program. Sponsored by AmeriCorps and Volunteer Florida, Pathways to Success offers academic support and college/career mentoring to 10th through 12th grade students. This means free after-school tutoring, individualized in-classroom attention, help with filing for college financial aid, guidance on determining post-graduation goals, and general mentorship.

United Way AmeriCorps Member Zach Thorne tutoring students, including 11th grader Guissa Tera (left).

United Way AmeriCorps Member Zachary Thorne tutoring students, including 11th grader Guiessa Tera (left).

“I love my AmeriCorps tutor Mr. Thorne!” said Guiessa Tera, an 11th grader who has been coming to tutoring for several months. “Not only have my focused.”

But, it doesn’t stop there. Pathways to Success AmeriCorps members spend a lot of time with the students and get to know and understand their – often complex – circumstances.

“I always make sure to be there for the students academically, but sometimes there are needs beyond the classroom. There may be something that other teachers may overlook because they have so many students in and out of their classrooms and they have so many other responsibilities for the teaching part of their job. We’re here to help care for the whole student – academically, physically, mentally and emotionally.”

United Way provides wrap-around services to students throughout Central Florida to eliminate barriers to education, like hunger, homelessness, health concerns, lack of supplies and clothing.

In all, Taylor likes the challenge of her role as an AmeriCorps member, but feels selfish at times.

“The kids impact and change your life. This is not a job that you just come in the morning and go home. It’s a big commitment, but in a good way. I think to myself every single day that I have helped a child, and there is nothing more satisfying to me than that.”

What is your Impact Word for 2015?

January 1, 2015

graphic - HFUW staff's impact word

The New Year is often considered an opportunity to hit the reset button. We’re lucky to be in the business of improving lives year-round. Positive change is what we do. To stay mission-focused, we asked what “Impact Word” would inspire our staff for 2015. These are words the Heart of Florida United Way staff selected as their 2015 Impact Words to live by and strive towards. What is your Impact Word? Share it in the comments or on our Facebook page.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here’s some insight into how a few HFUWers chose their Impact Words.

“Waldeinsamkeit” Juliet Jones – Literally translated “woodland solitude,” the German concept of waldeinsmakeit blends the beauty of a peaceful forest with the emotion evoked when reflecting on its calming influence. Having experienced nature’s inspiration extensively in the exiting year, my hopes and intentions for the new year are represented in its meaning: to keep the peaceful feeling with me, to weave it into my every day experiences, and to recall its relaxing presence amidst the hustle of city life. During my next voyage around the sun, waldeinsmakeit will transform from a soothing feeling into exciting action with several creative projects waiting to take root in 2015.

“Extraordinary” Pia Valenciano – Born extraordinary, many of us have succumbed to an ordinary life, an ordinary environment, and the expectation of the ordinary. In 2015, if we all work on adding that little “extra” into ordinary, we would expect only extraordinary results from ourselves, as well as from those around us. If we asked ourselves daily, “what would an extraordinary version of ‘me’ do in this situation?” we would eventually elevate our world that extra notch above the norm.

“Optimism” Mark Batchelor – Positive change, both personal and on a society level starts with optimism. It’s the spark that drives one to follow a passion, chase a dream, or attain a goal. Financial stability may be defined differently by the individuals served through United Way’s programs but it’s the optimism that stability is achievable that allows one to succeed.

“Intentionality” Robert H. (Bob) Brown – In our work, the needs are great and the opportunities are plentiful. We must be very intentional in order to have the maximum impact. There are only so many hours in a day. In order to help the most people, we have to be very focused and intentional. We can’t afford to waste time.

“Venture” Ritu Anand – My word symbolizes entering into new experiences and unknowns; crossing things off of my bucket list, engaging my dreams, and creating cherished memories of quality times with the people that I love. I want to continue to grow as a person with each month, season, and year of my life because life is a time limited and precious gift. 

 “Resilience” Jacqueline RobinsonThe road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events and accepting that change is a part of living. As 2-1-1 crisis specialists, we promote resilience. We listen to clients as they embark on their own personal journey.  In listening and in asking the right questions, we provide a judgment free space in which clients can elaborate their thoughts and where they can regain confidence in their own strengths and abilities and their own problem solving skills.

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.


%d bloggers like this: