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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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!


  • 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.



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.

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.

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.”


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