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.


Heart of Florida United Way Launches Mission United

June 15, 2015

Veteran Kyle Evan shared his story

Veteran Kyle Evan shared his story

During a special event hosted by Lockheed Martin on June 11, Heart of Florida United Way announced the launch of Mission United, a program designed especially for veterans and their families. Over 110,000 veterans call Central Florida home and forty percent of returning veterans report difficulties finding employment, accessing and completing education and connecting with necessary legal assistance. Through United Way’s Information & Referral Helpline 2-1-1, United Way’s Mission United will create a one-stop location for veterans and their families to receive services that they need, including mentorship, healthcare and connecting with potential employers. Once involved in the program, returning veterans receive a personalized plan and one-on-one case management. 2-1-1 call specialists are available 24/7/365 to assist veterans by phone, chat, or text message (text MISSION to 898-211). United Way’s Mission United came to life with the support and leadership of co-chairs Tommy Boroughs and Major General Doug Metcalf (Ret.), veterans themselves, who lent their time and expertise to make Mission United a reality. Army Staff Sergeant Kyle Evans (Ret), a Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq, shared his own experiences returning to civilian life during this special event. “The system was so confusing, so complicated, it was too hard on my own,” said Evans. “A program like United Way’s Mission United is so important because it will get veterans what they need, faster and more easily.” United Way Board member and Lockheed Martin Vice President Frank St. John also presented a $10,000 donation to kick start the program. It’s through partnerships with companies like Lockheed Martin and other neighborhood organizations, United Way’s Mission United will succeed and make a difference in Central Florida. To learn more about United Way’s Mission United, dial 2-1-1 or visit 211MissionUnited.org.

Lockheed Martin donated $10,000 to kick start Mission United

Lockheed Martin donated $10,000 to kick start Mission United


Volunteer Spotlight: Tony Ortiz

June 12, 2015

Commissioner Tony OrtizWhether it’s his deep booming voice, gregarious greetings for colleagues or his commanding presence, when Tony Ortiz enters a room you know it. When you consider that the City of Orlando Commissioner for District 2 is also a former police officer and retired Marine, it only adds to his stature. Tony describes serving in the Persian Gulf War as an honor and emphasizes the camaraderie developed between veterans. But when you see your comrades hurting, suffering or in-need at home, it’s “mind boggling.”  This is why Tony joined United Way’s effort to do something about it.

What are the biggest challenges for our veterans in Central Florida?

We have to find a way to connect veterans with the resources that are available and the people/organizations they trust who are there to help them. There isn’t a shortage of resources. The problem is that it is just near impossible to navigate the system successfully in a timely fashion.

For the average veteran family, money is also a big issue. Many won’t be financially stable and won’t be able to readjust immediately to go back to work. They’ll need to be retrained to go back to work first.

We need a central location for veterans to go to and find the assistance and direction they seek and need.

On June 11, United Way launched a new initiative for veterans, Mission United. You have been part of that effort since the beginning. What needs do you see Mission United filling?

A lot of our veterans are coming home and don’t know where to start to get help. Mission United makes an easy one-stop shop for veterans. All they need to do is call 2-1-1 to begin the process.

Besides the challenges with the system, our young veterans need direction along with the support services. Mission United is focusing on the areas of education, legal assistance and employment. Many are coming back with a unique set of tools. Some are usable, some are not. But the character building that happens in a time of war, it’s a profound experience. They need direction and need someone to take their hand and help them readjust. I see Mission United as that support that takes them by the hand and guides them where they need to go to get the help they need and deserve.

As an elected official, you are closely connected with the community. How do you see United Way’s work in the community?

United Way has always been there for our community.  They are an essential part of our community. I remember when I was in law enforcement that I used to refer some victims to United Way to get help.  I’ve also seen a lot of people during these tough economic times looking for help and they go to United Way for assistance.

United Way helps the homeless, those who don’t have food, families weathering bad times when the economy collapsed; United Way is always there for them.

What do you see as a community need?

Right now, homelessness is possibly the community need with the most demand. A lot of our military personnel are coming back to a very challenging dynamic. I’ve encountered quite a few homeless individuals who are veterans. I also see the need for educating our most vulnerable people to learn about the resources that are out there. United Way is definitely a pathway for people in terms of getting help, knowledge, access, etc. It fills the gap in so many ways and acts as a liaison between entities. United Way ties everybody in.

What value do you think United Way brings to the community?

United Way brings a sense of humanity, which is possibly the most important value. It brings a sense of duty towards our fellow human beings. We have to get involved. What’s neat is seeing how United Way is growing. It goes with the principle “if you give, it will come back” and often, ten-fold. It’s the nature of giving. I’ve seen how the institution has grown and the people getting involved have a lot of enthusiasm. More so, these are people who have extensive expertise to help guide the way as well.

What one word would you use to describe what United Way brings to Central Florida?

“Empowerment” — empowers with knowledge, resources, confidence, and helps find solutions for people.


10 Tips to Rock Your First Day at a New Job

May 27, 2015

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Whether it’s your first job after graduation or you’ve been part of the workforce for decades, starting a new job can be terrifying. From meeting new people to learning where on earth the coffee machine is, getting through that initial day can be confusing and overwhelming. With some preparation and research, you can arm yourself for a fantastic day, making a great impression to get you started on the right foot.

  1. Nail Down a New Sleep Routine: If you’re used to college life or have been out of work for a while, staying up late and sleeping till noon may be normal for you. That routine will make that first day of work much more difficult; you’ll have a hard enough time remembering names without being exhausted too. Set yourself up for success by starting a new sleep schedule. If at all possible, give yourself a week or two to adjust to going to bed early and waking up in plenty of time to get ready for work.
  2. Map out your route: The last thing you need to worry about on your first day is traffic or getting lost. Do a test run to work to find out how long your commute will take you during rush hour, and use a map or your GPS to figure out a few alternates in case of an accident or traffic jam. If you take public transportation, make sure you have the bus or train schedules and plan on taking the earlier route to give yourself a buffer to get to work.
  3. Do some online research: Spend some time Googling your new employer and check out their social media pages. This will help you know the major issues and key people to know within the company before you ever walk in the door, which will help prepare you for what challenges you’ll face.
  4. Pick out a snazzy outfit: Pick out your outfit before the big morning; it will make everything go so much more smoothly for you. Opt to be a bit more conservative until you know your new office’s culture and what the standard of dress is amongst your coworkers.
  5. Stockpile some food: Your boss and your new team may take you out for lunch, but don’t plan on it—you may end up going hungry. They may be busy or it may not be the office norm. Pack a lunch and some snacks that you can keep at your desk in case you’re on your own. Having some food on hand will help keep your energy up. Bring some cash and change in case you do go out for lunch with your teammates.
  6. Ask questions: Don’t be afraid of looking foolish. The company hired you because they thought you were capable. You’re supposed to ask questions when you’re new! Just time them appropriately. Rather than popping into your boss’ office several times a day, write down your questions and ask them all at once so you don’t constantly interrupt her train of thought.
  7. Take notes: Along with those questions, make sure you take tons of notes. From little reminders about who is who (i.e. long red hair=Jen) to copier codes and procedures, your notes will keep you from annoying people by asking the same questions over and over again.
  8. Be prepared: Make sure you have everything you need, from paperwork HR asked you to fill out to remembering your social security card and ID. This will make the orientation process so much simpler and let you get started without a problem or delay.
  9. Then listen some more: You’re eager to prove yourself and that’s awesome. But before you start making suggestions or doing things a different way, spend your first few days and weeks listening and understanding the rationale behind procedures. There may very well be a solid reason why they do things a certain way, so make sure you understand that before making suggestions. Once you’ve learned the ropes, if you find a way that would save time or money or increase results, by all means, speak up!
  10. And breathe: You’re going to be nervous your first day and that’s okay. Take some deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed, smile, and ask for help from your new coworkers. You can do this!

Heart of Florida United Way is dedicated to changing lives for the better by helping families and individuals gain access to resources they need to stay afloat and succeed financially. For more information about Heart of Florida United Way’s efforts to improve employment and financial stability in Central Florida, visit www.HFUW.org.


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.


Depression vs. the Blues

May 18, 2015

DepressionMay is Mental Health Month. As part of Heart of Florida United Way’s focus on health, we are featuring mental health articles and information on all of our social media platforms. To follow the conversation around mental health, follow us on Twitter & Facebook.

Just about everyone has had a point in their lives when they felt down or sad. But this is vastly different than the 25% of Americans who have been diagnosed with clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder. How can you tell the difference between just feeling blue and true depression? Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose you, so you should consult a doctor if you don’t feel like yourself. Differences between depression and just feeling down may include:

  • Symptoms: If you’re feeling blue, symptoms will include feelings of sadness, lack of sleep, or loss of appetite. Depression has these symptoms and more, including prolonged insomnia, significant weight loss or gain, and extreme fatigue or disinterest in regular activities.
  • Intensity: Depression is more intense than just feeling blue. If you’re feeling down, you may be sad but are still able to perform daily functions, like going to work or school and caring for your family. Those with depression may find themselves unable to function, having difficulty getting out of bed, missing school or work and doing normal chores. They also experience feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of suicide. If these feelings or thoughts occur, get help right away. Contact Heart of Florida United Way’s 2-1-1 Crisis Helpline by simply dialing 2-1-1. Staffed by trained multilingual operators 24/7, 2-1-1 is your connection to mental health services, crisis and suicide counseling and many other resources.
  • Length of Symptoms: With depression, the individual will experience depression for a prolonged period of time. People who are just feeling blue may feel sad or down for just a few days and are able to “go back to normal” afterwards. Depression can last for months or even years.
  • Cause: Feeling down is often related to life stresses or events, such as an overwhelming workload or the death of a loved one. Depression, while it can be triggered by life events, seems to instead be a result of genetics or biochemical factors, occurring without life traumas or influence.

If you experience prolonged feelings of sadness and just don’t feel like yourself, it’s important to get treatment right away. Getting appropriate care for depression can make a huge impact on quality of life.

If you are facing a mental health crisis situation or know someone in need of help, call 2-1-1, United Way’s free information and referral helpline. For more information, visit the 2-1-1 page on the Heart of Florida United Way website.


Volunteer Spotlight: John Pisan

May 13, 2015

John Pisan

John Pisan, Senior Vice President/Regional Managing Director with Wells Fargo Wealth Management Group, lives and breathes the mission of United Way. Originally from New York, John has been involved with United Way for over twenty years. Upon relocating to Orlando, he began volunteering with Heart of Florida United Way to effect real change in the community, particularly in education. He is a strong proponent of philanthropy being a regular part of life.

Why were you inspired to become involved with United Way?

I have been incredibly blessed — with my family, my wonderful wife, and with my company, Wells Fargo Wealth Management. All of that has combined to give me the mindset that if I don’t give back, who will? It’s part of everyone’s duty to strengthen their communities and build up their neighbors for success.

It’s had a huge impact on my family. My children have been involved in making a difference since they were young. My son and daughter have organized fundraisers and events. They were not told how to accomplish these tasks/activities. It’s just part of who they are. My involvement with United Way has been a large contributing factor to that.

From your perspective, what is the greatest community need?

It all comes back to education, and Heart of Florida Way President/CEO Robert H.(Bob) Brown has been a huge influence on my involvement. If a child is given a strong education, they have a foundation that will last them their whole life and make an impact for generations afterwards. One of the greatest improvements we’ve made so far is with the Americorps VISTA program, where we place mentors in schools to work directly with students. Just a handful of mentors each year has made an tangible difference.

Hunger and homelessness isn’t going away and it’s an issue that is nowhere near solved. Through education and prevention, we can begin to chip away at generations of poverty and need.

What can the business community do?

Businesses have a responsibility to serve where we live and work. For example, Wells Fargo does an amazing job; we are all about the community. From days set aside for volunteer work to participation with organizations like Heart of Florida United Way, volunteering is core to what we do as Wells Fargo team members. By developing a culture of giving back, we can come together because that’s what it will take — all of us working together to change our communities for the better.

What is one word you would use to describe Heart of Florida United Way?

Passionate. Not just the volunteers’ passion in the work we do for the community, but the staff demonstrates passion each and every day. It starts with Bob Brown and it’s evident in everything they do. There’s just a passion for changing the lives of people in Central Florida.

 What is one thing people don’t know about Heart of Florida United Way?

People are unaware of 2-1-1. Unless they have personally used it, they don’t know the full scope of services offered and what it can do for people. From housing assistance to suicide prevention, 2-1-1 is an incredible service to the community.


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