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.
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.
The last few weeks I have been blogging about the day I got to spend with Joel Miller, an Outreach Specialist with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness. Joel is on a mission to get as many local homeless residents into permanent housing as possible.
There was one person that Joel insisted that I meet that day, and I want you to know her, as well. Her name is Blanca. We met Blanca where she sleeps, along a fence in downtown Orlando by the railroad tracks. With her was Jesus, a man from Puerto Rico who is having problems getting proper I.D. It has been a long time since I have met a person so grateful and so giving as her. She was more than happy to share her story after inviting me to sit next to her on the ground.
Like so many people, Blanca lost her home a year ago due to financial problems. She is now working at a temp agency trying to save enough money for a deposit on an apartment.
She also spends much of her time trying to help other homeless people. She even accompanies people who don’t speak English to the Social Security office so she can translate for them. By the way, the closest location is a two hour walk away.
Overcoming the I.D. Obstacle
Blanca is teaching Jesus how to speak English so he can find a job and get on with his life. One of the major obstacles he and others face is the lack of government-issued I.D. Without a permanent address or money to pay for a driver’s license or birth certificate, many homeless people are locked out of the employment market.
Without proper I.D. there is little that Joel can do to help them. I can tell that this problem is a frustrating one for Joel. Fortunately, the commission is partnering with another organization that is addressing the problem.
iDignity is an organization that helps disadvantaged people regain their self-sufficiency. It has events around Central Florida that provide help in obtaining I.D. cards, birth certificates, and Social Security cards.
10,000 Homeless in Central Florida
Blanca and Jesus are just two of the estimated 10,000 local residents who are living on the streets, staying in shelters or sleeping in cars every night. All too often, they are forgotten and invisible, which is why Joel and the commission keep pressing on. “How we as a city reach out to help those who have the least shows a lot about our character as a city….for better or worse,” he said.
If you are interested in more information on the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, click here. To learn more about United Way’s effort to alleviate homelessness, including our partnership with the commission, click here.
Full Sail Intern
United Way Marketing & Communications
Recently I had an opportunity that I would have never thought possible – helping a man who is dedicated to doing what he can to help people who are less fortunate than you and I. Joel Miller spends his days walking the streets of Orlando giving hope, friendship, and assistance to homeless residents who are often overlooked. I jumped at the chance to spend a day with Joel and document his interactions. It proved to be a humbling experience, in which I met some wonderful people who taught me a lot about the problems that they deal with on a daily basis.
Working for the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness as an Outreach Specialist, Joel’s primary goal is to get homeless people into permanent shelter, while also helping them in any way that he possibly can. Many services he cannot offer on his own, but because he has been working in this field for the last 10 years, he has gained a network of colleagues who have similar goals of helping.
I applaud Joel on his mission; it was evident that it’s not an easy job to do. Many of these people are down on their luck and just need a little help to get back on their feet. Some have disabilities that make them unable to hold a job, while others have addictions that need to be worked out. While with Joel, I met people who fall into all three categories. In many cases, their issues can be solved on an individual basis. That’s why Joel is out there hitting the streets, talking to as many people as possible about what he can do to help them. He is probably helping somebody as you read this.
To learn more about United Way’s effort to alleviate homelessness, including our partnership with the commission, Click here
If you are interested in more information on the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, or would like to help Joel out, visit their site here.
Since that day was such a great experience, it is impossible to write everything into a single entry. So stay tuned, there is more to come.
Now a quick fact about the homeless of Central Florida – The average number of displaced people on any given night in Central Florida is 3,970, according to Thedisplaced.org, a website that is dedicated to raising awareness of the growing problem of homelessness in Central Florida.
Full Sail Intern
United Way Marketing & Communications