United Way at Work: Help Now of Osceola

September 23, 2015

WomanTammy Douglass, Executive Director of Help Now of Osceola, feels the importance of her work every day.

“We call ourselves the Help Now Family,” said Douglass. “We’re helping people, we’re saving lives. We’re agents of social change.”

Indeed, Help Now of Osceola’s United-Way funded Domestic Violence Prevention Program is focused on changing the cycle of abuse. The shelter is the hallmark of the program, offering a safe living space for women and children feeling threatened or in danger.

One case stands out vividly in Tammy’s mind: the story of a young woman named Jane. After moving to the area, her boyfriend had beaten her so badly her jaw had to be wired shut. Furthermore, Jane’s landlord was trying to bill her for the blood stains left in the apartment after what her abuser had done. Jane made the decision to seek help and called Help Now of Osceola, who admitted her into the shelter. Once there, Jane met with counselors to go over her situation and discuss how it impacted her emotionally. Legal advocates worked on her behalf to clear things up with Jane’s landlord and to serve an injunction against her abuser. As she progressed, Jane entered the Help Now of Osceola’s Job Club to learn new employability skills. With the help of the program, Jane was able to get a new apartment on her own, find employment and she continues to heal emotionally.

Now in safe housing, Jane is self-sufficient. Moreover, she knows more about what a healthy relationship looks like and has an increased knowledge of the warning signs of domestic violence. Thanks to Help Now of Osceola and United Way, Jane is able to get a fresh start on life.

The shelter has 52 beds, but Help Now of Osceola’s policy is to never turn anyone away who needs help. Working creatively to make space or by working with partners, they will find a safe haven for anyone who needs it. Many people come to the shelter through referrals from 2-1-1, United Way’s Information and Assistance Helpline.

The shelter is more than just a place to sleep. For those who seek help, individuals are at the shelter anywhere from just a night or two to six months. Many come to the shelter only with the clothes on their backs. After they arrive at the shelter, they get comprehensive support to help them rebuild their lives. From securing identification documents, building a career wardrobe and learning new job skills, Help Now of Osceola helps these individuals reintegrate into society and become self-sustaining.

Staffed by just 21 incredibly dedicated people, Help Now of Osceola has tremendous impact, helping 200 women and children a year through the United Way-funded program alone.

For more information about Help Now of Osceola, please visit their website. To find out more about United Way’s work in the community in the areas of education, income, health and basic needs, please visit www.hfuw.org.


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.

Volunteer Spotlight – Diana Bolivar

April 13, 2015

Diana Bolivar high resolutionDiana Bolivar is all business—she’s always thinking about how business impacts the community we live in. Diana, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, believes that partnerships and collaborations are what make Central Florida great. And she believes that’s true for non-profits as well, which is why she’s such a strong advocate for United Way. Collective impact is necessary to make real and lasting change.

Why were you inspired to become involved with United Way?

From a business perspective, I wanted to get involved because United Way is an organization that is community centric – its work is a reflection of community priorities. From a personal perspective, I decided to get involved after meeting Bob Brown. I fell in love with his leadership style and his passion for the cause. It’s inspiring to be around people like that.

What inspires your volunteerism?

I’ve been a giver for as long as I can remember. My vision for personal and professional giving is figuring out what you can give, not what you will receive. I frequently ask myself, “How can I make a difference?” I have to have a purpose… the place where I live, work, learn and play. I – we – need to take ownership of our community. Everyone needs to find a way to give back.

What do you see as the greatest community need?

We have many, but I think that the homelessness issue is pressing right now. As much as Florida and Central Florida is growing, we need to consider a social service system that is able to address needs for this growing population. Homelessness is a big piece of that.

What were your thoughts when you saw the United Way ALICE Report for the first time?

I wasn’t surprised… I was concerned. I’ve heard for a very long time that most people across the nation are one paycheck away from a financial emergency. But to see the true numbers right in our backyard made me worried for my neighbors. As a community, we need to think about all of the factors contributing to ALICE’s situation – affordable housing, access to healthcare, job growth potential, etc. – and do something about it.

What do you think the business community can do?

I think we have to take ownership of what’s happening. We have to educate ourselves and our employees. Show the statistics. We can start in our homes…the places where we work…in our business meetings. Every staff member has a story to tell about a family member or someone they know who had their world turned upside down by one little thing. Everyone can relate to the work United Way is doing.

What one word would you use to describe UW’s impact on Central Florida?

“Comunidad.” To me, United Way represents community. It represents everything that surrounds you and is what makes a home.

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