Volunteer Spotlight: Marie Martinez

July 23, 2015

MARTINEZ Marie007Interviewing Marie Martinez is like interviewing a force of nature—she is filled with vivacity and overflowing with passion. When asked about her work and volunteerism, she stops abruptly.

“It’s hard to sum up what it means to me,” she said. “So let me tell you a story. There was a parent here who had a child named Mike who was 18 months old. He wasn’t making eye contact. He would spin and spin if she didn’t stop him. And during a busy party, he never stopped looking at the ceiling fan in the room rather than look at his mom or anyone who came to celebrate.  Everyone kept telling her she was paranoid. That it was cute, a phase or that he’d grow out of it.

The mother was referred to our Developmental Center program and he was diagnosed with autism. She was afraid and had that moment of panic, thinking ‘I’ll never dance with my son at his wedding.’

But we have a wide range of programs and services that can help. And she took advantage of those—and we made a difference. He’s six now, and he crawls into her bed every morning to cuddle and tells her how much he loves her. He’s succeeding at school. He has great friends and he rides his bike. And unless services like ours existed, that wouldn’t have been possible. Helping children like Mike makes it all worth it.”

As the Operations Manager of the Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, Marie is dedicated to helping children. It’s a lifelong focus for her, spending the past 20 years working as an advocate for children in the community.

With Marie at the helm of the Howard Phillips Center, the focus has always been on prevention instead of intervention for children’s welfare. That makes her a natural fit as a supporter and volunteer with Heart of Florida United Way.

Why is child welfare so important to you?

In Orange County alone, there were 14,000 cases of abuse among children and families last year. That’s the second highest in Florida. And that has to change.

By providing a safe place for children, a place where kids feel comfortable, we help kids recover and help prevent abuse from ever happening in the first place. The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families has six programs available that served over 15,000 families last year. From the Healthy Families Program, which helps prevent abuse before it starts, to the United Way-funded Teen Xpress Mobile Healthcare Clinic, we ensure children are healthy, cared for and prepared to take on the world.

Why is United Way important to you?

Quite frankly, the United Way is important to me because it has been a great supporter of the Howard Phillips Center. The United Way’s dedication and focus on prevention is evidence of a community leader that is willing to stand up and make a difference in our community. The impact of what we will accomplish together continues to be measured, but we already know that we are moving the needle and making sustainable change. It’s easy to support the United Way—they support change.

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

I can’t pick just one! Support. Uplifting. Partner. Network. It all comes together because of the United Way’s work; we succeed with the United Way and identify new ways to help families.

What motivates you to volunteer?

It’s important to me to give back to the community, to make a difference and to live with purpose. I gain great meaning and fulfillment from helping children and families. By helping out, we can impact the community for the long-term.

The ALICE Report

November 19, 2014

Cover imageThe phrase “working poor” can elicit images of someone who is severely under-employed and living at the federal poverty line. But a new report released by United Way says not only is that picture inaccurate, the phrase “working poor” is inaccurate.

Developed by Rutgers University, the report calls attention to a population it refers to as ALICE, an acronym for ASSET LIMITED, INCOME CONSTRAINED, EMPLOYED. Set aside the jargon, and what’s being talked about are workers, some with families, who earn either just enough to get by, or are not quite making ends meet. These are everyday people who hold jobs as hospitality workers, daycare teachers, landscapers and so on. Their incomes simply don’t meet the cost of living.

“We all know ALICE,” says Heart of Florida United Way President and CEO Robert H. (Bob) Brown. “ALICE is the recent college graduate unable to afford to live on his or her own, the young family strapped by child care costs and the mid-career professional now underemployed. These folks are vital to our future economic well-being, and they face barriers beyond their control frustrating their ability to become financially stable.”

More than 203,000 tri-county households fall into what United Way calls the ALICE population. These are households earning more than the official U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living. This is more than double those considered in poverty by federal standards, which accounts for over 101,000 households in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. Combined, ALICE and poverty households, account for about half of all households in Central Florida.

According to the United Way ALICE report, 45 percent of Florida households are struggling to afford food, housing, childcare and transportation. However, a closer look at local numbers tells an even stronger story of hardship.

• Nearly 50% of Central Florida families do not earn enough to consistently cover the basic living expenses highlighted by the ALICE Threshold.

• 69% of all jobs in FL pay less than $20 an hour and most pay between $10 and $15 an hour. The jobs forecast shows that low-skill and low-paying jobs will dominate Florida’s future if the economy continues on its current trajectory.

• Of the ALICE population in Osceola County, 47% are homeowners and 1/3 of homeowners are cost burdened (pay more than 35% of their income on their mortgage). Likewise, in Orange County 39% of the ALICE population owns homes, with 29% cost burdened; and in Seminole County 34% own with 27% cash burdened.

• A significant majority of households below the ALICE threshold rent (69% Orange County, 62% Seminole County, 71% Osceola County). Approximately half of all renters are cost burdened (pay more than 35% of their income on their rent).

• Central Florida needs more than 95,000 affordable rental units to meet the current demand for affordable homes, with more than 65,000 of those needed in Orange County.

• Florida became less affordable from 2007 to 2012. Despite the Great Recession the cost of basic housing, child care, transportation, food and healthcare increased by 13%.

• Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties all rank in the bottom 1/3 of counties in Florida for overall housing affordability, with Orange County being the 4th worst in the state.

• Orange, Seminole and Osceola all rank in the top 1/3 of counties in Florida for job creation.

This is a population that United Way has been serving for over 75 years, but this new report sharpens the focus on the overall economic health of our community, which could ultimately lead to improvements for ALICE. Awareness can bring business and community leaders together to find workable solutions to affordable housing, affordable childcare, affordable healthcare and access to transportation that can help bring incomes more in line with the cost of living.

United Ways in six states commissioned Rutgers University-Newark, School of Public Affairs and Administration to conduct the ALICE research. The report was funded by grants from AT&T, Atlantic Health System, Deloitte, FamilyWize, Novartis, Post Foods, and The UPS Foundation.

Check Out Behind the Scenes of Dress2Learn

November 10, 2014


Dress2Learn inventory being sorted.

Dress2Learn is about homeless students and new clothes. It’s that simple. But it’s a brand new name for people in Central Florida to become familiar with. To help with that, Heart of Florida United Way held a behind-the-scenes event that gave attendees a sneak peek at how Dress2Learn works.

United Way President and CEO Robert H. (Bob) Brown did the honors of explaining Dress2Learn’s core mission, which is to provide four new items of clothing to Orange and Osceola county homeless children, and Dress2Learn’s virtual fundraising strategy. Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins and School District of Osceola County Deputy Superintendent Tom Phelps were also on-hand to lend their insights as to the effects inadequate clothing can have on the self-esteem and academic performance of homeless children.


Models Christian and Kaylee

The highlight of the event was the Dress2Learn fashion show, in which models Christian and Kalee proudly strutted the new clothes being provided by Levi’s.

Thousands of Orange and Osceola homeless students are going without adequate clothing for school. Dress2Learn can change that. So can you. Launch your fundraiser today.

To see more coverage from the Dress2Learn event, check out this blog from Orlando Sentinel columnist Kate Santich.




Dress2Learn orders being fulfilled.

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