Opinion

Whatcom View: United Way of Whatcom County funds education, health, families

A little girl who received her very first pair of new shoes, a man who learned to read in order to improve his job opportunities, a family recovering from abuse, a woman who rose out of homelessness who is now going back to school, a young man with developmental disabilities who got his first job — these are just some of the many lives changed thanks to United Way of Whatcom County’s community impact fund and we got to hear about them during our most recent funding round.

Each year 30-plus volunteers, the fund distribution committee, review all agencies and programs that are currently receiving and requesting funds from the United Way of Whatcom County’s community impact fund — dollars contributed by generous local individuals, companies and organizations. These dedicated volunteers review extensive reports and finances as well as hear presentations from all programs to ensure they are making progress toward United Way’s community goals. Next, they collectively decide on the dollar amounts to give to each program. It’s a tough but amazingly rewarding process that I have had the opportunity to be a part of for many years.

During my time working with the fund distribution committee I have seen many amazing things happen. On several occasions I have witnessed agencies step in to support other agencies in need or take them under their wing to keep crucial programs alive. It is common to see a new volunteer on the fund distribution committee in tears while listening to the personal stories of those in need that we have the opportunity to support. The collaboration and compassion between the agencies, volunteers and donors is overwhelming and it truly embodies the ideals of United Way — we accomplish more when we all work together than when we go it alone.

This year was the second year in a row that the grant process was open to any organization that could address United Way’s funding priorities in education, income and health. Goals focus on giving all kids (regardless of economic level) an even start, increasing the high school graduation rate, ensuring families have food on the table and a roof overhead, and making sure that all individuals have healthy, active and safe lives. Two programs never before funded by United Way of Whatcom County were selected: Whatcom Early Learning Alliance’s Kaleidoscope Play and Learn, and WWU Woodring College/Bellingham School District’s Closing the Opportunity Gap.

With 30 percent of Whatcom kindergartners entering school without any pre-school or early learning and only one out five parents able to access formal parenting and education, the WELA Kaleidoscope Play and Learn program will use United Way funds to offer group early learning class for pre-k kids and families in Bellingham for free. It is estimated that 68 percent of 12th-graders in high-poverty schools graduate, compared to a 91 percent graduation rate in wealthier schools. Thanks to United Way, WWU Woodring College/Bellingham School District’s Closing the Opportunity Gap program will be able to expand their program to more schools and ensure that kids of all economic levels have access to after school enrichment programs. Combined, these two programs will help us reach 900 more kids and parents to improve their lives and the quality of our entire community.

Though our economy is slowly recovering in Whatcom County, we are still seeing increases in certain needs like housing and food. In response to these needs the fund distribution committee decided to give a 60 percent increase in the grant amount to the Bellingham Food Bank, they have seen an 80 percent increase in clients since 2007. The Food to Bank On program with Sustainable Connections also received an increase in the amount that they received last year to help build more sustainable farms and supply food to local shelters and food banks.

Along with the programs mentioned above, United Way of Whatcom County is also continuing partnerships with a variety of programs such as the Individual and Family Support Services through the Arc of Whatcom County, Healthy Lifestyles and Academic Success Programs at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, Intensive Case Management Service through the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, Literacy Tutoring for Adults at Whatcom Literacy Council, Transitional Housing through Lydia Place, and Financial Stability Programs at the Opportunity Council just to name a few. There are so many great programs that we are partnering with, check out our website for the full list. These remarkable agencies are working every day to ensure that lives are changed and our community is strengthened, and we are so proud to partner with them and support their work.

Education, income and health — these issues affect us all. Increasing the graduation rate produces more individuals with the skills needed for the workplace, more families with food on the table and a roof overhead provides a foundation for a stable life and stable neighborhoods, and we all flourish when friends and neighbors are healthy and safe from abuse. That is what United Way is working to achieve in our community.

Even though we saw an 8 percent decline in our total campaign dollars over the last year, United Way is maximizing every dollar to ensure that it is effective and efficient. We are truly grateful for the thousands of individuals who so generously gave to our important and crucial cause. If you are a United Way of Whatcom County donor, take a bow, because your gift is being used to give parents the tools they need to be a great parent, ensure that all kids have access to early learning so that they can succeed in school, help at-risk youth make better choices and get on track for graduation and beyond, and increase crucial health care access for our most vulnerable community members, lift families out of abuse and violence for a brighter future, and so much more. Together, with amazing community partners and generous donors, United Way of Whatcom County is changing lives and truly making great things happen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbie Hogue is the branch manager of Peoples Bank’s Cordata office and a board member and chairman of the community impact committee at the United Way of Whatcom County board.

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