Whatcom View: United Way helps those in need, improves community

What does a strong and healthy community look like to you? Does it have kids who are prepared and ready to succeed in school? Teens making good choices, graduating from high school and moving confidently into adulthood? Hardworking families with food on the table and a roof overhead? Friends and neighbors accessing crucial medical needs and living a life free from violence and abuse? This is what United Way of Whatcom County envisions for our community and every day our organization and our many community partners are working to achieve this shared aspiration. You can be part of it by making your pledge or donation today.


United Way of Whatcom County focuses on education, income and health. These three areas are intertwined, you really can’t have one without the other, and the facts show us the positive results of advancing these three issue areas. For every dollar invested in childhood development programs, there is between a $7 and $8 return to the community later on. Students who are living in poverty and not reading at grade level by third grade are three times more likely to drop out of school as students who have never been in poverty. Over the last three years United Way of Whatcom County has helped to increase literacy rates for kindergartners by 10 percent, and last year more than 2,500 kids and teens were put on track for graduation. We are working collaboratively to make a measured impact on our community thanks to our partners like Bellingham Childcare & Learning Center, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, Home Port Learning Center, Whatcom Family YMCA, Whatcom Center for Early Learning and many more.


With more than 16 percent of Whatcom County living below the poverty line, and even more living close to the poverty line, United Way is working with projects and programs at the Bellingham Food Bank, Lydia Place, Opportunity Council, Sun Community Services, Work Opportunities, Sustainable Connections and many more to lift individuals and families out of poverty and increase financial stability. Studies show that one in six adults in Whatcom County is functionally illiterate. Improving literacy skills means more employment opportunities and increased financial stability. Last year more than 630 local adults met their literacy skills and over the past few years we have seen homelessness decrease by 30 percent. These successes build a stronger and healthier community for us all.


It’s been estimated that the total costs to society, both direct and indirect, of child abuse and neglect is around $100 billion annually in the United States. People with substantial medical and behavioral health needs make up less than 5 percent of the total population but are responsible for 50 percent of all health care spending. United Way of Whatcom County is helping to tackle local health issues by partnering with projects and programs at The Arc of Whatcom County, Brigid Collins Family Support Center, Compass Health, Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, Whatcom Council on Aging and many others. Now Whatcom County has moved from the fifth healthiest county to the fourth healthiest in the state.


I can give you data and information all day long but what all of this really means is that thanks in part to United Way of Whatcom County’s work last year there was a teen living in a car with his parents who found a home and improved his school performance, a woman with developmental disabilities who survived abuse, made new friends and increased her overall health and well-being, a 78-year-old woman with MS who was able to stay independent and healthy in her home, a baby born with vision loss, hearing impairment, motor skill challenges and hospitalized for 4 months, who is now mobile and communicating through signs and showing his first smile, and a man with the courage to seek out help for literacy who gained new skills and a promotion at work. These are just a small fraction of real stories of real people whose lives have been improved thanks to United Way’s network of committed projects, programs, and agencies.


It takes more than one program to make real change in our community. United Way is much more than just a charity. Our organization researches current needs, vets and holds accountable all of our funded projects and programs, and builds a stronger community that will benefit everyone. As we launch our 2015 Campaign I want to challenge our community to dig deep and support this cause that directly affects 100,000-plus people every year in Whatcom County and whose effects ripple out to touch every single one of us. Go online to contribute today or make your gift through your workplace campaign. Don’t have one at your workplace? Start one. Your support of United Way of Whatcom County will change lives and help us achieve our shared vision of a stronger community for all. If you are a current supporter of United Way of Whatcom County, thank you. Your gift is making a difference and will change even more lives when you give again this year. If you aren’t a current supporter, join me today in making a contribution because great things happen when we live united!

About United Way

United Way of Whatcom County runs more than 150 workplace giving campaigns during the fall to benefit Whatcom County’s Community Impact Fund, which focuses on education, income and health. For more information about making a contribution, conducting a United Way workplace campaign, or for more information about United Way of Whatcom County, go online to unitedwaywhatcom.org.


Peggy Onustack is the current chair of the board of directors for United Way of Whatcom County and she recently retired as the local vice president and district manager of US Bank.