United Way helping nonprofits to ‘stay strong’

There’s a depth of generosity among residents of the Lower Shore that most describe as heartwarming.

It’s particularly evident when it’s time to pledge to the United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore. For 2017, the United Way received $1.4 million in pledges, coupled with grants.

Most of the money came from donors, many who give from every paycheck. It might be only a dollar or two, but it adds up and tremendously benefits those in Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester counties.

“We are here to make sure organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters stay in our community. We are the rock they lean on,” Amy Luppens, assistant director of the United Way office on North Salisbury Boulevard, said during a recent conversation. With her was Pam Gregory, community impact manager.

“We fight for education, health and financial stability opportunities for every person in our community,” Luppens said.

As an example, in the health category, there are programs to assist those who need transportation to dialysis, as well as emergency dental program and hospice care. Anyone in need can dial 211 to reach a hotline manned around the clock, every day. The hotline refers callers to organizations that can help.

Those who seek United Way funding go through a detailed process. Each spring, members of the Impact Committee, composed of board members and community members, carefully review applications. They meet with applicants, visit sites of each program and meet with clients who would benefit.

“The United Way is like an older sibling for all these programs,” Luppens said.

“So many nonprofits run on a shoestring budget with a small staff. The United Way helps with funding and training opportunities. We here at the office are all donors, too,” Gregory added.

She explained the international Imagination Library, in partnership with the Dolly Parton Foundation. It provides, every month, a free, new, quality book to children from birth to kindergarten.

Low-income children are targeted, but books are available to any youngster and include tips for parents, about effective ways to read and interact with preschoolers.

For a $26 annual donation to the United Way, 12 books – including classics and bilingual versions — can be purchased. The program has benefitted Wicomico County for the past four years.

“We saw the need,” Luppens said, when local test scores were lower than goals educators set.

“There is such an important value to literacy,” Gregory said.

A $1 per week donation will pay for emergency assistance kits to 21 families whose homes have been destroyed by fire.

A $15 per week donation will provide 4,524 weekly round trips for adults to receive dialysis.

United Way offers 74 programs and partners with 33 agencies. The local office has a full-time staff of eight and a part-time grant writer, whose job is funded by a grant.

“There is such a need for her,” Luppens said.

Founded 130 years ago, the United Way began locally in 1944 as the Community Chest.

The $1.4 million for 2017 is divided to fund the three categories Luppens mentioned – education, financial stability and health.

In the education category, there is $342,369 and 18 programs. They include $36,000 for Lower Shore Scouting Outreach and $26,500 summer enrichment and academic connections.

In the financial stability category, there is $412,282 in funding and 23 programs, including $35,000 for transitional living for Village of Hope and $12,000 for MAC, Inc.

In the Health category, there is $500,059 in funding and 27 programs. They include $177,000 for Meals On Wheels and $24,000 for Coastal Hospice’s palliative care program.

There are also six Community Services programs and $142,500 in funding. They are community impact and donor services, non-profit TechAssurance, information and referral, emerging leaders projects, non-profit agency training and support and volunteer center and Get Connected.

“We’re in the process of applying for a Volunteer Generation Fund, through the governor’s office. We’re applying for $25,000 … to increase volunteerism in the community,” Luppens said.

The Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism “funds volunteer connector organizations to increase their ability to recruit and retain volunteers in diverse opportunities as well as increase other organizations’ usage of effective volunteer management practices,” according to the maryland.gov website.

“We also help people gain the skills they need to get jobs,” Gregory said. The Adult Literacy Program helps achieve that goal.

The United Way is involved in battling the heroin epidemic by investing in education about drug use, particularly in middle schools and high schools.

“We’re not just looking at people in poverty. The average person can benefit, too,” Gregory said, through the ALICE program, an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed, designed to help the average citizen.

“The ultimate goal of the program is to stimulate action that will improve the financial stability of ALICE families. The project identifies opportunities and works with local United Ways, community partners, and government officials on grant proposals and other impact opportunities,” according to the unitedwayalice.org website.

“A lot of programs here would not be in existence without the United Way. They would be much smaller, and there would be a much larger burden on our partners,” Luppens said.

“The burden would be on our government if an organization like ours wouldn’t be able to continue.”

“We want to focus on helping the community get strong. That’s our goal,” Gregory said.

“To get strong and to stay strong.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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