United Way’s focus is the creation of lasting change in our community

When I first started writing to you in January of 2014, I asked Jackson County to make a commitment to get engaged. And, my, Jackson County has responded. Jackson County United Way had a great 2014 and are looking forward to an even better 2015.

Here are some of our programming successes:

Continued service with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program created in 2010, in efforts to support financial stability work in Jackson County. Funded by the Walmart Foundation, Jackson County United Way led the charge in 2014. Thirteen volunteers prepared 190 tax returns at three sites (Crothersville, Medora, and Seymour). Since the program started, Jackson County United Way has helped Jackson County residents claim more than $1,125,160 in federal and state returns, including the earned income tax credits and child tax credits.

A record-breaking Day of Caring. On May 13, 475 individuals served at 72 project sites throughout Jackson County, including Brownstown, Crothersville, Medora and Seymour. Day of Caring celebrated its 18th annual year of calling together groups of volunteers (corporate, service clubs and individuals) to donate their time to serve nonprofit and governmental organizations in a day of manual labor.

Expansion and additional services connecting students in need to basic school supplies through the Stuff the Bus School Supply Collection Drive and Rock ’n’ Ready Distribution Day. Nearly 200 volunteers served more than 350 hours to ensure students started off the school year the 2014-15 with the supplies they need to be ready to learn. In 2014, more than 11,380 items were donated, along with 1,000 backpacks, for a cash value more than $17,000. This supported more than 840 students from Brownstown, Crothersville, Medora and Seymour to return to school ready to learn.

Great engagement has continued into the annual campaign. Our staff has been working tirelessly with our campaign volunteers and board to turn around the six-year record of not hitting the fundraising goal. While the amount of money raised every year is something to celebrate, we know our community partners work has expanded to address increasing needs in the county.

Over the last 50 years, our sole focus has been to raise funds in the annual campaign. That’s why Jackson County United Way was created to support our community partners. While this is a very important piece of our work, we know it is not the only reason for our existence. Recently, Brian Gallagher, United Way Worldwide president shared, “Fundraising is not United Way’s reason to exist, but that it is the platform on which we pursue community change and impact.”

Jackson County United Way’s role is not only to be a fundraiser but also to understand and communicate community conditions, convene and collaborate on issues affecting the community, and create lasting change and impact.

So, here at United Way the focus isn’t only raising about $745,000; it also includes the 153 students registered in Child Care Network’s Kids Klub program for before- and after-school care at six elementary schools, allowing working parents to get to work on time and know their child is safe and ready for school. It includes more than 230 senior citizens receiving nearly 36,000 warm, healthy meals through Meals on Wheels and one of five Senior Citizen Centers throughout the county in order to stay in their home longer.

It also includes the single, hardworking mom who now has a safe place for her children to rest their heads at Anchor House; a male mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters for her pre-teen son; and tutoring from READ Jackson County for her to prepare for her High School Equivalency Prep Exam providing a greater future for her family.

Jackson County United Way’s focus is creating lasting change to support all Jackson County residents to achieve their human potential through education, financial stability, and healthy lives. We do this through our work with 20 community partners, our programs and the funds raised from the annual campaign.

Thank you Jackson County for getting engaged in our work in 2014 whether you gave, advocated, or volunteered. Thank you for “Living United.”

Tonja Couch is executive director of Jackson County United Way. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.