From left to right: Norinda Yancey, Nailah Summers, Chad McGinnis, Amy Azoulay, Angela Hutchings, Deborah Bowie, Chris Wells, Rahkiah Brown, Bobby Nellis, Jason Giancarlo, Dana Clayton and Rhonda Johnson.
The United Way of North Central Florida chapter opened in 1957 here in Alachua County. Sixty years later, the chapter has a six-county footprint and has raised over $90 million to help those in need.
What They Do
United Way means different things to different people. For some, it’s the organization that helps single parents go to work every day while their children attend daycare. For others, it’s a place that fulfills immediate needs like food or shelter. But all would agree that United Way does good work in order to help people improve their lives.
United Way is special in that it’s not a program that provides a direct service. Instead, United Way raises money for those groups that provide a direct service, while also letting donors choose which charities they want to contribute to. The people who depend on United Way are single mothers working two jobs, college graduates trying to make ends meet and anybody who works day-in and day-out to survive but still needs a helping hand to stay above the federal poverty line. Anyone in the greater Gainesville area who has struggled with a financial crisis, who has been abused, or who has lost their home has most likely been offered assistance by United Way.
United Way focuses on four core areas: education, income, health and immediate needs. With the largest umbrella mission out there, United Way focuses on helping children because they believe children deserve every opportunity to succeed in life.
For the specific goal of getting children to graduate from high school, United Way has set up programs like the ReadingPals Initiative, the Book Nook Project and the Check and Connect Initiative. Last year alone, the ReadingPals Initiative mentored more than 450 students in more than 8,000 hours of reading. The Book Nook Project provides gently-used books that are free for families to practice reading skills. The Check & Connect Initiative works with lower classmen in high school to minimize referrals for behavioral issues and help them stay in school.
Assistance is provided for everyone though, not just at-risk school children. Adults can use the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to prepare and file taxes for free. In partnership with University of Florida dental students, children and teenagers can receive free oral health services with Seal & Smile. United Way also offers 2-1-1, a free 24-hour information resource line that connects area residents to resources, such as health services, social services, and childcare services.
“The thing about United Way that gets me the most excited is the way we can help leverage dollars that are donated and the way we can leverage the talents of so many amazing impact partners,” said Nick Banks, chair of the United Way board. “We do this by encouraging them to find new ways to partner and work together to bring real impact to the communities we serve.”
Such a large job raises equally large challenges. After 60 years, many things have changed. The workplace keeps evolving and so does how and why people give.
As more people work from home, the workplace campaign slowly became outdated. United Way of North Central Florida was the first charity to introduce a small business partnership. Small businesses are a significant contributor to today’s economy, and there are more of them each day. With this new partnership, United Way is setting up a new way to keep up with community demands.
Charities have also become more competitive, changing the way people give. Now, the desire to give is more cause driven. United Way has to compete with other worthy causes, like GoFundMe’s and other singular cause initiatives. This stems from a new group of donors who want to give back in a different way.
Always working to adapt, the marketing strategy has to mature to stay relevant. Rather than throwing numbers and statistics at people, United Way is focusing on letting real people in the community tell their story. The faces of real people who are receiving funding share their story with the community. The goal is to get people to recognize those who are recipients of United Way’s help.
United Way is preparing to accept the largest group of donors who have existed in the workplace: millennials. This is a generation of people who think differently and who are passionate about issues. Some aren’t in a place where they can give a lot right now, but luckily United Way always needs volunteers for manual labor.
“In the future I think United Way will be a leader in finding new ways to connect with people to tap into their passions and offer innovative ways for them to give, volunteer and bring systemic change,” Banks said.
Deborah Bowie, the CEO of United Way of North Central Florida, explains, “I think the exciting part about United Way is that 60 years ago it was an entirely different organization, and 60 years from now it will be different again.”
In commemoration of the United Way of North Central Florida Chapter’s 60 anniversary, the group is asking donors to make a gift. This could be a minimum of a $5 per month contribution for community investment fund, which stays local, or a onetime $60 unrestricted gift because it goes straight to CIF. The need will always be more than can be accommodated. United Way is urging people to come back and learn what’s changed. For those who haven’t heard of United Way, but have met someone in need of support, there’s a place for you.
Photography by Allison Durham