By Mary Fuller, Bryan County United Way.
United Way was created to offer help in times of crisis and struggles. We provide a safety net of services and resources needed to overcome a crisis. If those services don’t exist, we fill or find a way to fill the gap.
Once the crisis is addressed, families often still find themselves in difficult times, struggling to make ends meet and to find a pathway beyond living paycheck to paycheck. This can be due to lack of skills, resources and/ or support, and it can impact families for generations. Life is complicated and helping families get to a place where they are self-sustainable can often take many helping hands. In these circumstances, United Way is there to wrap families and individuals in care so when they’re ready, they can face the more complicated issues that may stand in the way of upward mobility.
It is too familiar for many of us. Just when we feel like we are saving money, something breaks on the car or our child falls on the playground and breaks an arm. A single unexpected expense can create a crisis for many families, even when the adults have stable employment. In Bryan County, 30 percent of households are asset-limited, income-constrained and employed (according to unitedforalice.org). That’s nearly 1 in 3 of us. This means that “the cost of living outpaces what they earn. These households struggle to manage even their most basic needs – housing, food, transportation, childcare, health care, and necessary technology. When funds run short, cash-strapped households are forced to make impossible choices, such as deciding between quality childcare or paying the rent, filling a prescription or fixing the car” (unitedforalice.org).
Specifically, with these households in mind, United Way identified that not only is it important to ensure safety net services are available to help people in crisis, but that helping “cash-strapped” households gain upward mobility would be essential in breaking the cycle of poverty and financial troubles that many households experience. Through a community-driven strategic planning process, United Way identified four “Bold Goals” for our region. These are (1) affordable, quality childcare; (2) ready and resilient workforce; (3) financially empowered families; and (4) safe and stable housing. These goals are often interrelated and without one, many struggle with keeping the other. Finding affordable childcare is often an obstacle to finding employment with a living wage. Not making a living wage can be an obstacle in securing housing. Without all of these, many households struggle to thrive and to gain independence.
Over the coming year, United Way will be researching, analyzing and prioritizing each of these goals. We will be aligning our Community Fund and funded agency work around this framework. We will engage subject-matter experts, determine measurements of positive impact, and identify partners, revenue resources and staffing needed to reach specific goals focused in these four areas. This ambitious, community- focused plan will build partnerships across sectors to bring innovation, quality and measurable results to some of our toughest problems in Bryan County and the region. To do this, United Way will need the wisdom and will of key partners, as well as financial support and volunteer leadership from all caring citizens in the Coastal Empire. We invite you to get involved.
Contact me, Mary Fuller, United Way’s Bryan County area director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Living united, we will strengthen our communities for our children and grandchildren.