United Way outlines new approach for Mid & South County

Published 12:24 am Saturday, January 18, 2020

The United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County is entering the new decade as a contemporary organization, maintaining a focus on community needs.

The United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County has led innovation in the nonprofit industry for more than 90 years. It is one of the first organizations to require Outcome Goals & Measurements as a tool to strengthen the commitment to donors and host an environment of transparency.

The United Way, known for fundraising, ensures that donor dollars not only stay local but that services being delivered create lasting and meaningful impacts in the community; investing in solutions, not temporary bandages.

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“We still review the needs of the community and act,” said Janie Johnson, United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County CEO. “Recently our United Way evaluated our services, the needs of the community and what we needed to do to continue to create hope and be a leader in the nonprofit industry. It was not an easy task; it was not done lightheartedly or without knowing that change is not easy.”

The programs the organization directly provides is perhaps not as well-known as their fundraising and nonprofit efforts but provides important services to our community.

United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County has hosted the AARP Tax Assistance and the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Programs for more than 10 years. The Volunteer supported tax programs bring tens of thousands back to our community to support the economy each year. Their tax programs along with the Community Investment Grants, ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed) Community Database will continue to be an active part of the organizations platform in 2020 but will five new initiatives to further their impact and support Mid & South Jefferson County.

“We are beginning 2020 not as a fundraiser but a hand raiser,” Johnson said. “We will have more skin in the game and plan on inviting the community to join us as we (together) help our neighbors and create a better community for all of us. I am excited to share with our 5 new initiatives. 2020 will bring the most aggressive change in our organization in at least 20 years.”

United Way’s new initiatives will include a literacy program, a CENSUS education program, a community engagement program and two financial stability focused programs.

United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County Initiatives:

  • ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed) is a database that outlines the realistic income needs of those in our community. What does it take to live a life of stability in our community?

ALICE pulls actual and cost of living from our community to determine what it takes to live a financially stable life in Mid & South Jefferson County (various household sizes provided in program).

  • One initiative is a short-term, a community education program focusing on the CENSUS. While some look at the Census as a nuisance or with fear the truth is that the survey is vital to our community.

The Census heavily impacts the distribution of federal funds; tax dollars that are reinvested into local communities. It is important that we have a count for every person regardless of citizenship, economics or age. An under-count of 1% in Texas can cost as much as $300 million a year in federal funding to Texans. With areas of our community under-counted more than 20% in the last census United Way is committed to sharing the importance of participation.

  • The Community Investment Grant Program the United Way MSJC has supports community programs throughout the history of the organization and continues to be a primary focus of the organization. While remaining a priority the grant program has undergone a slight refurbishing.
  • Super Readers, a First Grader focused program, supports area youth as they develop healthy reading habits. Two area schools joined the program this year. First graders earning 5 Accelerated Reader points during the month are entered into a drawing for a prize that supports literacy (valued at $25) each month.

At the end of the school year a drawing of all students that have participated in the monthly events will award the winner with a new E Reader for a summer, filled with the adventures just for them.

  • For several years the United Way MSJC has offered personalized volunteer experiences for area companies. The volunteer experiences, called Day of Caring, offers the individuals and companies community engagement and team building while bringing hope and lasting impacts for the community.

United Way is now expanding the opportunities to engage the community as well as companies. Groups and individuals can suggest projects and volunteer for the biannual community events via the web at unitedwaymsjc.org.

  • Everyone entering the workforce has one chance to make a First Impression when applying for a job or other opportunity. The goal to make sure that our neighbors have the ability to go for the job, for the opportunity, have the needed clothing for the workplace.

The concept led the United Way MSJC & United Board of Missions to a collaboration. United Board of Missions will host the workforce readiness closet that is the outcome of collaboration. Together the organizations are working to collect interview clothing, safety clothing, footwear and uniforms.

  • United We WORK is a program that addresses workforce readiness, under employment, and financial stability. Casework support through four steps will lead participants through career exploration, income needs review, financial education, personal development and community engagement. The online application portal for prospective participants will open spring 2020.
  • VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) a United Way MSJC program for more than 10 years provides assistance for low to moderate income and the elderly filing income tax. This program brings tens of thousands of our tax dollars back to our community each year. This year the program is provided through a collaboration with Lamar University, AARP and the IRS.

With a focus on the community the United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County is still in touch with the organizations foundation from 1887, identifying community needs and working as a partner with the community to create change and inspire hope.

“The United Way is entering the roaring 20’s with excitement as we honor our traditional programming while investing in innovation,” Johnson said.