Every community has hurting people who face almost insurmountable situations. We are fortunate we live in a community filled with people who have caring hearts and a desire to help others face the future together. It might best be described as the intersection of people with hurting hearts and people with helpful, caring hearts. It is exactly at this intersection you’ll find the United Way of Charlotte County (UWCC).
May 9 marked the Campaign Celebration of the agency which serves the community through a variety of programs all aimed at addressing and alleviating poverty. While at the Kingsway Country Club, those in attendance shared in fellowship and heard about exceptional examples of people touching the lives of others with their programs to make life even better in our extended community.
“This is a celebration of all of the pieces that fit together, each in their own way, to make this campaign work” said Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director of United Way of Charlotte County. “Each unique piece does its part to make the picture complete. We simply could not be without each piece.”
That celebration was reflected by the joy on the faces of all in attendance. One could not help sensing the camaraderie of those gathered as highlights were shared of the various program achievements of the past year with smiles and applause.
Harvey Goldberg, UWCC Board President, considered it his honor and privilege to be at the gathering. “We have much to be thankful for, and the “we” extends to everyone here- donors, staff, volunteers, and board members. We all have made a choice to bring positive change in the quality of the lives of the people we serve.”
The United Way of Charlotte County maintains a variety of programs designed to serve specific at-risk populations within our community and through its programs makes incredible inroads into specific areas. Program initiatives currently include collaborations that undergird financial stability, education, and health and wellness efforts across the age spectrum.
The impact of these programs is felt quickly throughout the community. Just to name a few that were highlighted:
- In the last two years, 48 chronically homeless individuals with complex medical and psychiatric needs were placed in housing. Program results show that 60% remain in houseing past the end of financial assistance. 70% approved for mainstream benefits and 50% adhered to prescribed mental and health care plans. This is a significant return on investment for the community since the amount of "written-off" medical bills for these clients totaled more then $3.3 million.
- Through a Navigator-Advocate, this new Kids Thrive program works to support the long term success of babies born substance exposed. In its first year, worked with 25 families via the Medication Assisted Treatment Program, the Bayfront Health NICU, and through early learning providers in Charlotte County. Partnered with and trained nearly 150 providers and stakeholders in Trauma-Informed Care practices. The work of the Substance Exposed Newborn Task Force has led to a reduction in NICU length of stay from 24 to 17 days (mean hospital charge per SEN: $159,000-$238,000).
- Partners worked with 144 at-risk preschool children to school age children with 73% measuring on target progress. Convened childhood and family literacy programs including "Book Baskets for Businesses" which grew to 39 local buisness partners supplying young readers books in their lobbies. The “Literacy Buddies” program connected 144 children with 64 adults who exchange letters to increase the joy of reading.
- 67 clients diagnosed with HIV/Aids connected with the Healthy Food Healthy People initiative where they learned the foundation of nutritional education and cost-conservative ways to cook while maintaining long term health and wellness. Clients and their families received healthy cooking demonstrations, nutritious recipes and the ingredients.
- 30 senior clients participated in the Food for Thought Caregiver Series. Participants who battle with Alzheimer's disease and/or dementia were educated on how to manage caregiver roles, daily stressors, and nutritional plans. Through the nutritional education, a meal preparation demonstartion was delivered and clients received the meal as a gift.
- A record setting number of 589 tax returns were prepared through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). Thanks to 40 incredible volunteers and nearly 5,000 service hours over 10 weeks in 3 locations. Refunds totaled $542,984.00. This free program is estimated to have also saved at least $121,628 in tax preparation costs for our neighbors.
- As the fiscal agent for the Season of Sharing grant, UWCC invested $237,000 in 291 struggling families who were able to stay in their homes through assistance with rent, mortgage, utilities.
- Mentoring for Success worked with 12 high risk families with complex backgrounds and economic needs. Volunteer mentors assisted to advance family self-sufficiency in the areas of education, health and financial literacy. Each mentor helped their families create and work with a Family Mentor Support Plan.
The above list is far from exhaustive. Through its volunteer force and through the good work of the UWCC partners, this powerful work gets carried on each day. Director Matthiessen notes “It is amazing to hear stories of people who come in to our agency, hurting in their lives and even more amazing to hear the stories of people working to make their lives better in some way.”
One sees literally hundreds of people rearranging their lives and start to work tirelessly for the betterment of their neighbor. After working their own day jobs in their own vocations, these volunteers come out to help in their specific area as they are able. The resulting thousands of volunteer hours that bring the common good throughout the community is experienced by all who both observe the process and see the work being done as they participate in the programs.
Harvey Goldberg welcomed incoming board members during the Campaign Celebration; Joe Bender, DMD, of Panther Hollow Dental Lodge, Marcia Cullinan of Michael Saunders Realty, Steve Curasco of Peace River Distributing, Caryn Huff-Sufferling of Wharton Smith Inc. Construction Group, and Cara Reynolds of the Charlotte County School Board. Click here to read more about these new board members.
Perhaps Sunil Samtani of Pulsafeeder in Punta Gorda framed the thought in its most concise form. “As a company we used to give to national concerns but now we wanted to give to the community and so we partnered with the Boys and Girls Club. Now it’s just a part of us and what we do. And now we ask ourselves, how can we do more? There’s a lot more to be done.”
Our community is well known for a variety of things, but perhaps none more important is the willingness of donors and volunteers to do this mighty work through the United Way of Charlotte County. Each and every day, in countless ways, those with caring hearts meet those with hurting hearts. At that intersection, a number of things might happen, but for us, we see the blessings of people willing to share themselves with each becoming a model for community strength. It might just be what makes Charlotte County so beautiful.