Working together, we are building a better community
In the spring of 2010, Rhode Island was in the grip of the most disastrous flood anyone alive can remember. As the waters rose next to our headquarters on the Woonasquatucket River, the United Way 2-1-1 information and referral line was ringing non-stop; 5,000 calls in 48 hours and 33,000 calls in 30 days.
While flood calls have receded, activity at 2-1-1 is now being fed by a different kind of flood. A flood caused by an economic situation which most of us have never experienced. The new population of callers to 2-1-1 is those who have considered themselves middle class. They have worked hard, played by the rules and never expected to be in this spot. They are educated, many have been let go from professional positions that will never exist again and some are older; but not old enough to retire.
The non-profit sector that supports these folks has been weakened by state budget cuts and lost philanthropic contributions over the past three years. They continue to help fueled by passion and commitment but they are stretched.
At United Way, we are approaching this situation with a sense of stubborn perseverance. We have had some success over the last few years, and we are determined to do even more. Our overarching belief is that if we help people to do better for themselves and their families, all of our community will benefit.
- In education, we propose to help children succeed in school by assuring that they receive high-quality early childhood education by doubling the number of children in high-quality programs as determined by BrightStars Quality Rating and Improvement System. All the data on education say the best investment is in our youngest learners. Further we advocate that children have access to the highest quality after-school programs with a strong academic component. The Rhode Island After School Plus Alliance, an education initiative of United Way of Rhode Island, will not only provide best practice assistance to programs but also double the number of children with access to these programs.
- On income, we help people gain the skills to get jobs that can actually support their needs. The majority of our workforce has a high school degree and no more. We are helping them to move rapidly through training programs like Stepping Up, Building Futures and Youth Build that land them in jobs in health care and the building trades that both pay a decent wage and let them continue their education. We also fund financial literacy training, support access to mainstream banking services and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- By all measures, the $50 million affordable housing bond overwhelmingly approved by Rhode Island voters, has been a significant economic force, bringing in $450 million in private investment and creating or saving some 3,000 jobs during the recession. Since 80% of the bond was spent on rental units, it was able to help as renters, who were displaced in the foreclosure crisis, came looking for a new place to live. We are advocating for the creation of another 1,000 units.
- Our other housing goal is that we help double supportive housing opportunities for chronically homeless individuals. The data shows that if we stabilize housing, and provide supportive services, we can stop expensive cycles of crisis that lead to repeated use of emergency rooms, health care facilities and jails, saving about $10,000 per person per year. Due to the hard work by partners like Housing First and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, we will soon eliminate chronic homelessness in one community, Newport. We can, and should, eliminate chronic homelessness in our state.
- And, when all else fails, people need one single place to turn for help, so we will build the capacity of 2-1-1, to receive 200,000 calls a year, helping people to access services that support them when they need help to get through.
Last year, more than $13 million was donated to United Way of Rhode Island, which, in turn, has been invested in building a better community. We are grateful to our donors for their generous support of our mission. It’s our goal to add another $2 million to this annual total. To do this, we will need to grow our fundraising efforts in expanded ways, building relationships with individual donors by reaching out to corporations and their employees, individual donors, women leaders, and young professionals.
With federal, state and local budget cuts on the horizon, we may not have seen the worst of the economic flood of need in our community. But if we can do what we did when the rains came last spring: work together, donate what we can and use all of our creativity and energy, we will build a better community. This is the essence of the Live United message of United Way: to give, advocate and to volunteer.
I invite you to join us.