United Way

A Legacy of Impact That Endures

Posted on

A Legacy of Impact That Endures
by Ken Toll

I’ve been wearing United Way on my sleeve with an extra dose of pride lately.

To be clear, I’m never less than proud of the local impact we make, the partners we collaborate with, and the staff I’m privileged to work alongside every day. But United Way has been getting extra props lately, and that’s worth feeling good about.

For starters, The Chronicle of Philanthropy has named United Way Worldwide to the top spot of America’s Favorite Charities. These are 100 cause-driven nonprofit organizations that Americans are most willing to support financially because of trust and impact. While the list specifically highlights UWW, the organization’s success depends on local United Ways delivering meaningful change in their communities. That’s how you build trust and create impact that transforms lives.

Another reason I’m proud relates to the powerful impact created by three local efforts that our United Way took a lead role in creating and nurturing: Drug Free Jackson; the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative; and Project Access.

Drug Free Jackson was once the Jackson County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition. We helped form it and sustained it for many years. Recently, the effort moved to a new community coalition and continues to thrive. In fact, if you haven’t taken part in its annual Drug Summit, you should consider doing so this year on Nov. 30.

TPPI is a peer-led, community-wide effort to help teenagers understand, talk about and commit to positive sexual health. It’s had a powerful effect on lowering teen pregnancy rates. Between 2003 and 2015, our community reduced that rate by 58 percent—from 78.4 to 33.1 per 1,000 females ages 15-19. Ranking 83 Michigan counties from best to worst, that puts Jackson County at 48th in the state, down from 76th in 2003. The steep decline in Jackson County—faster than elsewhere—is a testimony to the impact of TPPI. That work continues, with the recent Cole Williams presentation on fatherhood on Nov. 11.

Then there’s Project Access. Long before there was an Affordable Care Act and Healthy Michigan, back when thousands of local residents had little or no access to health insurance, your United Way helped lead the development of this service that ultimately delivered more than $18 million in health care to Jackson County’s most vulnerable people. Since Medicaid expansion, those individuals now have the coverage they need, and Project Access has been disbanded. I think this is great news! It means we were part of a collective effort to address a critical need in Jackson County.

These are recent developments, but none of it is new. Our local history goes back more than eight decades, and United Way itself—most commonly known as the Community Chest—has its roots in the late 19th century. I recently saw this photo of President Franklin Roosevelt kicking off a nationwide “Be a Good Neighbor” campaign involving Community Chests from across the country. FDR recognized the critical importance of having safety nets available so people can get out of crisis and rebuild their lives.

That photo is from a bygone era. And while many of the businesses around during that time are long gone, United Way is still going strong. That’s another thing that gives me great pride: United Way’s mission is to bring local people and resources together to tackle our biggest community problems. It’s very simple…and it’s immensely powerful. We have not drifted from that model, and so it is immensely relevant, as well.

That’s the heart of our work in Jackson County. We’re dedicated to eliminating poverty and helping all people become financially stable. That resonates across the decades, driving our work today and setting the course for the future.

We all have a stake in that future. We all must be involved. We LIVE UNITED.

As you think about your charitable investment, I hope you’ll invest in United Way. I hope you’ll be part of our collective commitment to changing lives and building a stronger Jackson County for everyone.

Help others in our community

Read more Stories of Impact

Subscribe to IMPACTS!