United Way makes a ‘Champion for Change’ out of everyone

This year’s Seasons of Caring Community Kickoff is set for Aug. 20, but that’s just the beginning of the volunteer opportunities available to local businesses and organizations.

With the annual United Way of Dane County Seasons of Caring Community Kickoff taking place next week, the focus of this year’s campaign will be Champions for Change.

What is a “Champion for Change”? According to UWDC, it’s anyone who can get the message out about community aspirations and the urgency of working together NOW to make fundamental changes as Dane County’s population continues to soar.

It was important this year for UWDC to listen to members of its key stakeholder groups — local government, partner agencies, businesses, donors, volunteers, and recipients of the organization’s services, notes Renee Moe, UWDC president and CEO.

What the organization heard was that things like underemployment, homelessness, school readiness, and health are all related. With an understanding that reducing poverty in Dane County can only be done through collaboration across multiple programs targeting each of these areas, UWDC changed its investment process to encourage a more holistic approach to family stability by providing funds and dedicated time and space to allow local groups to strengthen their collaboration and work together on large-scale initiatives intended to reduce the number of local families experiencing poverty.

It’s a tall task, but one UWDC has made a sizeable dent in.

According to U.S. Census statistics, more than 63,000 individuals experience poverty in Dane County, approximately 12.4 percent of the county’s total population. Among that number are nearly 13,000 children under the age of 18, which is roughly three children in every classroom (of 25) in the county.

Those are sobering poverty numbers for a county often viewed as affluent, but because of community efforts through organizations like UWDC, acute family homelessness has declined by 50 percent since 2014. Even with victories like that, there is still work to be done. According to UWDC, as many as 84 families in the county were still experiencing acute homelessness as recently as a July 2017 point-in-time count, and 600 families remain housing insecure.

It’s important to note, says Moe, that many if not most of those individuals are employed, but housing remains unaffordable locally for many lower-income workers.

It can be overwhelming to hear about the obstacles still to overcome to defeat poverty in Dane County, says Len Devaisher, UWDC executive vice president of resource development. However, he explains, it’s important to remember that while “no one can do everything, everyone can do something.”

To that end, UWDC launched a volunteer mobilization plan this past April that includes a Business Volunteer Network (BVN) of no fewer than 38 local businesses, many of them large, that provides businesses with education, resources, and networks to further their workplace volunteer programs beyond just a one-day service effort or payroll campaign.

According to the UWDC website, BVN members strive to find the best volunteer opportunity to match employees’ interest and passions by participating in special projects that are offered exclusively to BVN member companies.

Some of the past BVN activities have included:

  • Staffing the annual Holiday Gift Drive for Teens/Empty Stocking Club at the Alliant Energy Center during the holidays;
  • Participating in United Way’s “Housing First Apartment Makeover Challenge,” through which an apartment makeover was done and home essentials and stable housing was provided for formerly homeless families; and
  • Participating in the annual Job Readiness Fair, which provides resources for local residents taking steps toward stable employment. BVN volunteers from more than a dozen member companies provided human resources professionals who offered résumé writing assistance, interview coaching, and job-search tips.

The organization has also made a more concerted effort to connect with younger workers through increased volunteer opportunities, as well as meeting people where they’re actually at to help connect the dots about the root causes of poverty for donors and volunteers.

Volunteer engagement

This year’s Seasons of Caring Community Kickoff will take place at the Duck Pond at Warner Park from 4–6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

Once again, nearly 1,000 volunteers — those #Champions4Change — will come together to volunteer in support of our neighbors in Dane County. The event begins with a short program during which volunteers will hear from UWDC staff, representatives from partner agencies, and a local family who benefited from United Way services.

Then the fun really begins with an hour of on-site volunteer projects aimed at addressing local needs, including assembling pediatric dental kits, feminine hygiene kits, paper products for local shelters, reusable bags for people to use at food pantries, and food collection. In total, UWDC expects to see a $50,000 impact across the 1,000 volunteer slots in just that one hour.

UWDC is the official nonprofit partner for Forward Madison, and the team will run a soccer clinic for kids at the kickoff event. And, of course, the Madison Mallards will provide ample food and entertainment for the whole family.

The Community Kickoff is just the first volunteer opportunity of many planned between now and Thanksgiving for UWDC.

Throughout the fall, UWDC will offer team-building opportunities for companies, sports teams, social groups, and community members. UWDC will bring all supplies to you and lead your group through the engagement. After your engagement is completed, UWDC distributes the products you’ve created to nonprofit partners where they benefit the community and UWDC also shares how your work translates into measurable impact.

According to a UWDC fact sheet, your organization receives an on-site, customized volunteer project that engages your team and strengthens staff communication and leadership skills, all while allowing your group to have a positive impact in the community.

For more information on volunteer engagements, contact UWDC at (608) 246-4380 or communityengagement@uwdc.org.

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