Debbie Mason: Community has number of needs

Published: Monday, March 10, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 10:41 p.m.

As our Power of One campaign and fiscal year enter the last quarter of the year, we want to thank the community leaders who contributed their dollars to United Way as the most effective way to build community in the areas of education, health and income.

As much as we celebrate the success of raising more dollars than last year and slowly growing our resources, we sadly admit that we are not doing enough. The needs are so great in our community for services to support hard-working families and vulnerable populations like the shut-in elderly.

In our community, 17 percent of people are food insecure every day. Thirty-three percent of seniors rely solely on Social Security and aren't making ends meet. Fifty percent of students attending Hawthorne High School who should have graduated last year dropped out instead.

Each year during our investment process, the request for funding is two to three times the funds we have available. For many agencies, receiving United Way funding for their program is essential, because without that required base funding, no matching federal or state dollars would flow into our community.

If one person gives $2 to $5 a week, that's $104 to $260 a year, which feeds one person for the entire year. Magnify this number by the number of working and retired people that have the ability to give and we see the potential to raise more than double the $3 million we raise each year through campaigns.

That money could make a considerable difference in supporting the needs of working families, as well as those vulnerable populations such as children and seniors who may be living in poverty. It would reduce waiting lists, build capacity in nonprofits and provide a safety net to our core workforce members to continue their employment without worrying about their families.

As a community, we must rally our resources. United Way is blessed to have 11,000 donors who contribute to the areas of education, income and health each year. Yet, with an estimated 165,000 people in Alachua County's workforce, imagine what we could do to prepare children to enter school ready to learn through Success By Six, feed homebound seniors, provide safe and educational after-school enrichment, and more. Add the more than 80,000 people working in the five neighboring counties and you can visualize the potential of what we can do together.

There are several elements that make United Way the best investment people can make. United Way keeps money here in our community, under the governance of a board of local community leaders who live and work here.

United Way is effective in procuring grants. After bringing in more than $800,000 in grants from outside our community over the past two years, United Way has been able to broaden services provided to at-risk students in grades K through 12. United Way is efficient, with an overhead that is far lower than the 25 to 33 percent allowed by Charity Navigator and GuideStar.

Finally, United Way is expansive. With every $1 that is donated, United Way creates $3 of total impact by mobilizing its vital resources. United Way does our work in several ways.

* We invest in quality programs of local agencies, often providing the needed base funding upon which nonprofits can draw into our community matching foundation and federal and state money.

* We convene nonprofit partners and community leaders around the issues affecting our citizens in education, health and income to look at how to share resources and build stronger networks.

* We provide workforce support programs such as our prescription discount card available free to anyone in our community, the free round the clock information and referral service 2-1-1, and others.

* We identify other resources to bring into our community through grants and initiatives, such as the dental sealant program that screened and sealed teeth in 1,561 school children last year.

Yet we know our community can do so much more if we increase the participation and support. By simply opening your doors to United Way, the gift of hope is possible for everyone in our community. Every dollar counts.

United Way works with companies of all sizes to run a workplace campaign, as well as reaching out to individuals and retirees for major gifts to support our special initiatives.

Change starts with you. Imagine, inspire, invest together, so each of us has the opportunity to say, “I live United. I help people.”

Be the one who makes a difference in our community today by helping others in need.

Please call 352-331-2800 or visit for more information.

Debbie Mason is president and CEO of United Way of North Central Florida.

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