ON HER WAY: Skeilar Haver received an On My Way pre-K grant while participating in class at Finding Me Now preschool in 2018. Staff file photo
ON HER WAY: Skeilar Haver received an On My Way pre-K grant while participating in class at Finding Me Now preschool in 2018. Staff file photo
As the United Way of Howard County celebrates its 90th year of serving the community in 2019, the organization has been working to help residents understand the services and resources available to them.

At an annual event in February — newly named “Experience United Way” — the organization invited the public to literally experience some of the programs it provides, ranging from Real Men Read and kindergarten readiness to how to navigate their way through a tangle of strings to find services.

However, the highlight of the event was the unveiling of the “Search United Way” platform, which is an online database of all of the resources available in Howard and Tipton counties. 

Notably, United Way did not announce a dollar amount for how much money was raised in 2018. In previous years the organization announced monetary totals for the campaign, but since the implementation of the 75-in-5 initiative in 2017, United Way has shifted its goal from dollars and cents to a larger community impact.

Search United Way

The platform features 16 different areas of services, ranging from arts and culture to education and health care. After clicking on a topic, users are then directed to a large online database of service providers.

For example, after clicking on “Food,” users will have access to the addresses and phone numbers of dozens of food pantries, grocery programs and more food-related services in their area. From there, they can click “View Full Details” to see the hours, website, eligibility, what to take with them and any fees that might apply.

The online database is currently available to both Howard and Tipton counties with the use of two separate website URLs.

“It’s just a wealth of information for people in need, and we are very excited about it,” said Jeff Young, interim United Way president and CEO. “We built this for Howard and Tipton counties, and we expect this to grow. We believe other United Ways in the state and actually in neighboring states will end up adopting this program.”

The Search United Way app is the first of its kind in the country, Young continued.

“Essentially, the reason why we did this is because the future is self-service,” said Bailey Franklin, United Way communications director. “Everyone wants to use their smartphone or their Web browser to be able to search for things that they want without having to call someone to get the answer. So we’ve been able to make this platform available for everyone to utilize, no matter your age, gender, where you live and those kinds of things.”

For those who do not have a smartphone or access to the internet, Young said the link is available for people to use at the library and people can ask their neighbors or friends for assistance using the program.

The platform took about six months to create from the former 2-1-1 database. In May of last year, United Way of Howard County announced the phone-based 2-1-1 service would no longer be answered locally by the organization, but the information and referral service would still exist through “statewide telephone and resource database software.”

75-in-5 Initiative

In September 2017, United Way announced instead of creating a monetary goal to reach during its annual campaign, the organization would instead focus on the 75-in-5 initiative to get 75 percent of children ready to enter kindergarten by 2022.

At the time, United Way estimated just 45 percent of children were prepared to learn in a classroom setting.

By the end of 2017, the organization established five working groups of Uniform Assessment, Public Policy, Community Mobilization, Quality Early Learning and Family Engagement to work towards the initiative.

The organization also collaborated with Ball State University researchers, the Community Foundation of Howard County and five local school corporations to create a system to track the progress of the initiative; developed and implemented a communications plan; and opened 100 quality Pre-K spots through the On My Way Pre-K pilot expansion. More than 80 community volunteers are currently working in the United Way’s Early Learning Coalition.

“I think the community has definitely embraced the initiative and we are up to 35 institutions in the community that have co-adopted the goal of 75 in 5,” said David Owen, director of the Early Learning Coalition.

Owen said instead of focusing solely on 4-year-olds getting ready to enter kindergarten at the age of 5, the coalition realized it would be more beneficial to start the early education process from birth up to age 5.

“We’re now starting to develop tactics to try and attack the education of children even earlier than age 4, and we’re doing that by interacting with local pediatricians who see these children,” he said, noting that children generally have wellness checks every year. “It’s very hard for us to figure out how to find all of these children throughout the county when there are thousands of them — we obviously can’t track them all down to have individual conversations. But we can leverage off our relationships in the community with the pediatricians and the hospitals to have those conversations for us.”

The hospitals, like other co-adopters of the initiative, can then inform parents of what resources are available to them, like free books from the Imagination Library and existing programs at the Early Childhood Learning Center.

Just this month, United Way announced grant funding for several local early learning programs.

“Our children are our future,” said Betsy Hoshaw, Community Investment Committee chair in a press release. “We chose these programs because we feel that they will bring educational advancement opportunities to children under the age of 5 and work toward the overall goal of 75 in 5.”

Through the grants, Early Learning Curriculum provided by South Creek Church was awarded $2,000; Early Learning Services provided by Sts. Joan of Arc & Patrick School was awarded $9,250.91; Outdoor Curriculum provided by Caterpillar Clubhouse was awarded $4,000; Daisy by Mail provided by Girl Scouts of Central Indiana was awarded $3,175; and Hero Social and Emotional Curriculum provided by Family Service Association was awarded $5,000.

In addition to early learning programs, United Way also created a system to track and quantify the results of the 75-in-5 initiative through a kindergarten readiness checklist. Within the first two weeks of the school year, kindergarten teachers countywide fill out a checklist for each student that features 18 different aspects of kindergarten readiness.

For example, students need to be able complete tasks like point to and name basic colors, say the alphabet, tie their shoes, answer simple questions and follow directions.

“It’s really a legacy goal, it’s about making Howard County better decades from now,” Owen said. “These 5-year-olds will become the next mayor or next business owner or next UAW leader or machinist — those are all things that this community needs and so by investing now, we are spending dollars that aren’t going to have a payoff for decades.”

Now that a system has been developed, Owen said 2019 is all about “moving the needle” and increasing community awareness.

2018 campaign

Despite not announcing a monetary total or campaign goal, United Way officials are expecting similar numbers compared to the previous five years.

“The giving in the community is fabulous, it always has been,” Young said. “The one thing that we’ve noticed a change with our givers is to say that we’re going to raise money for the next two or three months and to say we’re going to do that just in this time frame isn’t really how it works anymore.”

Young cited the workplace campaigns where employees give through payroll deductions and through other fundraisers.

“Believe it or not, we still actually have some campaigns that have not closed,” he continued.

Although an official total wasn’t discussed at the February meeting, Young said the organization’s fundraising will be similar to what it has raised every year since 2013, which is more than $2 million.

A large portion of those donor dollars go to the 14 agencies the United Way funds, including the American Red Cross, Bona Vista, Boy Scouts, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Carver Community Center, Family Service Association, Food Finders, Girl Scouts, Literacy Coalition, Mental Health America of North Central Indiana, Project Access, Samaritan Caregivers, Salvation Army and the Kokomo Family YMCA.

Each year, the agencies submit grant applications for funding that are considered by the Community Investment Committee. That committee evaluates the applications and then recommends the amount of funding to give to each agency to the United Way board of directors.

“We’re after community impact,” Young said. “In the old days, people gave to the United Way and the United Way gave to other funded agencies, and now we have much more than that going on.”

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