A Look Inside: Why Family Matters

Learnings from our Most Recent Community Assessment

In the midst of the holiday season, many people spend time reflecting on what they are grateful for. And for many, their family rises to the top of the list.

This holds true for Danny, a single father receiving support from a United Way-funded program. Danny would do almost anything for his family, which includes his two biological daughters; his non-biological son, Isaac; and his ailing mother.


“I think he’s motivated by his love of his kids. And wanting to be a great dad [because] he didn’t have that sort of experience.” – Teresa, Jewish Family Services

Danny works three jobs to pay the bills and put a roof over his kids’ heads. He sought out the help of Jewish Family Services for his oldest daughter, who has autism. He is currently going to court to try to secure custody of Isaac. Although his ex-wife had Isaac after cheating on Danny, he has raised Isaac from birth and wants to ensure Isaac has a safe and stable home with him. He also helps care for his mother, who is currently receiving treatment for cancer.

Even though Danny struggles with depression and barely gets any sleep between his three jobs and taking care of his family, he maintains a positive attitude and keeps moving forward.


“In my opinion everything is going pretty good. Things could be much worse.” – Danny

Danny was one of the many individuals interviewed by United Way team members during our community assessment this summer. Staff conducted more than 50 hours of interviews with individuals who are receiving support from local nonprofit programs as part of the assessment.

While most of our assessment focused on the needs of families living in poverty, we focused our conversations with individuals on the things in their lives that influenced their success. Family came up as an influential factor in 10 of 13 of our case studies.

Here are some of our key takeaways from the assessment.

About our Community Needs Assessment

As United Way of the Midlands works toward our goals, we remain as committed as ever to maximizing the impact of your dollars. We want to ensure they are funding programs that address the most pressing needs in our community – and the needs that are going unseen or unmet.

Because it’s been five years since our last inventory of community needs, we knew it was time to reaffirm our understanding of the issues affecting people in the metro. With funding from Mutual of Omaha and the Omaha Community Foundation, we conducted a mixed methods study that identified community priorities and ultimately validated our areas of investment. The study consisted of a structured review of more than 90 articles and studies, a sophisticated analysis of census data, data collection among community programs and more than 50 hours of interviews.


1. An increasing number of families are living in poverty in our local community.

  • 13.7% of families with children under 18 years old in our metro area live below the poverty level — a higher percentage than individuals living alone.
  • In our community, the percentage of families with income below the poverty level is higher now than in 2010. This is consistent with national research that suggests needs among families are unique and growing.

2. Family can be a source of strength.

A Valuable Support System

  • Many struggling individuals turn to their family members for support. This support can be tangible, like food or money, or it can be emotional, giving people in need a sense of confidence or self-worth.

Take Annette. Annette has multiple health conditions including COPD and sleep apanea. She told us about how her mother would help her out by providing food, transportation and more.

“Ya know, I supposed to be helping her cause I’m younger than her and she’s my mom! But, that  an’t how it went,” Annette told the interviewer.

But now that her mother is nearly eighty, Annette is grateful for the help she also receives from the Visting Nurses Association. Her home health aide helps her with light cleaning, vacuuming, changing her sheets, and other things Annette struggles to do on her own.


An Important Motivator

  • The need to support family members is a powerful source of motivation in the workplace. Though some research portrays one’s family as a distraction from work, more recent studies indicate that “when employees lack interest in the work itself, they can nevertheless perceive it as meaningful because it gives them the opportunity to express core values of providing for their families” (Menges et. al, 2017).

Individuals like Danny told us how their children motivate them and keep them moving forward. They want to provide improved circumstances for their children so their children do not experience the same struggles in the future.

3. Family can be a source of stress.

  • Several clients we talked to are single parents and experienced lengthy custody battles like the one Danny is currently going through. Single-parent homes are more likely to experience financial and emotional stress, which can impact both the adults and children involved.
  • Clients also shared other traumatic experiences associated with family members — including abuse and neglect. Trauma was experienced by some clients as children. Other clients experienced family trauma and stress as adults.

How is United Way of the Midlands helping families in poverty?

The interviews we conducted reinforced the challenges of multi-generational poverty, and the powerful influence that families can have.

That’s why we take a two-generation approach to poverty.

What is a two-generation approach?

This approach recognizes that the experiences of adults and their children are often interconnected and calls for organizations to think holistically about serving adults and children together and the types of services needed to break the cycle of poverty.

UWM first brought the two-generation approach to the community in 2015 through a symposium featuring Anne Mosle of the Aspen Institute – the national thought leader on this topic. In our grant review process, we give funding preference to programs that support a two-generation approach.

Currently, we…

  • Invest in programs that help individuals build and access their support networks through case management.
  • Fund a special initiative with Family Housing Advisory Services – the Siemer Family Support Project – which takes a two-generation approach and improves child and adult outcomes.
  • Invest in a category of Family Support Programs designed to help new parents learn parenting techniques, developmental milestones and more.

That means, when you make a gift to United Way, your donation is making a big difference for families like Danny’s! 92 cents of every dollar is invested in the above programs, as well as education and financial stability programs that form a circle of support for people in need.

Funded Programs: Family Support

  • Teen and Young Parenting Program, Child Saving Institute, Inc.
  • Boys Town of Iowa’s In-Home Family Services, Father Flanagan’s Boys Home
  • Parents as Teachers – Early Childhood Home Visitation – Family, Inc
  • Community Education, Heartland Family Service
  • Centers for Healthy Families, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska
  • Home Visitation – Healthy Families America, Nebraska Children’s Home Society
  • Maternal Child Community Home Visitation, Visiting Nurse Association
  • Siemer Family Support Project

If you’re in need of counseling, food pantries, utility assistance or another human service, our 2-1-1 Helpline is here for you. Simply call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898211 to find local programs that will help you address challenges by providing basic needs, education and financial supports.

About the Author

Brayton is the Manager of Communications at United Way of the Midlands. She spends most of her days writing press releases, letters, brochures and more, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! She loves to travel and is always daydreaming about her next adventure. When she’s at home, you’ll most likely find her hanging out with her family and friends, eating chocolate or reading a good book.

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