Originally published: January 22,2023
Chronicle: 100 years of United Way
Omaha’s news leader chronicling the stories and people making difference in our community. This is K. E. T. V. News Watch seven’s Chronicle. They struggle for food security. They struggle for work, maybe working multiple jobs to pay for rent, pay for food. We work with our families to make sure they’re still getting what they need. We connect people that want to help with those that need it. United Way’s been serving the Omaha Council bluffs community for now 100 years. And this morning, the United Way of the Midlands celebrates a century of being a helping hand right here in the Metro. But on the heels of the pandemic and in the midst of budget breaking inflation, that need is greater than ever. Good morning! Thanks for joining us for Chronicle. This morning. I’m rob McCartney. It’s not a stat. You want to have Omaha council bluffs. Metro ranks among the nation’s top five for working poor. That means nearly 70% of the households living in poverty have at least one job yet still don’t have enough to provide for themselves or their families. That’s why K. T. V. News Watch seven and Chronicle are teaming up with the United Way for a special giving Wednesday event this week. It’s to raise funds for those struggling to make ends meet from housing help to diapers career training much more than that. This morning. We’re gonna be joined by United Way of the Midlands president and Ceo shawna Forsberg and Matt Wallen, he’s senior Vice president for community impact and analytics. We’re gonna talk about the group’s history and how much of your donated dollar stays right here. But first the United Way’s mission and their model. It’s a broad network of partnerships spanning the metro and even the nation. One of those key United Way partners is family housing advisory services that nonprofit helps families who are behind on rent or facing eviction stay in their homes. They often take what they call the two gen approach, working to heal both the parent and the child before tackling the finances in hopes of ending the cycle of poverty. We focus on stabilizing the house, trying to increase that income. And then we also work with the parents to focus on their finances, get their finances in order. We teach them about their credit, we teach them how to budget and then we also sit down and we focus on the child because when *** child is having disruptive moves and they’re moving away from their School of Origin, it’s hard for them to focus and sometimes their academic slip. So when they are staying in their School of Origin, it helps them do better academically. And my last question, I promise we’ll donation to the United Way helps groups like Foz offer educational workshops from knowing your rights as tenant to financial management, like how to budget or how to improve your credit by connecting people in programming to programming like that. The United Way of the Midlands is changing lives every day and joining us now is President and Ceo Shawna Forsberg Shauna, thanks for being here today 100 years. United Way has quite the history. Right? What’s it been like 100 years? You haven’t been there the whole time. Thank you for pointing that out. I appreciate that. Yeah. You know, it is big year for us and thank you for helping us celebrate it. We’re really excited to be here today. Has the mission ever changed? You know, it has changed a little bit over time. Um, initially it was really set up as a way for businesses and people to provide support for health and human service programs in the country or in the community and that’s something that we still do. But we also have really branched out and been really intentional about how we go about our investments. We do more direct service work. It’s really about meeting the community where we’re at at a given time and ensuring we’re doing the most with the vital donor dollars that come through United Way. You know, the Omaha’s community chest wasn’t that, that’s how it started, right. It started the community in 1923 and you mentioned earlier the red feather, it was a symbol of United Way. And you know, I think we have a really generous, beautiful community people care deeply about each other and United Way was a way to organize and pull many different people together and I think you do better together. Right. So that’s been our mission for the last 100 You know for people who don’t know, they just, they hear the United Way. You see it all over, all over the place. We’ve seen it for a long time to can you explain the structure, how it works? You know, we’re fortunate, we work with seven or 600 different organizations in town. About 40,000 donors, which is pretty amazing to raise money and invest in a very intentional way in the community. Um, we’re very fortunate to be quite efficient organization as well. We make sure we get $0.95 of every dollar back to the community. We have three main pillars that we invest in basic needs, education and financial stability. So we talk about basic needs. It can be healthy food, safe and stable housing, ensuring people have access to physical and mental health services and for people that are victims of domestic violence to make sure that they have the resources that they need. So how do, how does it set up? I mean, if you donated to the United Way, I mean, do companies come to you and say handle this for us? Yeah, we really view ourselves a philanthropic partner with the organizations. And so companies invest directly also people that work at organizations and individuals outside of communities or outside of companies? And so we’re excited that you’re doing giving Wednesday for us because it gives us an opportunity for people that maybe aren’t tied to an organization we work with to be able to give it a really intentional way. But we take those dollars and pool them and we go through a very detailed investment process to ensure that the programs that are really driving the greatest change are the ones that get the dollars. And then we do a lot of reporting and analytics. We really do behave as a business in that way really to ensure donors that the dollars that they’re investing are really driving the change that was intended. I’m talking about investing dollars. If I give you say $100 how is that? Divvied up how many administrative costs to actually help right now. We have it under five cents goes to administrative costs. So we work really hard. And that’s because we have amazing volunteers. We have over 100 volunteers, for example, that help us with our investment process was really amazing Board of directors. It allows us to be incredibly efficient with the dollars that come in the door and ensure that all those dollars are invested right here in the Omaha Council West Metro y’all are trying to build a circle of support I think is what it’s called, explain that to, you know, if you think about basic needs, people need their basics, right? You have to have healthy food, safe and stable housing. But we also want to make sure that we’re changing trajectory for families. So we invest in education, supports mentoring in school and out of school time supports really helping sure, ensure that kids get the most out of their classroom experience. And then really the ultimate goal is to help people achieve financial independence. So we’ll provide um or invest in programs that provide up skilling and re skilling, really helping people um get the skill sets, they need to find that job that’s going to allow their family to be financially independent. And that’s what we really talk about the circle. Typically it cannot be one agency or one program alone that can change the trajectory for a family. It’s rather how all of those programs are knitted together. How did the pandemic impact? Y’all? Yeah, it was pretty crazy, just like everyone we knew the need was going to go way up and we were really concerned about how fundraising was going to go. Um but Omaha’s one special place and we were very fortunate to have even more people step up to share their dollars with us. And so actually, our organization grew during the pandemic and that has just meant we’ve been able to provide more investment back into the community. You’re celebrating the 100th anniversary this later. I mean, actually throughout the year, right, you have concerts and other events coming up. We do um we’re gonna have a concert for the whole community on May 18th and the New Gene Leahy Mall, we’ve got the Travis band and the shenanigans playing. But more importantly, it’s just a celebratory time to come together and we hope the community will come out. We’re also gonna do community celebrations within um four different neighborhoods, column block parties, right? And bring resources to the communities and and celebrate. I think what’s beautiful about this model is it’s really connecting people that want to help with people that need the help and we invite people to get involved. Nice. And it’s 100 birthday for you. I won’t ask you what you think the United Way will look like in another 100 years, but another 20 years, what’s the goal? You know, our goal is to continue to adapt with where the community needs us to be. So, you know, we really made some Significant changes um, and investments during the flooding the pandemic. We really looked at things differently, we want to use data and analytics to really help make sure our investments are really driving appropriate change. So we’re not scared of measurement. We think that’s really important and we hope in the next 20 years that we’re continuing to evolve and even more people are financially stable and more people are involved, you know, here in our community.