At year’s end, all of us at United Way Suncoast take a moment to reflect on our success and renew our hopes for a greater 2023. When we do so, we find a consistent thread that connects our 2022 achievements to our visions for the new year: You. The volunteers, the donors, the board members and the strategic community partners who fueled our impact over the past 12 months buoy our future aspirations. You gave from the heart, and you ran your hearts out at the 5K On The Runway.
How could we not be encouraged? Together, we continued to give people the freedom to rise and the ability to enhance their lives. Together, we made a difference, despite ongoing challenges and unexpected issues.
Scott Gift Generates New Efforts
Start with the impact of our MacKenzie Scott gift. Scott didn’t just award us with needed dollars, she issued a clarion call to United Way Suncoast and the other nonprofit recipients benefiting from her philanthropy. The message was clear: extend your mission work, help more people, address the challenges brought on by the pandemic and the nation’s social justice reawakening. That’s why we created our R.I.S.E. (Reach, Invest, Support and Empower) initiatives with the support of our team, Board of Directors, and community partners. The initiatives aligned with our strategic plan while staying focused on our key impact areas: Early Learning, Youth Success and Financial Stability. We also supported immediate community needs with the dollars.
Making A House Call On The Housing Crisis
The housing crisis arose at the intersection of financial stability and community needs in 2022. We dedicated $3 million to our new eviction mitigation initiative, and it yielded impressive results while creating collaborative solutions. Working with 16 community partners, United Way Suncoast helped provide housing and ERA navigators at nonprofits throughout our community. The initiative also delivered direct assistance to address funding gaps, and expanded legal aid for those facing eviction. In just the first few months of this effort, we helped more than 2,000 people retain housing or find new, stable living arrangements – an 89 percent success rate. We also created an eviction dashboard that directed renters to assistance and raised awareness of the crisis by spurring multiple media reports.
Early Learning Earns Added Attention
Our United Way Suncoast data team also created an early learning dashboard that heightened interest in that on-going crisis. In December, a United Way Suncoast virtual presentation, hosted by WFLA news anchor Deanne King and featuring key stakeholders, drew more than 300 registrants. The presentation highlighted the alarming statistics featured in the dashboard and set in motion a new sense of purpose among interested parties.
Of course, United Way Suncoast is already a leader in the early learning arena. With our newly-branded United We Learn initiative, we deepened and expanded the impact of Early Learning and third-grade literacy in the region by committing $5 million from the Scott gift over the next three years. The initiative will work to elevate the number of children who enter kindergarten ready to learn, ensure school-age children have needed supports and strive to remove barriers for hard-working families. In 2022, we expanded our Quality Childcare Initiative to 43 preschools, provided professional development, behavioral support and environmental upgrades for childcare centers and continued to distribute United4Literacy kits to community partners to boost preschool learning.
Increasing the number of students reading on level by the end of third grade remains a focus. We have invested and implemented programming within the attendance zones of 36 selected Title I Elementary schools comprised of Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) households. This includes the placement of paraprofessionals in four of our five school districts.
Disaster Recovery Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint
While United Way Suncoast and its statewide partners continue to advocate on public policy issues, we also aim to fulfill a leadership role in times of crisis. Never did that role take on more importance than at the end of September when Hurricane Ian devastated the state of Florida. We not only assisted our United Way partners in Lee and Collier counties, helping deliver immediate relief to those hard-hit areas, but we also ignited mid- and long-term recovery efforts that continue to help recovering families today.
That’s why we devoted $500,000 to the effort. We also continue to accept donations to our Make It A Million campaign to leverage those dollars. We’ve already played a vital role in teaming with Amazon to provide mattresses and fungicide (for mold removal) to Arcadia and Myakka City residents who suffered severe flood damage. The investment also will address a number of issues, including funding navigators who will help victims navigate the maze of paper work required to attain federal and state support.
With You, We’re Stronger
Your support bolstered all this work, and many more efforts that elevated children and families. The employee campaign contributions sustained the services delivered by us and our partners. Your volunteer efforts inspired us to show up every day ready to work. From the dedication you displayed during our Week of Caring effort to your embrace of our new Monthly Engagement Opportunities, you lifted up the community.
Together, we’ll continue to inspire, empower and encourage because – United We Rise, United We Win.