United Way promotes long-lasting impacts of work

The United Way of Central Alberta is inching closer to its goal of raising $2.25 million and wants to remind the public of the kind of long-lasting impacts their donations have on local community members.

The United Way of Central Alberta is inching closer to its goal of raising $2.25 million and wants to remind the public of the kind of long-lasting impacts their donations have on local community members.

United Way provides funding and support to over 30 agencies and programs across the region, stretching from Ponoka to Sundre and from Nordegg to Stettler.

While the organization aids many wellness agencies, such as shelter services, it is also dedicated to helping children and adolescents become engaged community leaders.

“We have three investment areas at United Way and one of those is education and that’s really about getting kids to reach their full potential,” said United Way CEO Robert Mitchell.

“This means things like out of school opportunities, life skills, building healthy relationships with peers.”

One of the ways United Way, established in 1965, works to see that happen is through its partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“It’s a wonderful collaboration and has been going on since the ’90s. United Way is a Big Brother to us,” said Crystal Zens, executive director of Lacombe and District Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“They do so much more than just provide funding. They’re a mentor. They provide a lot of professional development locally that we wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise.

“It all makes charities stronger. … Without United Way, we would not have experienced the successes we have in the past.”

The organization helps fund staff and sees the value in that, Zens said, leading to stronger, more stable programs at BBBS and very little turnover when it comes to those running them.

When BBBS of Lacombe lost its core funding partner a few years ago without any warning, Untied Way stepped up to help the group figure out options and strategies to move forward.

“We didn’t have to cut one program during that difficult transition time because of United Way and their emergency funding, as well as the mentoring they offered to myself and our board on how to advocate to politicians for funds.”

Rachael Gabrielson, a Big Sister in Lacombe, said BBBS has enriched her life and she’s noticed a positive change in her “little sister,” Rosie.

“I’ve been involved in the program for three years and I’ve noticed Rosie has come out of her shell. She sings and dances with me now and when she would want to stay inside more before, she’s now involved heavily with basketball at her school and she likes to go to Hot Spot Pottery,” Gabrielson said. “It’s a great organization that really gives back to the community.”

United Way invests roughly $260,000 in the area of education per year and over 3,500 youth and children have been impacted through supported programs, Mitchell said.

There are three priority areas that United Way invests in thanks to new goals outlined by a volunteer-led Community Impact Council: education, income and wellness.

Providing funding in the education sector was opened up again to new local agencies for the first time in over a decade in the fall of 2012 as for many years, United Way just supported the same member agencies each year.

This fall, United Way opened up funding options for new programs that speak to the objectives in the income priority area and next fall, funding for the wellness priority area will open up as well.

“The money is not going into a black hole. We’re trying to change poverty and increase high school completion rates. … We’re having a community impact and we’re trying to show that more and more,” Mitchell said.

So far $1,952,530 in donations or 87 per cent of United Way’s goal has been reached.

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com

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