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‘We can overcome a lot of barriers together’

United Way has annual meeting

Though it has seen challenges in its workforce giving campaign in recent years, the United Way of Freeborn County is looking into opportunities for growth on the individual giving level.

Moving forward, it also hopes to have a focus on re-engaging a sense of community among area residents and better taking care of each other, said Ann Austin, executive director of the nonprofit, during the organization’s annual meeting Wednesday at Edgewater Park Pavilion.

Austin outlined some of the challenges and successes facing the local nonprofit and the community.

According to information handed out at the meeting, the United Way of Freeborn County invested in 24 programs in 2017, contributing $359,000 into the focus areas of education, income and financial stability, and health.

The United Way also leveraged over $50,000 in grant funds to support local activities in the county and helped provide books for 400 youth through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program, which has been in place locally since 2013.

The organization helped establish a long-term recovery committee made up of representatives from various nonprofits, churches and the community to assist in long-term recovery after incidents such as the floods in fall 2016. The needs of 26 residents, which were not met through state or federal assistance, were addressed through a fund set up at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, and funds will be available to help people with needs after disasters and for local disaster response preparation.

The local United Way led efforts to achieve National Alliance for Mental Illness affiliation in 2017. NAMI Freeborn County organized trainings throughout the year and organized a Mental Health Awareness Week.

In addition, the United Way took on more work to address poverty, including helping Freeborn County be awarded the Rural Impact County Challenge and creating a poverty action plan.

It continued work to engage refugees living in the community with the help of a grant through the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Karen liaison Eh Wah, who supported nearly 100 families throughout the year.

Joe Lubke with Express Personnel Services, who serves on the United Way board of directors, talked about workforce issues that can affect giving, including barriers of transportation, drug use, elder care, child care, communication and a criminal record.

Of these, child care, transportation and communication issues have been the largest concerns — with child care probably the biggest because of its expense.

Lubke said 31 percent of parents said child care has posed a significant financial impact to them.

Austin said the organization is working on a business plan moving into the future and looking at leveraging technology more as payroll deductions are dwindling and there continues to be relatively high levels of employee turnover.

“I believe we can overcome a lot of barriers together,” Austin said.

She said though the organization can’t focus on everything, it can concentrate on efforts that are sustainable.

2017 United Way partner program impact

  • 859 people attended a hot meal program.
  • 350 people received education through the Adult Learning Center
  • 305 senior citizens were able to remain in their homes through the advocacy program at Senior Resources.
  • 255 children and their parents were supported through the Healthy Families program.
  • 52 people were provided long-term safe housing and coached to prevent homelessness.
  • 40 people with a developmental disability were supported through job coaching and transportation to work.

2017 United Way campaign highlights

  • 2,010 people gave to the campaign, including 363 new people
  • 1,209 people gave through payroll deduction, contributing to 46 percent of the total campaign
  • Average donation for an individual was $176
  • 112 people contributed over $500