“Everyone at United Way comes together for one common thing—they love working and living in Medina County,” says Board Member Carrie Park.
United Way of Medina County is truly a gem in terms of what they do. By networking with local organizations, they address local needs by providing funding to more than 17 programs designed to improve lives, strengthen communities, and bring together the people that comprise those communities. By studying the root cause of problems, United Way organizations across the country strive to raise funding to tackle problems related to education, income stability, and health. They collaborate with community partners by providing funding to address problems in these areas, and along the way they assist the organizations by helping them achieve goals and plugging holes where funding is needed.
Their website summarizes that the group strives to, “educate our stakeholders, gather and disseminate the data that informs our work, collaborate with our community partners, measure outcomes, and raise the funding needed to ensure Medina County continues to be a vibrant community for us all!”
Board Member Carrie Park and Director of Community Impact Angela Niemiec are both passionately involved in their work with United Way, and they take pride in knowing that they assist in the effective use of donations to improve and strengthen the Medina County Community. They sat down with Medina County Lifestyle to discuss some of their favorite local programs and how you can get involved.
- Toddlers and Preschoolers Succeeding (TAPS) Niemiec: Child Guidance and Family Solutions’ professionals go into various preschools and work with the teachers to educate them on how to work with at-risk children to keep them from falling behind. and working to educate on the importance of early literacy. TAPS training and on-site support helps teachers who may not have the training or things they need to succeed. Parks: The set of learning has changed with different generations. As a giant organization, we look at global changes and have the funding to react to sweeps and changes in the community. One of the changes we have noted is that locally, only 35 percent of families with young children read to them daily—that number is 15 percent below the state average. TAPS helps prepare students for academic challenges at a young age.
- E4 Youth Summit Niemiec: E4 (educate, empower, engage, and equip) is a biennial program that brings together high school students from throughout the county. Facilitators at this event help narrow in on high school issues through panel discussions and reflection. We’ve heard for the last twenty years about bullying, but now we can get these kids together and find out what exactly they are hearing about in the hallway so that we may begin to address the social issue. This is voluntary, so all high school participants decided to do this. If they are courageous enough to sign up, they are courageous enough to speak up. With their assistance, we can make a list and identify the isuues with which the students are experiencing.Participants are offered a voice and tools to reach their full potential. Park: Educating our youth is important. By working with them, we can help address issues while assisting them in becoming community leaders. And it is important to offer volunteering opportunities to young people, because they are oftentimes some of our most enthusiastic volunteers.
- 2-1-1 Park: One of the important things that we do is plug holes. If there is a need, we would like to address it and fix it by targeting the root of the problem. People cover up insecurities very well, which is why this service is particularly useful. Niemiec: You know you can call 9-1-1 if you need help. 2-1-1 is like a social service hotline. You can call and say you have a problem, and you don’t know where to start. Our operators will tell you that this is the organization you want to reach out to, or this is how you go about addressing this issue. Say an aunt just got custody of her niece and does not have money for school clothes, or a veteran needs a transport to his medical appointment. Our operators will get you in contact with the right group to assist you. At the same time, we can also collect data on what the most pressing matters are in the community. It is a good avenue for us to target areas where we need to step it up.
- Employing Medina County (EMC) Park: When you hear about homelessness in Medina County, it is almost surprising. It is rather difficult to spot, but it does exist. Many people assume that if one is homeless, they can simply get a job. But it is not that simple. Many times, you need a home address to even apply for a job. There are many hurdles that prevent homeless individuals from gaining regular employment. Niemiec: Employing Medina County strives to help get these people back on their feet in as many ways as they can. EMC works with one local nonprofit, for example, to secure business casual clothing for women. Based on women’s sizes and preferences, they help dress them in preparation for interviews. Last year we held a job fest that tackled the issue of dressing for success, and it included conducting interviews and offering instructions for success. Though our poverty rate is lower than surrounding areas, it is still an issue that must be addressed.
- Step Strong Program Niemiec: Catholic Charities provides this program to help teens focus on making healthy choices, preventing dating violence, and fostering healthy relationships. This program provides resources, and it targets both males and females in teaching respect and understanding of consequences. Park: They also talk about cyberbullying, like sexting. Though cyberbullying is still fairly new, these things are happening in the schools, and we know they are. When the program discusses these issues, we’ve never seen a group of teenagers be so quiet and attentive. They are respectful, because they understand that these are real issues. It gives kids an opportunity to think about their choices. They barely see beyond next week, so we teach them that things online are there forever. These issues require a lot of discussion, and quite frankly these are discussions parents would like to avoid. The Step Strong Program is a way to address problems teens are facing by providing important education.
United Way of Medina County offers a wide variety of programs and volunteer opportunities to engage the community and to tackle problems related to education, income stability, and health. For more information on these programs and how you can get involved, visit UnitedWayMedina.org.