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Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy Holidays!

I am honored to be asked by Ursula Adams of United Way for Southeastern Michigan to be a guest blogger for this week. For those who might not know me, my name is Adam Harris and I am a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. My involvement with United Way came this past March during Alternative Spring Break 2007. Students from the University of Michigan-Dearborn as well as myself, traveled to Lake Charles, Louisiana to experience a week of service for the post devastated area of Hurricane Rita. It was a life changing experience for all of us and for me; it brought a sense of motivation to hopefully bring energy and positive change to Southeastern Michigan.

Coming back from Alternative Spring Break, I wanted to learn more about United Way and how they planned to make a difference to the Southeast region. When I began to do research on United Way for Southeastern Michigan, I realized that they are implementing a new “Agenda for Change,” that will impact the community through Educational Preparedness, Financial Stability and Basic Needs. This agenda came about after using surveys, research and participants of the community to find the true existing problems that are depriving the citizens of Southeastern Michigan. After reading the entire report and thinking about the issues that our community faces, I was convinced to believe that the “Agenda for Change” can do exactly that, bring change.

So I must say that these past few months have been very exciting for me. I have had the privilege to spend much time with many United Way representatives who have shown me that a care for your community is the one and only way that we can envision a new Detroit. Working directly with the George W. Romney Center and having an opportunity to see the 2-1-1 Center, showed me that United Way is not only visioning a new Detroit but is acting upon the belief that a new Detroit is not to far off. I am honored and blessed to be apart of a group of people who care about our community and I look forward to helping United Way make change to Southeastern Michigan.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Financial Literacy and the IDA Program

Most first time homebuyer, I would venture to say, are ingnorant of the processes that are involved in buying a home. There are two areas of home buying that the United Way's Idividual Development Account develop in you. Under the umbrella of financial literacy there is personal finance literacy and then there is home buying literacy. Both are essential to you in making a home purchase.

Personal Finance
The overwhelming number of foreclosures in the Southeast Michigan is no doubt connected to this lack of undestanding of either personal finances or mortgage lending. Don't go any futher with your home buying purchase without seeking some unbiased counsel. And the IDA program has it. First, you will need to go through some objective counseling about your ability to purchase a home. You'll need to report your income, determine your credit history, and assess that amount of income you have to afford a home mortgage. The better you budget and the condition of your finances determine how quickly you can move through the program. Remember the IDA program wants you to be an educated, endowed and financially responsible home owner, so they expect you to have your finances in order. The good thing is they'll help you in that area too.

The IDA program is run by the United Way, but they leave the financial matters to experts in the field. You will meet professionals in the field of life insurance, savings, and investments. The representatives that work with you are full of advice and they will not push you into some financial situation that is harmful to you. Furthermore they are accountable to you and your United Way IDA laison Sharon Davis. Talk to her if you have any issues.

The Home Buying Process
When you finish examining your personal finances you'll learn the matters of home buying. The classes are offered through another agency,(i.e. Faith Home Buyers)and they consist of credit assessment, mortgages,tax responiblity, and or course how to find a home. Even at this level you will be exposed to professionals in the field you can choose to work with them or not. However, I found that the professionals that work with the United Way seemed to be more communicative with prospective home buyers and have a heart to help you make an educated home purchase.

These are the two parts of the IDA programs financial literacy program that will qualify you for the match grants.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

IDA Program: Research that really pays off

So you're looking for assistance with your first home purchase. Well, the United Way of Southeast Michigan (UWSEM) has a program that will equip you to be an educated, endowed, and financially responsible homeowner. I am qualified to make this statement because I have gone through the Individual Development Account for first time home buyers, and I have found myself in a great home due to the blessings I received.

Research the Information

I found out about the IDA program through reading some Housing and Urban Development literature (HUD), which I received from my brother-in-law. This information is available free from the Federal Government and provides important information about the home buying process. I wanted to be prepared for my home buying purchase,and I'm sure you do too. So, I strongly suggest that you avail yourself of this information as well. Simply go to www.hud.gov and peruse the resources section they'll be glad to send you the information. Anyway, I read the material and on the last page there was a section that dealt with housing grants. The page said the I could go to www.idanetwork.org to find local programs which will give a "matching grant" to low income families interested in buying a home. (United Way offes one of the highest grant matches of 4:1.) On the site I found out about the Individual Development Account (IDA)program. It is a program operated by many agencies, and I called several of them in my area. But the United Way of Southeast Michigan was the first to really offer me a coherent and prompt response, so I went with them. Two years later I don't regret that choice.

The IDA program encourages you to save $1,000 towards your first home purchase, and requires you to take several financial literacy classes. After you do your part, they will match your savings 4:1. (The maximum amount of the grant is $4,000.) Then you can use the money to purchase you own home.

In later blogs I will deal with the financial literacy programs, challenges to procuring the matching grants, and finding other grant programs that can help you find greater assistance.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Diversity and inclusion - a response

The December issue of our Community M@tters e-zine highlights a recent event tied to our organization’s diversity and inclusion work. The team leading that mission organized the session to provide staff an opportunity to learn more about the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender -- or LGBT -- community.

Leslie Ann Thompson, executive director at Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and Charles Pugh, FOX2 News anchor and reporter were the featured speakers.

During her presentation, Leslie mentioned the fact that project management and capital support provided through United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s Community Capital Resources department helped make Affirmations’ new 17,000 square-foot headquarters in Ferndale a reality.

At least one reader took issue with our support of the Affirmations project.

“With issues like homeless, rampant poverty, and crime--which erode basic and essential quality of life--why is the United Way funding projects such as the LGBT issues project? Discrimination against any group is an issue that deserves attention if it is seriously impacting the basic quality of life of a significant part of the population. However, considering the sheer number of issues, why is LGBT ‘inclusion’ a priority for UWSEM?” the post reads, in part.

Community Capital Resources helps nonprofits plan and manage facility projects that will enable them to better serve the community, and Affirmations provides much-needed services to individuals and families in Oakland County.

In addition, it is important to United Way that we understand the LGBT community to strengthen our diversity work. We have spent considerable time over the past year developing a strategic plan and participating in cultural awareness activities as a staff. When complete, the plan will help United Way ensure diversity is a prominent component of internal and external operations, and that we are inclusive of everyone, regardless of race, culture, religion, age, sexual orientation, physical ability or other characteristics.

Embracing diversity is about understanding the ways we are all alike and respecting the many ways that we are different. To be inclusive is to make a concerted effort to involve all people in what we do. This is what we believe, and how we aspire to better serve everyone in the tri-county area.

United Way will always be in the business of supporting basic needs in our region, so that people who need help have a place to turn. This diversity and inclusion work will ultimately allow us to serve more people in need of assistance.

The LGBT discussion and other diversity activities that inform our thinking are vital to the process.

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Three words: Day four

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Three words: Day three

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Three words: Day two

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Safely surviving winter's freeze

The coming winter months will likely bring icy roads, downed power lines and imposing snow drifts and if you live in Southeastern Michigan, contending with consequences of the frost and wind can help you avoid dangerous emergencies or disasters.

"Every family and business should be ready for the unexpected throughout the year," says Lynn Pharr, director of crisis preparedness, response and recovery for United Way of America. "Now is the time for many of us to focus on cold weather, power outages, winter fire safety and snowstorms."

Click here to continue reading.


A picture is worth 1,000 words

An interactive picture is worth much, much more

United Way for Southeastern Michigan launched the Agenda for Change this year, which targets the areas of educational preparedness, financial stability and basic needs. The Agenda is based on research and focused on outcomes. Our partnerships with funded programs and collaboratives, going forward, will strive to benchmark both individual and community conditions and track success on the plan through a variety of metrics.

The value of understanding the “landscape” through which community (or neighborhood) indicators are screened, and using those same indicators to measure the outcomes of their investments is becoming a priority for funders locally, and across the country. Administrators of neighborhood initiatives, like those funded by the Skillman Foundation, the Knight Foundation or Local Initiatives Support Corporation, known as LISC, need accurate, readily available local data in order to effectively engage community residents on issues so that they can drive necessary change.

UWSEM’S Research Department, in conjunction with partner United Ways in Charleston, S.C., and Tucson, Ariz., have partnered with the Community Information Resource Center at the University of Missouri to create the Community Issues Management, or CIM, Web site. Lifting the collective IQ of a community on pertinent issues begins with service-minded intermediaries that bring a heritage of grounded connections to the residents and institutions at the local and regional level. Outside experts and a multiplicity of programs are not a substitute for trusted, local institutions and professionals with deep roots. United Way welcomes its role as a convenor of these intermediaries across the region. They are looking at ways to utilize CIM and engage people across the region in important community work.

Click here to continue reading.

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You can make holiday wishes come true

The year-end holidays are a time to gather with family and friends, and to reflect on, give thanks for and celebrate the past 12 months' accomplishments.

An increasing number of metro Detroiters are choosing each year to showing appreciation for what they have by giving back to their communities, and this holiday season, United Way for Southeastern is making it easier for residents to do just that. If you count yourself among the group and are looking to volunteer for a service project or simply want to make an in-kind donation, United Way can quickly connect you to an opportunity to make a difference, simply by dialing 2-1-1 or visiting www.uwsem.org.

Click here to continue reading.

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Diversity speakers shed light on LGBT issues

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan staff gained valuable insight into issues important to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at a recent diversity and inclusion event, thanks to the candor of two prominent local supporters.

Fox 2 News reporter and anchor Charles Pugh and Leslie Ann Thompson, executive director of Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, shared accounts of discrimination and barriers they have faced both personally and professionally as a result of their sexual orientation during a Dec. 13 presentation at UWSEM's headquarters.

Click here to continue reading.

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Your guide to philanthropic giving

Use these tips to invest wisely

The end of the year is a great time to take advantage of opportunities to give, and when you contribute by Dec. 31 to United Way for Southeastern Michigan, you aren't just giving money – you are investing in your community.

United Way understands the impact of philanthropic giving on improving communities and helping individuals and families around you. We also know that when it comes to donating your hard-earned dollars, you want to make sure you choose an organization to suit your interests. The five simple guidelines that follow could help you make a wise decision on a philanthropic gift.

Click here to continue reading.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our three words: Day one

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Your three words

If one word can convey a lot about your state of mind, just think how much three words can express. What three words would you choose to express yourself? Join us each day this week as members of United Way's Volunteer Center express the volunteer experience... in three words.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

The GAP Generation

Success by 6® and United Way support the new GAP generation, meaning Grandparents as Parents. Society is changing, and there are a lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren. An Oakland Press ran a while back that indicated 42 percent of grandparents were acting as parents in Oakland County alone. So that’s why it really is a new generation. There are support groups for grandparents, such as the GAP program that I participate in. Most grandparents are on a limited income and through the GAP program and United Way Success by 6, grandparents can find resources needed to care for their grandchildren’s development needs as well as economic and basic needs like food and clothing.

I am very proud to be a part of all of that, knowing that there is support out there I do not feel alone because I see others in the same position I am.

When I first took over raising my three grandchildren, I was very overwhelmed. I was doing this out of my heart because I didn’t want them to get lost in the system. This same feeling is why most grandparents step up to the plate, because it’s a matter of the heart. Once our grandchildren are in the system it’s too hard to get them out. Even though I knew that, I still felt overwhelmed because I went from a 60 hour a week job to being a stay at home mom. As you get older, some people have a lot of patience and some people don’t, so I had to redevelop that patience. It was funny, my husband had all the patience with our children, but I have all the patience to deal with our grandchildren. Even though it was the right thing to do, it was overwhelming to have to start at the beginning again.

My husband and I had already moved to a smaller home thinking we were done raising our children. We had to make bedrooms and find resources for beds and other needs when our grandchildren came to live with us. I had to leave my job because it didn’t make sense to pay for daycare for three children, but that meant losing a source of income.

I had heard about the GAP program through Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency (OLHSA) because the need for resources was out there with so many of us serving in this role. We may not all go to the support group, but we still need the resources because many grandparents are living on just Social Security since most have retired. Most grandparents don’t know about all of the resources out there, and they need to know there is help and there are a lot of us to offer support.

A couple weeks ago myself and other grandparents traveled to Lansing with OLHSA to support a state bill that will provide more services and income to grandparents acting as parents. It passed in the Senate and we are just waiting for it to go through the House.

I am sure I am not the only grandma who feels overwhelmed at times with issues. We really need to spread the word in support of our grandchildren and their needs because they are the future and it’s our responsibility as grandparents and as the community to make sure they succeed and have a secure life.

Nancy Turcotte
Grandparent and participant in United Way's Success by 6

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

6 and beyond

Success by 6 also helped my grandson Zachary with his lack of communication. He’s always been delayed in his development. I could see his frustration as he got older because of lack of communication. When they get so frustrated and overwhelmed, kids often give up on themselves and lose self-confidence. So it was important to me to get him the help he needed. Success by 6 realized he needed speech, so they did speech with him. They helped me learn some different tools to help him build his motor skills since he was way behind.

Eventually when Zachary went to grade school I had problems continuing his therapy. At that point, I could go back and approach his Success by 6’s Headstart program, who taught me how to communicate with the grade school he attended to get the help he needed, including speech and occupational therapy. When I went back and talked to the people at Headstart, they gave me some tips such as writing the Board of Education, talking to the principal and teachers, and having him tested for special education. I pushed all those issues and ended up getting him the support he needed and enrolling him in special education. He gets all that three times a week, but it took some work and Success by 6 was there.

The program should be called Success by 6 and beyond, because they didn’t shut the door on me because of his age. The program wasn’t just a one-time thing; I was still able to go to them for help once Zach was older than 6.

It’s quite funny now, because he’s gotten all of this help and he’s able to talk to you and tell you what’s going on; he’s become a big tattletale. Before he would always get the blame for everything, because he couldn’t tell you differently. If my other grandchildren were doing something they shouldn’t be, he couldn’t tell you if he was or wasn’t a part of it. Had he not gotten help through Success by 6, I’m sure his frustration would have gotten bigger.

Success by 6 has helped us with basic needs as well, like clothing and food when needed. They also tested the children for hearing and eyes during their Headstart years, and they all needed glasses.

In closing, we should fight for our children and grandchildren because they are our future. I’m grateful Success by 6 was there to help with that fight.

Nancy Turcotte
Grandparent and participant in United Way's Success by 6 program

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Are you the one?

Everyday we, hopefully, wake up. Hopeful that today our kids will do well in school, hopeful that the war will end soon, hopeful that whatever burdens we silently carry will be lightened. Some of these things are in our control, some are not. Everyday, we have the power to make the road a little easier for others, we have the power to change the community conditions around us through engagement, we have the power. You may never know the chain of reactions that you set off by one act of kindness, but know that inaction will yield nothing. One small act through volunteerism can change the world. Are you the one to make that change?

Patricia A. McCann
Director, Volunteer Services
United Way for Southeastern Michigan George W. Romney Volunteer Center


Monday, December 10, 2007

United Way Success by 6®

I’m proud to know that the United Way supports the Success by 6 program in the community. We have to continue to be a team and be a village to support our children. Success by 6 has been there for me mentally and emotionally as far as securing the stability of my grandchildren; they are the future leaders of our country.

This week I’ll be blogging about how United Way and Success by 6 have helped my family. In my posts, I’ll talk about how they helped create a routine and security for the children and how they helped get my grandson the help he needed for his developmental issues. Third, I will talk about the Grandparents as Parents (GAP) program and how the support they offer has helped my family. Because society has changed there are a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren and we need the extra support. United Way and Success by 6 are there for the growth and support of the GAP program.

I look forward to talking about these issues with you.

Nancy Turcotte
Grandparent of three & participant in United Way Success by 6 in Oakland County

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Gift

During this time of year, we begin to think about the gifts that we will give to those we love and the gifts that we will receive. At a recent volunteer project, I received a gift from a stranger. The United Way's volunteer center, in partnership with Panera Bread, organize monthly service projects for the community. While completing our fall clean up at First Step, I was chatting with a young woman named Kimberly, who by sharing her story with me, gave me the gift of renewal - a reminder of our larger purpose. Her story is below:

"It was a pleasure volunteering with you this past weekend. As I mentioned to you, this was my first experience volunteering and I feel so wonderful about it. I have always had good intentions and am empathetic to people's pain, but I know that my good intentions mean nothing without action. So, signing up to volunteer was my birthday gift to myself. I know that the time and work spent may not impact a large group of people, but it meant so much to those we worked with. It meant that the staff could better utilize their time to counsel people over the phone and to interact with the families that they serve. What I didn't mention to you that day, is that being there was even more personal. First, I know of women that have needed to retreat to a women's shelter. And second, when my mother died she was homeless and living in a shelter. So, making that connection was good for my soul.

I hope to be able to do more with the United Way. Thank you for the opportunity."

Kimberly said that volunteering was a gift to herself, she also gave of herself. Please think about sharing all of the gifts you possess to make a difference by volunteering.

Patricia A. McCann
Director, Volunteer Services
United Way for Southeastern Michigan George W. Romney Volunteer Center


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy anniversary, 2-1-1

Today is this 2 year anniversary of the launch of 2-1-1.

During this time United Way for Southeastern Michigan 2-1-1 has:
  • Received over 250,000 calls (24,000 in November 2007 alone!)
  • Realized a 60% increase in call volume between years one and two
  • Expanded our region of service to include Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, Washtenaw and Monroe counties
  • Maintained a consistent 95% approval rating from our callers
  • Expanded our community involvement to 14 different initiatives, including statewide collaborations
  • Been the source of information and help to nearly every news outlet in our region
  • Provided over 150 tours of our call center operations
Within the next few years United Way for Southeastern Michigan's 2-1-1 team expects to:
  • Be the largest 2-1-1 operation in the country
  • Receive over 500,000 call annually
  • Be able to automatically text message or email referrals to those seeking service
  • Offer online access to our database
  • Reach between 80% - 90% of Michigan residents
  • Have an internal 24/7/365 operation
  • Double our team/staff
  • Be the national leaders in vision and service delivery of 2-1-1 services
Did you know?
Our average caller:
  • Is female
  • Is from Wayne County
  • Is between the ages of 40 - 49
  • Makes less than $10,000 annually
  • Has an income from salary or wages
  • Is referred to us by another agency
  • Is primarily seeking one of the following: housing, food, utility assistance; or employment
  • Does not have internet access
  • Calls United Way 2-1-1 from land line phones
  • Is serviced by United Way 2-1-1 Specialists in just under 5 minutes
Thank you to all who helped and supported United Way for Southeastern Michigan's 2-1-1 throughout these past two years. We look forward to servicing this community for many more to come.

Bill Sullivan (and the entire 2-1-1 team)
Director, 2-1-1
United Way for Southeastern Michigan


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I Shall Not Pass This Way Again

I shall not pass this way again
Though rising suns their radiance throw
On summer's green and winter's snow.

And let no chance by me be lost
To kindess show at any cost.
I shall not pass this way again;
Then let me now relieve some pain,
Remove some barrier from the road,
Or brighten someone's heavy load:
A helping hand to this one lend,
Then turn some other to befriend.


I love the beauty of the scene,
Would roam again o'er fields so green;
But since I may not, let me spend
My strength for others to the end,
For those who tread on rock and stone
And bear their burdens all alone.
A larger kindness give to me
A deeper love and sympathy;
Then, O, one day
May someone say -
Remembering a lessened pain-
"Would she could pass this way again."


adapted from I Shall Not Pass This Way Again, by Eva Rose York

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