United for a Cause

United wayCelebrating 90 years of making an impact on our community, United Way of Northeast Florida has a rich history of creating positive, lasting change.

Founded as the Community Chest by a group of concerned citizens, the organization supported a variety of social services from the outset. Continuously evolving since to meet the changing needs of the community, United Way remains donor-centric as it focuses on research-based, measurable strategies that advance education, income and health—the building blocks to a quality life.

For every dollar invested in quality early education, for example, there is a $12.90 public return on investment. Children who enter kindergarten with key cognitive and literacy skills are more likely to graduate from high school, attend higher-learning institutions, secure a good job and earn higher wages.

The implementation of United Way-led initiatives were among many factors that contributed to enhanced educational outcomes for Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) students last year. DCPS students earned their highest achievement levels in the district’s history and graduation rates increased to 72 percent.

“I consider United Way as an essential partner in our work to improve outcomes for children,” said Dr. Nikolai P. Vitti, DCPS superintendent. “Goal-driven and strategic, the organization delivers meaningful and quantifiable results.”

United Way partners with the Early Learning Coalition of Duval and the Early Learning Coalitions of Clay, Nassau and Baker counties to offer Success by 6, an initiative that provides scholarships to hardworking families who would not otherwise be able to afford the high-quality, early education necessary for their children to be ready to start kindergarten.

To keep kids on track to graduation, United Way leads Achievers For Life (AFL). A dropout-prevention strategy, AFL identifies middle school students who may be at risk for dropping out and provides one-on-one mentoring and counseling, family support services and parent training to help principals increase families’ engagement at school.

When finances are presenting challenges at home, AFL counselors refer families to United Way’s RealSense initiative. Strengthening the financial stability of Northeast Florida residents, RealSense provides free financial counseling, mentoring and tax-preparation services to help families and small-business owners save money and build assets.

During the 2014 tax season, RealSense helped 19,500 low- and moderate-income taxpayers claim $26 million dollars in tax refunds and assisted eligible taxpayers in claiming more than $8.1 million in Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC).

Recognizing RealSense’s long-term advances to help local families and small-business owners achieve greater financial stability, United Way Worldwide recently honored United Way of Northeast Florida with the coveted Common Good Award. More than 1,800 community-based United Ways in 41 countries and territories had the opportunity to compete for the awards, presented in the categories of education, income and health.

“Only presented to four domestic and international United Ways every other year, RealSense was specifically recognized for advancing the financial stability of families through strong collaborative efforts, effective use of data and successfully engaging volunteers and advocates,” said Debbie Pierson, community market manager at Bank of America and RealSense steering committee chair. “In addition to helping families with their personal finances, RealSense also offers free financial education and tax-preparation services to qualifying small businesses.”

Taking a holistic approach to people’s overall well-being, United Way recognizes that education, income and health are interconnected, and it is implementing a comprehensive strategy that will result in greater wellness for the mind, body and spirit.

As one of the primary funders of Full Service Schools, United Way began taking a holistic approach with children and their families more than 20 years ago. A partnership of more than 40 organizations, Full Service Schools broke down non-academic barriers to success by connecting more than 3,500 people to counseling, behavioral management and health services at eight sites and through 87 Duval County schools last year.

Jessica Broadway is one of the thousands of students who have benefitted from Full Service Schools. During her last two years of high school, Jessica’s mother and grandmother died from drug overdoses, her father was incarcerated and her great-grandmother died of natural causes.

“Anxious and depressed, my grades were falling and I struggled to focus on school,” said Broadway, a former Full Service Schools client. “My counselor was the person who listened without judgment, let me vent and taught me ways to control my emotions.

“Thanks to Full Service Schools—and my brother and his wife—I got the help I needed and am looking forward to graduating from UCF’s [University of Central Florida’s] College of Nursing in December 2015.”

Made possible by the generous support of businesses, organizations and individuals, United Way is making a difference in the lives of people like Jessica. It evaluates initiatives, monitors outcomes and continuously improves to enhance effectiveness.

“As a long-term United Way volunteer, I have learned the depth and breadth of the organization’s impact on our community,” said Anna Brosche, managing shareholder of Ennis, Pellum & Associates, CPAs and chair of United Way’s board of directors. “United Way identified root causes of some of our biggest community issues, then developed and implemented research-based initiatives to drive measurable results.”

Recruiting people and organizations that bring the passion, expertise and resources needed to create positive, sustainable change, United Way advances the common good in our neighborhoods and improves the lives of all.

ConnieHodges1“Through their active engagement in a variety of volunteer activities and giving at a wide range of levels, business, civic and community leaders work together to generate significant and permanent improvements in people’s lives,” said former Connie Hodges, president and CEO

“Sharing a deep, personal commitment to our community, volunteers and donors build strong relationships with each other as they implement innovative initiatives, ensure efficiency and maximize impact.”

Brosche said, “A wonderful byproduct of my United Way involvement is working closely with other business leaders in the community that I would not have otherwise met nor had the opportunity to engage with in my career.”

michelle-braunEngaging supporters from a variety of backgrounds, longtime President and CEO Connie Hodges led United Way to focus on education, income and health in Northeast Florida. Retiring at the end of the year, Hodges is leaving the organization in good hands. Michelle Braun assumed the role as president and CEO July 1.

“Passionate about education, income and health, Michelle has been actively involved in philanthropy and community development across Northeast Florida and the state,” said R. Travis Storey, managing partner of KPMG and chair of the United Way board of trustees. “Her remarkable ability to bring people together, exceptional management skills and extensive experience—in both the nonprofit and corporate worlds—made her the clear choice.”

Hodges is the executive of philanthropic outreach, through December 2014. She will focus on accomplishing key goals outlined in United Way’s Strategic Plan.

“I am honored and humbled by this opportunity,” Braun said. “I look forward to serving our community and building on the great work of United Way of Northeast Florida.”



Interview with Anna Brosche:

Why did you choose to give your time and talent to United Way?

I began giving to United Way early in my professional career through a workplace campaign at Ernst & Young LLP. After being part of the volunteer team that evaluates the allocation of donor contributions to the Community Impact Fund, I witnessed and was inspired by United Way’s efficiency and impact. I know my personal donations of time and resources are making a difference in the community.

What relationships have you built through your United Way involvement?

As a long-term United Way volunteer, I have had the pleasure of developing relationships with people from all walks of life and from companies big and small. They are all people who care deeply about our community and want to make an impact.

What have you learned from the people with whom you connected?

Through United Way, I have learned more about our community, especially in the areas of education, income and health. My involvement in the organization enabled me to further strengthen my leadership and communication skills through committee and volunteer management. I have also learned a great deal from informal mentors who have a long history of leading our community.

How does United Way’s work make our community more attractive to businesses interested in starting and growing here?

United Way’s research-based community impact work has identified root causes of key issues in our community. The organization has aligned with community partners to help children be ready to start kindergarten, ensure kids stay on track to graduation, assist families in achieving financial stability and guide people to leading healthier, more productive lives. By bringing people together and strengthening education, financial stability and health, United Way is creating a better, more attractive community for us all.

What advice would you give to other small-business leaders interested in engaging with United Way?

My advice for small-business leaders is to take action and know that you can start small. Regardless of your business size or available time, United Way can customize opportunities that match your interests and needs.

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