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IN THE KNOW: People helping people

Community members serve as volunteers on the United Way allocation panels that make recommendations about how to invest local dollars in programs. (Contributed)

Have you ever wondered, "How can I make a difference?" With many issues in our community ranging from feeding children who are hungry to the shortage of affordable housing, transportation or childcare and addressing mental health needs, it can be hard to know how you can help.

As part of our recent community survey, we asked, "When you hear the name 'United Way,' what comes to your mind?" An overwhelmingly consistent response to this question was "helping people." "People helping people" was another response we heard multiple times. United Way brings people together to help others in our local community. Volunteer on a community impact allocation panel to learn about how we make a difference through partnerships between business and individuals who want to maximize their impact.

United Way offers Community Impact Grants through an allocations process that is guided by the recommendations of community members who are invested in the work that can be done through collaboration. Each year approximately 80 community members serve as volunteers on allocation panels that make recommendations about how to invest local dollars in programs that will make the greatest impact in our community through United Way funding.

As a volunteer serving on one of our Community Impact allocation panels you have the opportunity to hear from four or five different non-profit organizations who offer programs to support individuals and families in Douglas and Pope counties. Community Impact allocation panels will be held April 9-12. Each panel lasts for three and a half to four hours. This year we will be visiting the agency sites and are able to ask questions about how each program works and who it serves. This provides us with knowledge of current needs and what is required to address them. This process allows us to monitor progress, understand what's working and invest in successful programs.

We believe in creating an environment of responsible generosity and service to all. Stewardship is one of the five core values we abide by. It is important to us that we are building relationships with integrity, authenticity, respect, kindness, transparency and accountability. We value what it means to be trustworthy in our community.

Through a donation to United Way, you can invest your dollars in one place that will pool resources to make a collective impact that extends beyond what one person or organization can do independently. We work in collaboration with many wonderful non-profit organizations to better understand the needs in our community and then provide assistance to support the people and programs that can help.

People helping people through United Way accomplish great things in 2017-2018. Community Impact Grants provided funding to 26 agencies that offered 39 different programs to provide the following: housing assistance, mental health services, case management, scholarships for childcare and youth programming, student mentorships, senior services, crisis intervention and advocacy, early childhood education, access to medical care, support for families with special needs, hunger assistance, emergency needs, literacy programs, legal services for those in need and more.

United Way Community Impact programs provided:

• Child friendly bags of food for over 500 children each week across two counties in four school districts through Backpack Attack.

• Offered two monthly Mobile Food Drops in Alexandria and Glenwood that provided supplemental food to 250-300 families each month.

• Gave out around 1,000 coats and countless winter wear items.

• Packed over 500 backpacks with school supplies for K-12 students.

• Provided gifts to over 650 children over the holidays.

We are offering a new program that assists individuals in securing employment that will promote financial stability leading towards independence. We will continue to make adjustments to achieve better outcomes and invest in the most promising solutions.

This is how United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Douglas and Pope counties. We've seen incredible things happen when a community comes together, and we can't do it without you!

For more information, contact our office at 320-834-7800 or e-mail

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Jen Jabas is the director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.