I do not know about you, but this winter weather is getting to me. As I write this, snowflakes scurry through yet another day of gray sky. With the first day of spring only a month away, my brain tells me it will get better, but my heart longs for sunshine.

Losing perspective can be easy to do, especially for me this time of year. I have to force myself to focus on the positives. Snow brings moisture for the farmers’ fields. Cold evenings at home turn into fun times with the kids. The stark contrast of bleak winter days makes me more thankful for the more temperate ones ahead.

This month also brings us the hope of new beginnings through the work of our grant making process, Community Investment funding. Area non-profit organizations, schools and government entities improving the Education, Health and Income Stability of Harvey County residents apply for this annual competitive grant. In addition to much-needed funding, the grant recipients become Partner Organizations of Harvey County United Way.

Most of the applicants have received funding for many years, decades for some. From what I can tell, that is what makes United Way different. Instead of asking grantees to come up with a new, sparkly project every few years, United Way focuses on three questions: a) What need are you going to address? B) How are you going to do it? c) How will you know you made a difference?

The entire process is indeed more extensive than that, as the grant review committee also looks at governance, sustainability and collaboration with other partners. Many donors give to United Way because they trust United Way to conduct the vetting process for them. In other words, we do the homework for the donor. We take that trust very seriously.

Along with the due diligence, comes my favorite part: the testimonials. This, my friends, is what gives me a warm feeling on the most bitterly cold day. Please allow me to share just a few stories of Harvey County lives touched in the last year:

Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation – A 7-year-old girl received professional fittings from the Wheelchair & Posture Seating Clinic for the last four years. The wheelchair has improved her posturing and increased accessibility for her by making it easier to operate by her caregivers. She now participates in a competitive cheerleading squad, zooming around in the chair and moving easily for stunts. Her mother said, “You guys have so many options for so many different people and situations.”

New Hope – A couple struggling with addiction lost custody of their children as a result. After completing inpatient treatment, they embraced the Life Restoration Program while living at the shelter. They gained employment and began saving for their future. As a result, New Hope was able to match them with Mid-Kansas Community Action Program to secure housing. They have become a family again with their three children.

Meals on Wheels – A message left on the voice mail, “Thank you for allowing me to receive meals. They are very good. I can’t cook right now due to a fall and my heart issues. I wish I could tell (my husband) how good they are. I miss him so much.” (Her husband was a long-time volunteer who died a few months ago.)

Safehope – A support group participant was able to find financial stability and debt reduction through the assistance of an advocate. As a result, the participant stated, “I never thought I could do this it just seemed so overwhelming with everything that I have to pay. However, making a visual with these budgeting sheets gives me hope.”

St. Matthew’s Representative Payee Program – A brother and sister received instant stability, including housing and utilities after transferring to this program. They had fallen victim to their previous payee who had misused their funds to the point of suspension. Director Katie Reese reminded us, “There is a very small margin between being safe and being in harms way.”

Trinity Heights Respite Care – Many families receiving respite care for children with special needs have at least one parent deployed overseas. The care helps reduce the stress of active duty for the family as a whole.

USD 373 Latchkey – Three families were homeless when they enrolled in Latchkey. They receive free care while homeless, and a partial scholarship funded by United Way after moving to permanent housing. The scholarship helps offset the expenses of daily life, and helps prevent returning to homelessness. Director Jeanie Fuller said of the partial scholarship funded by United Way, “There is nothing more rewarding than seeing these families go from being dependent on charitable assistance, to being able to provide food and shelter for their families.”

Feeling warmer yet? I sure am.

 

— Tina Payne is director of Harvey County United Way. She can be reached at 283-7101 or harveyunitedway@gmail.com.