The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 20, 2022 1:00 am


United in purpose

Refined approach can better address area's needs

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

It would be difficult, in this space, to describe even a fraction of the things United Way donations accomplish in our community.

Think what Fort Wayne and Allen County would lose if there were less funding for food banks or neighborhood clinics looking after the interests of the hungry or those needing health care. Certainly, other agencies provide social services across the county, but today’s United Way of Allen County has been a leader in this community, with various names and associations, for nearly 100 years.

What if kids had less access to the Boys & Girls Club, or the YMCA and its efforts to provide a healthy, spiritual place for family activities? What if The Salvation Army, Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry and the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission weren’t able to assist as many of those in need?

With United Way involved in efforts to serve so many – particularly as our community continues to struggle with COVID-19, which has infected nearly 91,000 and killed about 1,000 people in Allen County – donations to the organization are crucial.

In July, the United Way of Allen County will transition from a local organization that raises and distributes money to numerous local agencies, to one that funds local programming aimed at benefiting one of these core needs: educational opportunity, food security, housing stability and mental health access.

The needs were identified by 268 residents who participated in a communitywide survey last year.

The survey findings were revealing. Almost 40% of respondents said they might benefit from the help of a mental health professional. Nearly half reported difficulty in paying monthly bills within the last 12 months, and one in five said they had trouble paying their bills most or every month.

“We knew we as an organization were no longer in a position to tell the community what our priorities are,” United Way President and CEO Matthew Purkey said during a news conference last year announcing the changes to the funding priorities. “We had to enter into a season in which we talked less and listened more.”

Strong Neighborhoods was established after the survey. Its goal is to connect neighbors to one another and their community “by gathering the strengths and voices of residents” so they might gain ownership and participate in the revitalization of their neighborhood.

Another new initiative is Persistence Pays Off, with a goal of getting more students to complete their college degree or certificate by helping tear down barriers students face. United Way is partnering with Ivy Tech, Purdue University Fort Wayne and Lutheran Social Services to give students access to emergency grants and community resources.

From afterschool programs to helping seniors live at home, United Way dollars are an integral part of the ties that bind the community.

Just last week, United Way released its annual report. Since June 2021, the organization’s $3 million Pandemic and Emergency Relief Fund has provided 625,823 meals, 121,196 to seniors and people living with a disability; offered 19,113 shelter days and nights; assisted 2,155 in getting prescription medications, and gave 175 mortgage or rent assistance.

The United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program attracted 456 volunteers who invested 4,427 hours to prepare 2,728 tax returns. The Emergency Food and Shelter Program contributed $459,886 to community providers. The agency’s total investment in the community last year was $5.9 million.

The United Way of Allen County celebrates its 100th anniversary in September.You can join the agency’s new collaborative approach with a donation of your time or money.

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