Middlesex United Way: Looking back at a year of philanthropic success
MIDDLETOWN — As I begin to think about where 2019 will take our community, our families and the Middlesex United Way, I can’t help but feel an enormous amount of gratitude and accomplishment for this past year. Over 6,00 donors, more than 700 volunteers, 38 partners and hundreds of advocates have helped us achieve the successes highlighted in this column.
One major step Middlesex United Way had this year was making last connections and establishing a presence with younger community members who will be the ones to shape Middlesex County in the years to come. In an attempt to inspire next-generation leaders and connect them to local nonprofits, Middlesex United Way, Marcum and MARC Community Resources successfully hosted a Leadership Development Series.There were 25 participants for our first year, and the demand for this valuable opportunity remains high so we plan to offer the series again later this year. It inspired over 60 Pratt & Whitney employees to take the event to their own next-generation employees at their East Hartford and Middletown locations.
Well over 2,000 books were collected during our first Day of Action Community-Wide Book Drive. The Day of Action, usually held June 21, is a day when United Ways nationwide are encouraged to give back to their communities. This year, we focused on collecting books to help elementary students enhance their reading abilities, and to meet or exceed grade-level expectations — one of Middlesex United Way’s key goals.
Over 20 organizations participated in this collaboration, and helped us host public drop-off locations in every town in Middlesex County. Seen companies even ran their own internal book drives. The books were distributed to our funded partner programs, as well as public and private child care centers in every town throughout Middlesex County.
Our success is largely driven by the success of our partners. Some examples of the work that was accomplished include how, in partnership with organizations like St. Vincent de Paul and Shoreline Soup Kitchens and Pantries, we were able to provide more than 841,426 meals to low-income households struggling to make ends meet.
Through our School Readiness initiative, early childhood councils in Middlesex County provided over 900 families with services designed to ensure that their preschool-age children are socially and emotionally ready to learn by the time they enter kindergarten. They also provided adult learners with 9,562 hours of tutoring to help them read/learn English, find employment, get a promotion or earn their GED/high school diploma.
Last year, Middletown VITA sites helped 542 lower-income Middlesex County area residents file their taxes, returning $839,300 in tax refunds back to the Middletown area. VITA sites, including the one at the Middlesex United Way office, provide free income tax preparation assistance to low-income working families, ensuring they have access to the tax credit they have earned.
For the past three years, we have worked with 15 other Connecticut United Ways to develop a study on financial hardship in Connecticut, called the ALICE report. Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed are households with income above the federal poverty level, but below a basic cost-of-living threshold.
The ALICE report was presented in 2014, and this past year was recently updated. The 2018 updated ALICE report was released Sept. 2, marking the third report since 2014. It documents the challenges facing ALICE families throughout our state, as well as helping identify trends that affect their ability to achieve financial security.
Our two affinity groups have also been hard at work. The Middlesex United Way Women’s Initiative held its annual Power of the Purse event in June. The event raised more than $15,000 to be used to award grants to Middlesex County-area nonprofits creating opportunities for a better life for women and children in the areas of early childhood development, empowering young women and financial stability. In 2018, the Women’s Initiative was able to make grants 12 organizations.
The Young Leaders Society also had some major successes. Recently, they hosted the seventh annual Holiday Social & Stuff-a-Cruiser drive, collecting gifts to brighten the holidays for teens in need in Middletown. The Young Leaders Society provides community involvement, professional development, and networking for young professionals ages 21 to 40 who live or work in Middlesex County. They hold monthly networking, volunteer and leadership events.
At Middlesex United Way, we continue to make strides to help our community toward a better tomorrow. We can only hope that 2019 holds as much promise as we had in 2018.
Kevin Wilhelm is executive director and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.