United Way’s ‘Income’ Agencies Key To Helping Needy Reach ‘Full Potential’
Posted: November 17, 2012
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series examining the role the United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County plays in the areas of education, income and health in our community. Today’s story takes a look at the “income tier.” The first story in this series ran Nov. 10 and the final part will run Nov. 24.
HARRISONBURG — The biggest deterrent to getting and holding a steady job is not one’s qualifications or work ethic, says Betty Newell, program coordinator for the local nonprofit Way to Go — it’s a lack of transportation.
Newell has seen the effect having a car or access to other transportation can have on families through the work of her nonprofit, which gives cars or pays for vehicle-related services and fees for low-income area residents. She says people often don’t think about the importance of transportation or how valuable it is to have access to it.
Newell gave the example of one man, who was living at a local shelter and had a long commute to work, and how Way to Go’s help in paying for repairs to his car made a world of difference.
“He was able to go back to work so he didn’t lose his job,” Newell said.
The nonprofit has two missions: to help Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents obtain vehicles and to help them maintain vehicles, including giving families funds for car inspections, registration and repairs.
The organization only works with clients who are referred to it through social workers or other agencies, and who meet certain criteria.
The number of people the agency serves continues to grow, said Newell.
So far in 2012, the nonprofit has helped more than 180 different families. In all of 2011, the agency served 172. Because of the economy, Newell said, the agency is “seeing more people who have never had to ask for help before.”
The United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Newell says, deserves a big thanks for all its assistance in helping those people.
The United Way, celebrating its 55th anniversary this month, makes it possible for Way to Go to help families not eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding from the Department of Social Services.
“Our largest operating grant comes from [that] department,” Newell said. “[But] for any family who does not meet those criteria, we can’t serve them with that grant. That’s where our United Way funding is so critical.”
Of the 180 people served so far this year, Newell said only half qualified for TANF funds.
Funding programs like Way to Go and others that give families tools to help them “meet their full potential” — what United Way Director Betsy Hay calls “empowerment services” — is one of the primary aims of the income tier of the United Way.
Partner agencies like NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center, which helps immigrants who have recently moved to the central Valley find services, and Our Community Place, which hosts meals and activities for homeless residents and others in the community, also serve that mission.
The other aim of the income sector of the United Way is providing emergency services, said Hay, which supply basic amenities to area families like food, shelter and clothing.
“I think traditionally, United Way has been seen as a champion of people who have needs in times of crisis,” said Hay.
Those needs sometime include helping people pay their bills for basic necessities, like electricity and heat, Hay said.
A program through another United Way partner agency, Elkton Area United Services, provides funding to families who request assistance in meeting electric bills or rent.
“We feel that [if] we are able to help you one time… it helps you stay in your home and keep your electricity on,” said Hay.
That statement touches on the entire mission of the income tier, which is to help families become and stay self-sufficient. Hay said over the years more emphasis has been put on giving money to support programs that help families transition from shelters and other temporary quarters to permanent housing.
“We’re seeing a change in the way we go about shelter care,” said Hay. “[We are getting] people out sooner and surrounding them with the support long-term.”
United Way data shows that 89 percent of families who moved from the Mercy House homeless shelter in Harrisonburg were able to maintain stable housing for three years after leaving the shelter when they were able to take advantage of support services.
“Research has shown … the quicker we get families back into the community and then surround them with all of that support, the more successful they are,” said Hay. “We’re trying to equip and give people the skills and knowledge and support they need to be successful long term.”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org