The 411 on 2-1-1

2-1-1. What the heck is that? As the holiday season is approaching, and thoughts of sugar plums, along online shopping, holiday cards, menu planning and present wrapping is upon us, United Way is hoping to bring a different kind of gift to our local community. 2-1-1 is an information and referral number that residents can call for to find local services and resource quickly and efficiently. Kishwaukee United Way is working with funding partners, local agencies and volunteer champions to pull all of the details together to make this resource a reality. Why 2-1-1 now? Well, our staff was involved for a time in the aftermath of the Fairdale tornado in 2015, and saw firsthand the challenges of coordinating services and information after a disaster of that type. 2-1-1 is equipped to handle FEMA related calls and assist in times of disaster. Additionally, a number of local organization have been trying to solve the issue of creating, updating and maintain a directory of information of local services for residents and fellow service providers, but few had the resources, infrastructure or time to create & manage such a system. We knew 2-1-1 could meet this need, as well. What was standing in the way of implementation, you might ask? Funding. Moola. Plan & simple. Kishwaukee United Way then took to the streets (well not the actual streets, but to clubs, commissions, boards, foundations and corporate board rooms) to seek the funding necessary to begin physical implementation of readying physical phone lines to handle 2-1-1 calls as well as seeking the the funding needed for a multi-year pilot of the program. We raised the funds! (Yea us!) Next steps were to answer pressing questions agencies had about the database, fund a group of folks willing to help with implementation, and work to populate the data from local group that will be on the other end of the phone line when someone calls 2-1-1 from DeKalb County. We held a meeting with representatives from PATH (the call center contracted to handle the calls)on 12/7, reached out to our local Youth Service providers (who were crowned 2-1-1 champions for agency outreach and general PR) and putting the word out for group to REGISTER in the 2-1-1 database. So happy wishes to you all this holiday season – hopefully by this time next year, United Way and other partners will have given DeKalb County the gift of easy access to needed services.

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Birthday Bash…for me?

November has been a time of nail biting and cautious celebration this year as we have watched a hometown team, the Chicago Cubs, continue to advance forward — hoping for a World Series win in 2017. As we edged toward victory, a celebration of another kind was in the works…Kishwaukee United Way’s annual Taste of the Vine event. Guests who have frequented our soiree know that the evening promises great selections of wine (compliments of Jesus Romero and his Taxco talents!), delicious delicacies (brought to you by the professionals at Premier Catering), the musings of Kirk Lundbeck and the Black Tie Trio, AND a range of eye-popping auction items. This year, as the World Series was clinched only days before our event was set to happen, we mobilized quickly and got connected with a source that was able to offer Cubs and other memorabilia to capture the momentum of the win, and offer cool new selections to our bidders. Why did I ask if it was a birthday bash?! Well, my very own birthday just happened to fall on event day as it has done a few other times in our multi-year run. I proudly sported a fancy birthday wine glass (gifted by VAC friends Ellen & Kate) in celebration of the day, and amid the event details and coordination of the night, enjoyed well wishes, hugs and birthday greetings form long time friends and colleagues. As turkey day looms on the horizon, I am thankful for many things — among them…1. Committed volunteers without whom event like Taste of the Vine would merely be ideas unable to reach fruition… 2. Board members who take time and energy of our their professional and personal lives to help make our community stronger with their talents, and 3. For the many partnerships United Way enjoys so that we might continue to do good works in the world, together. Happy Birthday, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays to one and all!

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Campaigns and Crafts

October is a time when we at United Way are bustling to meet with campaign coordinators, assemble materials for workplaces and help with special events to support the wonderful companies that choose to run a United Way campaign. Campaigns are as simple as the distribution of pledge cards and the sharing of a few local facts with employees, to chili cook offs, bake sales, internal agency events, to HUGE silent auctions and presentations to hundreds of employees in our large local distributions centers. We are grateful for all of the coordinators at the corporate level who take the time to work with us to bring the message to their employees about the work we are doing locally in our community to improve lives. Campaign meetings are also a time to connect with local businesses, renew relationships, meet new contact people and answer questions about agency services and volunteer opportunities. Not running a campaign currently? What?! Call Dawn at the United Way Office. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee, and share with you why it is valuable to do so — to let employees know the vast resources in our area, and to share with them what a gift to their local United Way means to our partners and to the success of our initiatives. Even a dollar or two a week deducted form a paycheck can go far — if we all give a little, we can accomplish a lot! I mentioned ‘crafts’ in my title for this month as well. Why, you might ask? Because it is the time of year for me to prep for our participation in the annual DeKalb Elks Club Craft Fair in November. As if I NEEDED an excuse to surf Pinterest boards, I get to delve into left brain visioning and choose and create fun hand-crafted items for the show. This year I have plans for up-cycled holiday ornaments made out of vintage yardsticks & rulers, as well as a few wreath creations. (Glue gun — don;t fail me now!) If you don’t have plans, please join us on November 19th, at the Elks Club for holiday item shopping and yummy eats in support of United Way!

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Pumpkin Pandemonium – Already?

Yes – It is time. Pumpkin Lattes. Pumpkin Candles. Pumpkin Coffee Creamer, muffin mix, soup, pie, marshmallows, bread, cereal, yogurt, bagels, pop tarts, vodka (well, ok – maybe that’s ok) and the weirdest one of all –Pumpkin Pringles. :/ Yesterday, I also saw a tree with one branch on one side edging toward reds and oranges — the colors of the fall. What does that mean for our local United Way, and our work? We are hot and heavy into our Campaign Season at our workplaces. We have special relationships with Global Leadership Partners — folks like Target, 3M, UPS, Payless, Heartland Bank, TJ Maxx, Lowes, Best Buy, ComEd, NICOR, Comcast, and others. We reach out to the stores and companies, and often visit with management and employees to share what Kishwaukee United Way is up to. We tell them about our support of 24 local nonprofits, our work with financial stability for families through MoneySmart Week in April, our volunteer engagement, our FamilyWize prescription savings program, and other initiatives. I was lucky enough to visit with the Schnuck’s team recently, and thanked them for their support and openness to help. Campaign visits not only catch employees up on what is happening with us, but allows us to share resources they may need for themseleves, their neighbors and families. Agencies we work with help children, teens and seniors in numerous ways. It’s nice to be able to give back information and support, when employees choose to support our mission with their giving. Campaign season can be a blast – jeans days, cook-offs, hot dog lunches, auction baskets, bake sales, and crazy competitions. It’s great to raise funds for good cause – it’s even better if you are having fun doing it. 🙂 Speaking of funds and food, big THANKS to the folks that came out to the Culver’s and Chipotle locations this last month to support our work in that way. It’s always a treat (and a great break from cooking dinner) to grab a burrito bowl or some yummy custard – it just tastes THAT much better when you know that a bit of your cash will go back and do good things!

As we head into the cooler months, we are also prepping big time for two events – the first is our signature Taste of the Vine wine tasting & silent auction event on November 10th (which might happen to be my birthday – just sayin’…). We are actively seeking sponsorship for this great night, as well as donated auction prizes. I’m plotting what cool basket I can put together this year. Ideas? In the past I have done zombie baskets, bacon love, beer bonanza, Halloween hoopla and others! On this list of silent austion items we have already are spa sensations, restaurant items, event & sports tickets, Pampered Chef products, craft stuff, and more! Also, the 3rd annual DeKalb Elks Craft Fair (which we partner with them on) is on November 19th from 10am – 5pm. We are hoping that an early blizzard does NOT damper the attendance as it did last year. I am channeling my creative energy (after several nights scanning Pintrest of course) and working my craftiness on items for the show. You’ll have to come to see if what I create are hits or Pintrest fails – lol! We are truly excited about the Elks support, and I personally look forward to grabbing holiday gifts at both Taste and the Craft Show. We hope to see you at one or both events.

So, in closing, pumpkin time it is. I have yet to snag a Pumpkin Latte, but I’m sure one will be waiting for me when I need it. Happy early Fall, Y’all!

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Summer Sweep

This summer season saw a lot of activity across our organizations – from our internal working s to our external relationships. Ready, set…summer updates…GO! We started the warmer months with the engagement of a NGOLD intern from NIU. Sarah worked with us on social media and outreach efforts. She helped us to prep for our largest volunteer event, Day of Caring in mid-June. Armed with our bright yellow tees, the Day of Caring Committee, and staffers Sarah, Jackie and I embarked on a tour of the agency projects happening that day. We saw a multitude of gardeners, painters, organizers, and folks delivering & serving meals. We were excited to have some families and kids along — even 5 year old Jack harvesting strawberries at the VAC Community Garden! Props to Roger Kyler Photography for capturing our crew in photos that morning. June also was the start of our early campaign season, with Target Distribution leading the way as a premier partner. IN addition to our speaking to team members about our work, we were lucky enough to be involved in a HUGE — I mean HUGE…clothing giveaway. We mobilized local agencies who had a need for clothing & home goods, and helped Target donated gaylords full (my new word…) of clothes to local kids and families. Target continues to be a strong community partner, as we look forward to a special day of volunteer outreach with their team in the near future.

July came in with a bang in two ways — the first was with traditional fireworks on the 4th, but the surprises continued on the 5th when our six-year coordinator of Outreach and Finance, Jackie DiNatale resigned just after the holiday weekend. 🙁 Plans were made quickly to wish her well on her next adventures, and, as Sarah’s internship ended, I found myself alone trying to ascertain the best path forward with staffing. Our Executive Board stepped in and we rallied to host a Organizational Mapping meeting toward a larger strategic discussion of where we were headed, and how we wanted to get there. Kristin Miller, local consultant who we had been impressed with in committee work organizing and participating in DCNP’s Nonprofit Day, walked us through a development and board assessment plan, and we are off & running! We plan to hire some temp help with operations and November’s Taste of the Vine, but all is moving forward in a meaningful way.

August began with a visit to Bloomington, IL where myself and two Board members checked in with United Way colleagues from across the state at the United Way of Illinois Annual Meeting for updates on the state budget, human service issues, and more. As we gained perspective on what was happening with the 211 initiative – a first call for help phone number to refer people to services – we shared our progress toward making 211 a reality in DeKalb County. Funding models, collaborative partners and methods to get this project done are in the works with a hopeful March 2017 rollout. And soooo….after a much needed and restful fishing adventure with my parents, hubby and son prior to school starting, I was able to brace myself for my only child’s FIRST day of high school. Time sure flies! (I wasn’t allowed to take a first day of school picture, (PLEASE mom…) but I rest in the knowledge that every project I undertake, every late night or early morning meeting I have, and every new person that I introduce United Way’s work to, helps us make this place we call home a rich, vibrant, and healthy community for all. Onward Fall – here we come!

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MAY I say Thank You?

As we head into the month of May we saw some big finishes to events beginning in April and a GREAT start to our work in the realm of giving and shows of widespread community support. The wrap up of our Money Smart Week programming occurred on April 30. We were grateful to host over 140 sessions in collaboration with wonderful partners. We’re crossing our fingers for final attendance numbers — our steering committee meets next week to debrief — but we hope to have reached over 3000 kids, youth, adults, family members and seniors with FREE financial information! That is good stuff. Feedback from a couple that has been attending our events for several years had this to say about the sessions offered: ” … I would like to thank you and the accompanying steering committee for putting together a really rich resource in this venture. You had a very broad spectrum program of opportunities for all ages to learn and grow. Well done!”. NICE! We had such a great time meeting new partners and helping to share with families ways they can learn a trick or two to help them become more stable & secure in their finances. I did pick up a budget worksheet for myself (no, I haven’t filled it out quite yet…) that I will use to get a better picture of how our income might be better managed. For those of you who know me, YES, I may event pull out my set of rainbow markers and color code the categories. Don’t judge. 🙂 Ha!
No sooner than we closed the book on Money Smart madness, did we focus on the next effort — GIVE LOCAL DeKalb County. I have one word for that initiative: WOW. What an outpouring of giving, goodwill and engagement across DeKalb County. Over $300,000 was raised in less than 2 days for dozens of nonprofit groups. We at United Way we blessed by the generosity of board members, friends of United Way, committee members, and corporate partners. The combined, caring power of our community resulted in over $17,000 raised for our work . Again: WOW. We are so grateful to you all who took the time (and weathered the technical challenges of the day 🙂 to provide us with gifts to support our mission work and our initiatives. So, MAY I thank you? Partners help make our world go ’round at United Way — Money Smart speakers, donors, volunteers and all of YOU all for thinking of us in one of more of these ways. I am humbled — my hat is off to you all!

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April Showers bring…Snow?!

Hmmm. I thought that April meant sunshine and seedlings popping up through the ground. Although there are traces of daffodils and crocuses scattered along certain flowerbeds and lawns, the fleeting flurries that last few days have not given me hope for a true spring thaw quite yet.  April at Kishwaukee United Way finds our staff and volunteers ‘springing’ into action, however, as the culmination of months of work come to fruition this month. Last week we hosted our Annual Meeting for partners and friends at Fatty’s — shaking things up as we enjoyed breakfast in their newly remodeled room, updated folks on our efforts this past year, heard how agencies are impacted by our funds ‘around the clock‘, and awarded champions of United Way with heartfelt recognition. Meanwhile, the Money Smart Week Steering and Marketing Committees have been planning initiatives and PR efforts for many months, all of which will highlight our local Money Smart Week programming April 23 through April 30. Hard work, networking and connections have paid off in…drum roll please…over 125 FREE local program sessions that week! Couponing, retirement planning, budgeting, kids reads, investing, avoiding financial scams, and MUCH more is planned for month’s end. We anxiously await our calendar insert in the Daily Chronicle, and will be busy making radio appearances, setting up booths at expos and fairs, and making our last PR push for folks to JOIN US for one or more of the information sessions. Who wants to save money? I do! We hope you do, too.  (I’ll be saving a seat for myself at the ‘budgeting with spreadsheets’ session coming up at Goodwill. My hubby should be very excited.) April also brings a focus on our annual agency allocation process. Here is a breakdown of the efforts, by the numbers: 24 agencies; an 8 hour meeting visiting with agency staff; Dozens of site visits to go over questions and hear impact stories; Hundreds of agency rubric sheets with board scores across number of critical areas; 1 final, purposeful meeting with thoughtful determination of the funding we are able to allocate to each local program. We hope that spring will manifest itself soon, and we’ll be seeing green in TWO ways  — in our yards and gardens AND in the saving of funds that families will enjoy as a participant in Money Smart Week sessions. $$ Visit moneysmartweek.niu.edu for a full schedule. $$ Happy Spring, all!

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Pondering About Pots o’ Gold…

In these times of trying budgets and agencies working to make ends meet, we sometimes wish that pots of gold would appear with enough in them to help all who needed help. We at Kishwaukee United Way may be a bit like those wee leprechauns ~ we seek ‘gold’ in the form of a bit of the ‘treasure’ that people in our community are generous enough to share with us. We know firsthand that those who commit to give a little help a lot of folks live better lives.

Kishwaukee United Way not only works hard to gather the ‘gold’, but in the coming months we will make decisions about how to distribute funds raised in our county. We will deliberate, assess agency needs, review budgets, visit nonprofit sites and decide how to best put the ‘treasures’ entrusted to us to good use.

No, pots of gold do not magically appear. What does appear year after year, however, are employees that give a wee bit each week out of their checks to United Way. What also appears are hardworking volunteers who help us assess how we can raise needed dollars & then responsibly distribute the funds.

Make no mistake–we do have treasure in our community in many forms–donors, volunteers and families working themselves up and out of sad situations toward better lives. Help us help them. If you are willing to run a campaign or host an event for us, call 815.756.7522 and let’s chat about how a bit of your treasure, spread across 23 agencies and initiatives, can to create a rainbow of possibilities in our community!

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YIKES! IT’S A NEW YEAR…

January Notes ~ Yikes! It’s  a New Year.  As we garner the motivation to finally take down our Christmas tree and put all the trimmings away, haul the recycling out to the curb brimming with boxes, gift wrap and bags, we get to set our focus on a shiny new year. Some of us resolve to give us things, start other things, and generally be better at x, y or z. It is a time each year we get to re-set our lives, begin again with new expectations and new dreams. It is amid this hope that we find ourselves in human services struggling a bit amid the hope of a new day. The state of Illinois began the year still uncertain about a budget, and funding streams for critical services still held back. It’s tough to watch local agencies tightening their belts, laying off or not hiring staff and struggling to make ends meet which attempting to sustain or maintain local services.  Seniors depending on meals or other supports, victims of domestic violence and persons with disabilities are being affected. United Way has lent our voice to rallies, letters and conversations with leaders to help get us as a sate past this stalemate, and restore funding to critical program. Yes, New Year’s can be a hopeful time.  For human services, however, we are hopeful that the budget can be passed so vital services can restored, and we can truly say that there is a Happy New Year for all.

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HOLIDAY HOOPLA

December Notes ~ Holiday Hoopla   The holiday season is upon us, and with it all of the craziness this December time of year brings with it. We are busy making lists, planning menus, shopping for gifts, hosting parties and partaking in many holiday preparations. Why do we run ourselves ragged? Because the ultimate goal of all the hoopla is to create opportunities to celebrate with family, friends and loved ones. We are fortunate to also see, an outpouring of care and concern for those individuals and families often forgotten or underserved  in our community. Civic groups gather toys, coats and holiday surprises for local families. Schools host giving trees to provide gifts for families in need of a little holiday magic. Senior citizens stretching their dollars each month get gifted basic supplies and necessities to help them through the colder months. We are lucky to live in a community rich with this generosity. Our neighbors often give just a bit more than they planned, picking up an extra item or two, and sharing the bounty of their good fortune with others. This is a time, too, that United Way reaches out to individuals and families asking them to make a gift to us so that we may continue to serve many these families through our year-round programs and services. When you get our letter  asking for support, we ask that you please take a minute. Read through the reasons why giving to our work is important — how it sustains families through tough times. How it provides care for kids, safe and positive places for youth and support for our seniors – and much in between. When you get our envelope, think about supporting us and ultimately those same families you might have helped this season. United Way support is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Happy Holidays!

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