As the fall and winter holiday displays start to arrive in stores, and we tune our playlists to the first sounds of the season, I am reminded of all of the things that we have to DO around the holidays. Grocery shopping, menu planning, housecleaning, and (of course) starting to think about shopping for items on our loved ones wish lists. We give a lot of ourselves at this time of year. I am also reminded of much we, as a community, give to others at this time of year. No — not to just friends, family members, or even colleagues, clients and acquaintances. I am speaking about giving to help those whose faces we will never see; those whose names we will never know. We add a dollar to our total at the grocery store to help feed hungry families; We pull an ornament from a giving tree to buy a toy for a child who would otherwise go without; We drop coins in buckets, kettles and jars, knowing our small change can make a REAL change for others. We also sift through dozens of year-end appeals deciding what type of charitable gift we may want to make via our annual gift. United Way is one of hundreds of local charities – and thousands of national charities across the country to choose from when considering holiday giving.

Why do we want you to consider a gift to Kishwaukee United Way? Well, we like to think of ourselves as a one-stop shop where your generosity can do the most good locally for the broadest base of people. Our Board members spend hours vetting the 24 agencies that benefit from donated dollars – elder care agencies, childcare agencies, and dozens of services that help to lift up our most vulnerable citizens, right here in DeKalb County.

Our United Way also invests in larger causes and initiatives…Our 211 information and referral line, where people seeking help are just a phone call away from supportive services…Our FamilyWize prescription discount program where families can save money on medicines, and not have to make tough choices when money is tight…Our annual Money Smart initiative– coordinating over 100 free programs that help teach people – from kids to retirees– ways to save, invest and be ‘smarter’ with their money…and our new Born Learning Program where we plan to build an interactive play and learn trail along a parkway this spring, to bring awareness to the importance of early learning and skill building in young children.

So, as much as the Thanksgiving season evokes images of turkeys, pumpkin pies, family and friends (…and Black Friday steals!), it also evokes a feeling of thankfulness for all of our donors. From the employee that deducts a dollar of two from his weekly paycheck, to our local businesses who match their employee gifts annually and sponsor events, to our Leadership Donors who give generously of their resources so that we may sustain and grow our work each year.

Happy Thanksgiving and THANKS (for) GIVING – each and every one of you!

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Forward to Fall!

The cold weather has been a bit slow in coming this year, and thus, I am anxiously awaiting cooler days that signal the twist from sunny summer fun into autumn friendly activities. My boys and I have already made a trek to Jonomac orchards (you HAVE to visit when the Honeycrisp apples are ready…) and sampled apples, caramel apples and cider donuts. The sweatshirts have come out of storage, and my husband and I are strategizing how to fit 14+ people into our home for a sit down turkey-day dinner. I am envisioning a series of card tables and creative seating – we’ll make it work. As long as there is space for the bird, smashed potatoes and assorted pies, we will be good to go.  I have not yet sampled a Pumpkin Latte, but have settled into baking glorious treats on the weekends, my fall hobby and an activity that takes me to a happy place.

As far as Kishwaukee United Way is concerned, we are heading into an event-focused season, as we host a series of Dine-Out days at local restaurant venues, help to spread the word about the DeKalb Elks Craft Fair (whose vendor fees support United Way), and gear up for our annual signature event, Taste. Traditionally, our November shindig has been called Taste of the Vine, but this year we are shaking things up with a bit of a re-brand and a new look and feel. Taste: Bottles & Brews will be Thursday, November 9th at St. Mary’s. We will feature not only wonderful wine selections but also craft beers and microbrew tastings. We think this will enhance an already great event, bringing not only connoisseurs of the fruits of vine but also heartfelt fans of hops & suds. We will feature the fabulous food samplings of Premier Catering (A shout out to Kate, our culinary creator!) and enjoy the sounds of Jazz in Progress. Guest can take a chance on our 50/50 raffle or make a Case for the Cause by participating in a drawing to win a half case of wine or a half case of microbrew beers.  Have we forgotten our glorious gift basket auction? I think not! Prizes are drifting in ready to be assembled into a silent auction extravaganza! Favorite eateries and events will be featured thanks to generous local businesses, and we will have artwork, sport tickets, experiences, and more! You won’t want to miss this pre-holiday shopping experience in support of our core community initiatives. (If you see me stalking a particular auction item, be nice — My birthday is on November 10th J)

Why do we spend hours designing tablescapes, soliciting sponsorship, selling raffle tickets, asking for auction prizes and decorating dozens of delightful items? Because it matters to people in our community who need help. The people who are hurting, hungry, and need a hand up, not a handout. We do it because our efforts contribute to our ability to support our partners – feeding seniors, caring for children, sheltering and sustaining those who are vulnerable. Our neighbors. Our friends. Someone who needs a bit of assistance so that they can stand tall and walk toward a better tomorrow. Is it a lot of work? Yep. Is it worth it? You bet. We are proud to host an event that brings joy to our guests AND makes a marked difference in our world. Join us! Call 815.756.7522 for tickets, and enjoy a glass of wine or beer, but more importantly, know that you are contributing toward positive community change. Yea, you!

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You can be a Champion!

Champ io n / [cham-pee-uh n]

  1. a person who fights for or defends any person or cause. i.e., a Champion of United Way in your workplace.
  2. a person who takes first place. i.e., anyone who serves as United Way Champion is a winner!

There are an abundance of super hero movies with strong characters, each one fighting for justice, the underdog, and ultimately making the world a better place through their actions. Many of these Hollywood icons started from humble beginnings, and through a series of positive actions or decisions aimed at helping others, they became larger than life.  Do you know that there are champions all around us? Do you want to join the ranks of the revered? You, too, can be a hero – by becoming a United Way Campaign Champion! Staff at Kishwaukee United Way are actively working with local companies and agencies to run workplace campaigns in our local businesses. Campaign Champions are volunteers who go the extra mile to learn a bit about our organization, help explain United Way’s work to their colleagues and co-workers, and then help us coordinate a giving campaign. Employees can make one gift at their workplace, and effect positive change for 24 local agencies.

Why United Way?  Because United Way works. United Way fights for the health, education, and financial stability of all in DeKalb County. Because giving to United Way is easy. Most people give via payroll deduction, pledging to have a certain amount taken out of each paycheck that year. United Way’s materials are easy to distribute and collect. After a brief 1-2 week solicitation period (your internal workplace campaign), you’re done! Because there is something to believe in for everyone who gives. Donors can feel good that their gift will go to support a variety of causes – all of which are local, and span the life cycle from early childhood education, to teen mentoring, abuse prevention all the way through to senior services. Whatever your passion is to make a difference, it is likely our United Way is supporting positive change in that area with one of our agency partnerships. Beyond investing in nonprofit programs and services, we also coordinate initiatives like Money Smart Week, 2-1-1 information and referral, and our FamilyWize Prescription Discount Program. Thousands of local residents are impacted by United Way programming; almost everyone knows someone who has benefitted (maybe even themselves) from a United Way agency. Gifts from employees help us continue to support vital services in our area. And, finally, Because United Way is effective. Money raised here stays here in DeKalb County — 95 cents of every dollar given is invested in services for people who need them.

Be a local Champion – Reach out to us today at 815.756.7522, and chat about how you can begin a workplace campaign in your organization.

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A Big Thumbs Up

Kishwaukee United Way just got a big “thumbs up” from United Way Worldwide (UWW).  Seriously, they sent me a big “thumbs up” icon via email to let me know that we have successfully completed our 2017 Membership Certification.  This annual certification is required for every member United Way.  If you don’t meet their requirements, you can’t conduct business as a United Way.   There are nine core certification requirements.

First, we must be recognized as exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.  Every year we must file IRS form 990 in a timely manner, which must be reviewed by our Board of Directors prior to filing, and we must make it available to the public upon request.

Second, we must comply with all applicable legal, local, state and federal operating and reporting requirements.  We must reveal when there is an investigation for any violations of local, state and federal laws.  We must conduct anti-terrorism compliance measures.  We must comply with the provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley, which includes whistleblower protection and document retention and destruction policies.  We must be currently registered to conduct charitable solicitations at the state and local level.

Third, we are required to have an active, responsible, and voluntary governing body, which ensures effective governance over the policies and financial resources of our organization.
The board must meet at least quarterly; approve the annual budget; have at least two board members with financial experience; review financial statements at least quarterly; review and approve fund distribution decisions; review its bylaws and governing policies at least every three years; and, engage an external auditor and the audit is must be presented to the full board.

Fourth, we must adhere to a locally developed and adopted statement to ensure volunteers and staff broadly reflect the diversity of the community we serve.

Fifth, we must represent ourselves as a United Way in accordance with all UWW trademark standards and requirements, including those contained in the licensing agreement.

Sixth, we must provide financial support to UWW in accordance to the membership investment formula, which is 1% of money during our campaign.  The other 99% stays in DeKalb County!  UWW member benefits include products and services to enhance our work locally and collectively as a network.

Seventh, we must adhere to a locally developed and adopted code of ethics for volunteers and staff, which includes provisions for ethical management, publicity, fundraising practices, and full and fair disclosure.  All staff and board must annually review and sign a conflict of interest and code of ethics statement.

Eighth, we must have an annual audit conducted and year-end financial statements prepared by an independent certified public accountant whose examination complies with generally accepted auditing standards and accounting principles.  The audit must be an unqualified “clean” audit.  The board must review the auditor’s management letter and take appropriate actions to minimize any risks identified

Ninth, we must conduct and submit to UWW every three years a business performance self-assessment of our community impact work, financial management, organizational governance and decision-making.

We are proud of our big “thumbs up.”  It is a lot of work, but it is critical that our donors and volunteers are confident in their investment in Kishwaukee United Way and DeKalb County.

Dawn Littlefield, Executive Director, Kishwaukee United Way

(Article content credited to Vickie Corbett, United Way of Adams County)

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Money Smart and MUCH More!

April showers may bring May flowers, but April also brings to fruition one of our largest initiatives – Money Smart Week! Money Smart efforts are a tangible community wide-effort supported by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago which brings local consumers dozens (almost 100) FREE financial literacy sessions the last week in April each year — programs that help local residents be smart with their money in different ways. Partnering with libraries, financial planners, banks, colleges & universities and nonprofits, we help to coordinate local sessions ranging from credit card management to estate planning, how to pay for college, kids reads at libraries, how to protect yourself again financial exploitation, and much more. In the end, help with financial stability, one of our United Way impact pillars. Speaking of finances —  this is the time of year where we reach out to our agency partners and obtain their respective grant requests for the upcoming year. Financial reviews are one component of the process, as is allocation review meeting sin person with staff, program descriptions and statistic and site visits. After a rigorous process, and armed with rubrics scoring all of our groups, the Board heads into a determination meeting, and decides where best funds need to be allocated for this program year. We were thrilled to be able to allocate MORE than we did last year, and continue to be committed to grow our campaign revenue, and investing in vital programs that fortify and serve families in our service footprint. As we finished with annual allocations, we were pleased conclude the hiring process for – NEW staff! (Yea us!) Our team now includes Gretchen Sprinkle, new mom and fabulous Finance Assistant; Marketing talent and Sycamore native Tammy Newquist as our Community Engagement Coordinator and our University of Phoenix Intern Karleen Lindsey, hailing form the Kirkland area. Our new team in training, and ready to engage in all levels of our work, we collectively moved forward with a project than began last year – bringing a 2-1-1 information & Referral System for DeKalb County. After months of community meetings, outreach to potential funders, recruitment of volunteer champions and getting the mechanics in place we were proud to host the launch of 2-1-1 in DeKalb County! Celebrated by a crowd of 60+ stakeholders, we thanked the folks that made the information service possible, and headed into our public PR phase of the effort. As we speak, plans exist to distribute business cards, speak to local groups, and staff vendor fairs to let residents know that calling 2-1-1 is a great first step to finding services in the County. Jason Leverton, Chair of our local 911 Board remarked, “If you need a responder, call 911 – if you need a response, call 211.” On the heels of the successful launch, we put the final pieces in place for our Annual Day of Caring volunteer day June 22. One of our projects that day (conveniently) was the hanging of 211 door hangers in various neighborhoods spreading the work about our new resource. In addition to that, we (collectively) painted, baked, cleaned, organized, alphabetized books, stocked pantries, gardened, and weeded our way across the county from Sycamore to Shabbona, with 75+ volunteers and over 20 sites. With that, I am off for a long weekend in MO for the 4th with friends & family. Keep cool, and LIVE UNITED, my friends!

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New Year ~ New Directions

As we rang in 2017, we rang in changes for our local United Way as well. Continuing our path of determining strategic goals for our organization, we met several times with local consultants and assessed current efforts. Our Board of Directors came up with strategies around resource development and assessed what our staffing needs would be for the New Year. We determined that two new positions were in order – a part time Finance Assistant and a Community Engagement Coordinator. And, just like that…the process of hiring began! We put the word out locally, and listed our positions. We will keep you posted on updates. Meanwhile, our friends at Target Distribution granted us funds for a mini Day of Caring Event in January – Target United Way MLK Winter Work Days! We completed projects at 10 local agencies, and supplied the sites with mini-grants to help with projects like: thanking mentors, stocking food pantries, fortifying agency supplies and adding value to several of our local nonprofits in this way. On the heels of this great effort, I was able to travel to the great city of Green Bay (Great city because I am a die hard Packer Fan…woo hoo!) for my annual regional United Way Great Rivers Conference. As a member of the Conference Planning Team, I get to network with other United Way staff in the system, learn about projects, initiatives and strategies from peers and leaders in the United Way system, and get re-energized about our local work. (Bonus: The host City reception MIGHT have occurred at Lambeau Field in the Packer Hall of Fame.) Much time was spent post-conference prepping for our annual financial literacy work – Money Smart Week DeKalb, Lee & LaSalle. Meetings were held with partners, and session ideas were generated for a week of great community outreach at the end of April. If that was not enough greatness, we had the honor or recognizing another set of community movers and shakers this year at our Annual Meeting– individuals and companies that invest in our mission in a meaningful way and help us to do the good work that we do. Longtime volunteer (and unicorn-lover) Ms. Bridget Carlson from First National Bank was the first recipient of our annual Leo Olson Award. We were happy to recognize her years of service, and at the same time saddened to have to send her off to a new employment opportunity out of state. We also were pleased to honor First Midwest Bank for their commitment of both monetary resources and their commitment to allow various bank staff to serve with us on committees, on our Board of Directors and in numerous other capacities. What a great start to what promises to be a great year. Looking forward to move adventures and forward progress this spring!

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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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