Do you have ‘Smart Money’ Moves?

Although we are still in the throes of the winter season, and we have yet to see the green grasses of spring, it is time to turn our attention to another kind of green – money! Financial Wellness is one of our pillars, an important component of strong and healthy families. In the coming months, we will focus on helping people to be well informed about their financial resources, to be ‘smart’ with their money and help them to build or maintain a strong economic position. We are in the heart of tax time, and United Way is proud to offer supports on how to  get taxes prepared, filed and how to maximize dedications. Our local AARP volunteers are busy staffing multiple sites to help provide tax preparation assistance for low-income individuals, families and seniors. Click here for the full schedule. In partnership with United Way Worldwide, offers free online tax preparation for families with income under $66,000 annually. United Way also has worked this last year to advocate for higher tax credits for the Earned Income Tax Credit, ensuring that hardworking folks can have a little more money in their pockets after tax time.  To understand and access all of the resources of the EITC and other tax credits, click here.

The concept of starting early with money management and good habits has come to the forefront in my life in the last several weeks as my 16 year old son secured his first part time job. Along with the new responsibilities came a brand new debit card, a walk-through of responsibilities associated with that at our local bank, and a tutorial from mom on the importance of socking away at least some of his newfound resources for the future. J So far so good – the transfers money to his savings account from each check he receives are the first ‘payments’ he makes toward his future. Giving my son the foundation he needs to be mindful of money, earnings, and saving for the future is important to my husband and myself. Some of the best advice I got early in my career was to save even a little – $25 a paycheck to stat, and build toward stability for my family and myself.

To this end, financial stability is an impact area that Kishwaukee United Way is proud to dedicate resources to in our area. Similar to teaching my son the basics of money management, I am lucky enough to be able to create programs that do the same for others in our community – on a wide variety of topics.  We will embark on this work in April via Money Smart Week DeKalb, Lee & LaSalle Counties programming. We are working now on a robust, totally FREE program scheduled for the last week in April supplemented by programming in schools, on campuses and in the general community. Sessions planned already for the week of April 21-28, 2018 include credit card management, estate planning, healthy eating on a budget, teen programs, kids read programs, webinars, radio programs and many other opportunities. The full schedule for Money Smart Week locally will be printed in a special insert in the Daily Chronicle in April, and will be listed at Money Smart Week depends solely on volunteer session presenters, so we are continually seeking professionals who have skill, talents and knowledge to offer community members. We are lucky to have a planning team of local professional representing financial institutions, NIU, Kishwaukee Colleges, out local libraries, EconIL and other entities. They are working hard as a team to being these great sessions to you all. We invite you to join us for one or more session during Money Smart Week – I promise, you will learn a things or tow, and maybe keep a little more ‘green’ in your pocket or purse!

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A Heapful of Ways to be Healthy

When we think of being healthier, the typical scenarios come to mind — getting back to the gym after the holiday season; eating a few more salads and not so many sugary treats as a part of resolutions in the new year; and generally taking care of our overall physical health. These things are very important. Health and wellness are components of caring for our physical selves. Other components of health which may not jump to mind immediately are mental and emotional health. The way that we deal with anxiety, crisis, depression and a host of other potential symptoms is important as well. If these symptoms lie unaddressed, they can be an unhealthy and challenging presence in our lives. I would also put forth a few more subtle ‘healthy’ behaviors I believe to be an integral part of the overall equation, as well — healthy relationships, fulfilling roles and a sense of purpose and belonging in life.

I am proud to say that through the many partners and programs Kishwaukee United Way supports, all aspects of how ‘health’ is defined are being addressed day in and day out in our community.  Fostering physical health and wellness is one of the main components of the YMCA, one of our funded partners. Epilepsy Resources educates community groups, schools and classrooms about the many facets of seizure disorders and how to take action in a variety of circumstances. Voluntary Action Center teaches classes to seniors addressing nutrition, diabetes education and fall prevention. A facet of early childhood education centers like The Growing Place and Children’s Learning Center is the balance of physical play with early learning —developing motor skills and physical strength alongside intellectual learning and development.

Addressing the emotional health realm, many of our agencies offer counseling, support groups and interventions that address topics across a wide variety of circumstances and situations. Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health’s Ben Gordon Center addresses issues of substance abuse and psychiatric supports for local patients. Family Service Agency’s counseling staff offers resources in many areas of general counseling from divorce mediation and senior interventions to the delicate care of trauma victims seen through the Children’s Advocacy Center. Agencies like Youth Service Bureau and Youth Outlook provide a framework of tools and support for youth and teenagers dealing with issues at home, anger management, coping techniques, and gender identity issues, to name a few. Crisis support is offered through Safe Passage where clients are dealing with having been survivors of violence, working on strategies to live stronger lives with new coping tools and strategies for success.

In addition to supporting the parter agencies I spoke about (23 in total) Kishwaukee United Way addresses community health in several ways through our specific programming and the initiative work that we do. Our 211 information and referral system is a mechanism connecting vital services to the people in our community that need them, simply by calling 2-1-1 and asking for help. We address the financial health and stability of residents by offering tax preparation support programs for low income and senior residents through AARP/VITA tax sites and as well programming a robust series of free workshops on money management topics during Money Smart Week each April. I would submit that we offer the chance for purpose, engagement and a sense of community through our many volunteer opportunities. Our annual Day of Caring, the Target MLK Volunteer Days that took place this past week, and the myriad of opportunities we have on the Board and Committee level for volunteers contributes to civic and community engagement and a connection to service in our local area. These roles — helping to lead our organization, supporting our projects and helping us program activities all help to sustain our important work and bring folks together in a meaningful way.

So my shout out to you all this month is this…get on out there and get healthier! If it is putting down the donut and dropping in to a fitness class, so be it. If it is talking to someone about the dark times that seem to taking over the bright times, find a capable, listening ear. If it is about connecting to service opportunities that will lend richness not only to YOUR life but to the world and to somebody else, let us help you find an opportunity to connect in this way.

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Resource Rich for the Holiday!

As the winds turn colder, and the hats & mittens are unearthed from the linen closet, holiday hoopla is in full swing! Many of us are dashing our way to the grocery store (again) for the grocery item we forgot yesterday, and dancing our way through the aisles at the store to find the perfect item for the office holiday party.  Between batches of cookies this weekend, as I was re-checking my family holiday gift list, I realized that amid the times of holiday chaos — putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the house,  running my son holiday events — there was one thing that I did not have to worry about. Having enough. Enough time? Well, we always feel like there is not enough of that, but, no…invariably things get done in the end. I did not have to worry about having enough resources. I didn’t have to worry about having enough money to pay for the forgotten grocery item. I didn’t have to worry about my car having enough gas to get me there. I didn’t have to worry about having enough extra in the bank to purchase gifts for my son this year. We are resource rich. We are blessed enough to have been able to ‘adopt’ a family in need for the holidays, as well. It gave me great joy to have been able to support a family of five with comfort items like blankets, socks, hats, mitten and a few treats and sweets. Not everyone in our community has the stability that we as a family sometime take for granted. There are folks that do not have access to the basic needs that sustain, support and nurture them. This is where organizations like Kishwaukee United Way enters the picture. We are proud to have launched the 211 resource and referral helpline earlier this year. Calling 211 is a way for families that might not have what they need, to find it – holiday help, utility assistance, or a referral for a struggling family member. When a person calls 211, they are connected to a friendly voice — one that has a database of resources in DeKalb County at their fingertips, and a compassionate ear for service. There are numerous nonprofit agencies helping families at the holiday time – and year round. United Way is proud to support their work as well – be it through interventions for teens struggling at home through Youth Service Bureau, to a hot meal delivered to a senior through VAC’s Meals on Wheels, to the shelter and support provided to victims of violence at Safe Passage…and many, many more.  So are you resource rich? Do you have enough? If so, we invite you to make a gift to Kishwaukee United Way this season, so that we may continue to lift up others, giving them a hand up, not a hand out – so that we all have enough for ourselves and our families. Happy Holidays to you all!

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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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