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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Turkey and Vine Time

November Notes~Turkey and Vine Time. Why vine and not wine? Because November ushers in our annual special event at Kishwaukee united Way…Taste of the Vine! We have been planning for months, securing space, caterers, and auction prizes. We are also working to secure committed sponsors without which we would not be able to present this signature event. Thoughts of turkey and trimmings will come later, but early November our staff and volunteers  focus first on wine tasting details, lining up jazz trio entertainment and wrapping & presenting dozens of beautiful gift baskets for guests to purchase on November 12th. Why do we work so hard for this event? It has become a tradition, just like turkey day. It is a time to thank our donors for their commitments to us and to our programs and initiatives. It’s a time to celebrate the season and raise funds that will enable us to continue support for our 24 partner agencies in the coming months. And it’s a time to be think about thankfulness — for generous local businesses and individuals who donate their products and services for a good cause. For guest who arrive to help us celebrate the evening, and snag a basket or two for holiday giving, and support our mission work in the process. Turkey Day is around the corner. (and, uh…just today, I think I got roped into hosting again by my in-laws. Time to get on Pintrest for tips on how to cook a perfect bird!) BUt for us itis Vine time and THEN turkey time. I wish you moist turkeys, savory stuffing and the biggest slice of pumpkin pie. Thanks you to ALL of you who have supported Taste of the Vine in years past. We hope to see you at St. Mary’s Memorial Hall on 11/12 for a glass of vino — buy a raffle tickets, bid on a few items in our auction and toast to another year United Way is serving folks in our community.

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Pumpkins & Partners

October Notes~Why is it that pumpkin flavored everything has such power over us this time of year? As soon as the winds get a bit brisk, and the leaves turn their gorgeous shades of yellow, orange and red, retailers across the county pull out Pumpkin-EVERYthing. I’m not complaining, mind you…nothing soothes the soul amid cooling temperatures like a warm pumpkin flavored latte, a yummy pumpkin bagel & cream cheese, roasted sugar pumpkins or pumpkin pudding. (Yes – they make a seasonal flavor, and yes, I bought two…:) Pumpkin madness also extend to activities. Pumpkin time is also family time — at corn mazes, pumpkin patches and trick-or-treat time. I’m a bit saddened to say we had only 3 (yes, 3) trick-or-treaters. Wah. 🙁 I’m also sad that my son, now in 8th grade and beyond the years of costumed craziness, settled this year for a trip to the local grocery store with buddies to buy the candy they wanted, and then settled in for pizza and video gaming. Alas, times change. I am reminded, however, of the days when my little guy plotted and planned his costume, candy strategy and party goodies. Out shopping the other day, I noted that many families had flocked to our local Goodwill, of the households still in the throes of costumes and parties, and may not have many resources to make Halloween fun happen for their little monsters and princesses. It is with pride that I listen to the speaker and hear “Kishwaukee United Way” as a Goodwill partner, helping with job fairs, job training and making scare dollars stretch just a bit farther this month. Partnership with community entities is the cornerstone of our efforts. So hooray to Goodwill for enabling families to meet needs and still celebrate the wonderfulness of pumpkin season!

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Honeycrisps & Hoodies

September Notes ~ Fall has arrived. (Well, unofficially… but once we get a cool, crisp day or two, out comes my hoodies & sweaters. Yea! Fall favorites abound. Cool evenings to huddle under blankets and watch movies, savory soups & stews, gorgeous fall colors, the return of NFL football (GO PACK!), and of course, pumpkin spice everything!  Above all, my FAVORITE apple of all time — honey crisp apples are finally back in season. I have even signed up for a text alert have Jonomac Orchard  send me an update the minute they are ripe for the picking. Fall also brings to our office a flurry of campaign activity. This is the time of year we reach out to businesses, agencies and donors to engage them in learning about our current efforts and chat about hosting an employee campaign.  We are excited each year to see the creativity around raising funds for our work. Paid days off, chili cook offs, the-boss-will-wash-your -car, premium parking and many other incentives are fun ways to raise a few dollars toward the work we do around education, income & health. We are also gearing up for our fall special event, Taste of the Vine on November 12th. Silent Auction items, wine tasting, wonderful food samplings, a and a hot jazz band make for an entertaining event of socializing and grabbing holiday bargains! Sponsors help to make the evening a spectacular one, so we urge you to contact us if you want your business name in front of 200 loyal guests. Fall is a magical colorful time – make some of your own magic by giving to us TODAY!

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Back 2 School!

AUGUST 2015 UPDATE ~ Am I the only one who waited until the week before school started to tackle the dreaded school supply list? I looked up all the school supply sales, gathered my flyers and coupons, plotted my strategy and hit the road! Four stores later (…and one Grande Latte under my belt) I was done! As I schlepped the items to my car, and then unloaded and piled them in the corner to be sorted and stuffed into a backpack, I did take a moment. I thought about how lucky I was to not have to worry about being able to afford the supplies my son needed to learn and grow this year. I was thankful that I even had ‘extra’ paper, note cards, pencils and other items, in case new ones were needed mid-year. My work with United Way had taught me that not everyone has the same back-to -school experience. Our work in support of early childhood educational and agencies that help families and kids will hopefully make the path to school readiness easier for families that struggle. I may not be helping every family by coming to work and helping agencies that serve clients. But if we work together, we can each reach out and catch folks that need a hand up. The work we do matters; I know we are having an impact, and that makes me proud. Kishwaukee United Way supports 4-C, Community Coordinated Child Care, who provides resources for child care centers and home centers with nursing & mental health programs, nutrition, subsidy resources and advocacy about larger issues related to quality care for kids. We fund three local child care centers, assisting them to provide quality care for kids while parents make a living for their families. As children grow up and issues change, we are there in the form of support for Family Service Agency’s Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring programs, Youth Service Bureau outreach, counseling & support and other youth-serving groups. So….Back to School. It’s tough for folks in many different ways. You can pick up an extra notebook or two and donate it to your child’s classroom, or you can help families on a different level by supporting core services that lift them up in many ways, helping kids to succeed. LIVE UNITED and give a gift to us in support of United Way’s educational impact work today.

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Let the Fireworks Begin!

JULY 2015 UPDATE ~ The Fourth of July is my hubby’s favorite holiday. He looks forward to family time together…BBQ-ing, relaxing and of course — the fireworks show! I, on the other hand, get enjoyment form scanning Pinterest for the latest round of red, white and blue foods I can create for our annual picnic with the neighbors. (Yes, I have a whole board dedicated to them.) July has a celebratory feel in more ways than celebrating our nation’s independence. Kishwaukee United Way Staff had a great time supporting the DeKalb Area Realtors Association golf outing by hosting a marshmallow-swing at our designated golf hole. (You can see amusing pictures here.) We had participating golfers play a fun game and then sent them on their way with a mini-pack of marshmallows, a laugh or two, and a better understanding of our work and how they can get involved. Kishwaukee United Way staff is also very involved in a great group called the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership, or DCNP for short. DCNP is a group of nonprofit and service providers whose mission is to strengthen the nonprofit sector through leadership, professional development, and collaboration. Committees meet throughout the year to coordinate professional development session, networking opportunities and Executive Director roundtables. DCNP co-coordinates an internship program with NIU, and matches interns studying Community Leadership & Civic Engagement and seeking a real-world experience, with nonprofits entities seeking their support, ideas and energy. June 29th is host to the largest DCNP event of the year – Nonprofit Day. KUW Staff attended sessions on organizational diversity, resource development, social media & marketing, financial practices, and more! It was a great day to learn from presenters and peers alike, and build our ‘best practices’ file, to bring back to our organization and make positive, productive changes in the way we do business. We will cap off the month with a visit downstate to our United Way of Illinois Annual Meeting with Board members Michele, Wendy & Kenda to get legislative updates and learn about how we can advocate for changes to impact local agencies and the state budget crisis. Whew. I’m ready for a vacation, now. And I plan on one with the family in August. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂 See you next month!

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Volunteers have heart!

JUNE 2015 UPDATE ~ Day of Caring is Coming! As we wrapped up our allocation process last month, we continued planning for our largest volunteer event of the year. Day of Caring 2015 will take place on June 18th and is poised to be another wonderful effort across many sectors of our community. This large volunteer engagement event began over 10 years ago with a core group of Board Members and friends – about 30 volunteers working on 4 or 5 projects as local nonprofits. The day was held in September back then. Since then, we have moved the event to June to accommodate students and young people who are home for the summer, and eager to begin their volunteer journey. The effort has grown to almost 50 different projects and 200 volunteers working on them — in one day! We were thrilled to work at three DeKalb Community Garden sites, the DeKalb Area Women’s Center, the Epilepsy Resources office, Conexion Comunidad, and many other sites. We delivered meals-on-wheels, gardened, spread mulch on a playground, baked, served meals, played bingo at senior meal sites, painted walls and picnic tables and MUCH more!  Special thanks goes out to our committee who was hard at work confirming site logistics, making sure we had water for thirsty workers and checking in our agencies and taking photos of their hard work throughout the day. We were thrilled to begin our day with a rally at Hopkins Park and pose for a group photo by Roger Kyler at Kyler Photography. It was great to see volunteers who have worked with us in the past return for another year, and to see new faces beginning their service journey. Corporate and organizational teams came out to help as well – most notable from Target Distribution, Best Buy, Castle Bank, TCF Bank and Sycamore Rotary, to name a few. As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” If you want more groovy, fun quotes and information about volunteerism, check out our Pinterest Board “VOLUNTEER.” at KishwaukeeUWStaff  We hope to see you next June where you can roll up your sleeves for great cause!

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