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From Babysitting to Boardroom: My United Way of Central Florida Story

From an early age, I realized mentoring and helping others brought me the greatest joy. When I was ten years old, I would walk to my neighbor’s house to babysit her two kids so she could clean and do tasks around the house. That passion for helping others led me to teach, coach, and mentor youth for ten years as a math teacher and basketball coach. I wanted to help my students believe in themselves and achieve their full potential.

When I moved to Lakeland, FL, in 2010, I immediately searched for ways to give back to my community and help others. While working at the Polk County School Board, I first learned about the impact that the United Way of Central Florida (UWCF) had in our community, specifically as it applied to education. When joining Allen & Company in January of 2012, they were in the middle of their workplace campaign for United Way and took pride in having 100% of their associates giving! What about this organization would have 100% of the employees contributing to their cause?

That is where my passion for the United Way of Central Florida was ignited!

UWCF takes the time to find the areas of greatest need in our community and finds ways to address those needs. They have internal programs which primarily focus on early childhood education. However, they also partner with outside agencies and non-profits across Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties. Here are United Way of Central Florida’s initiatives:

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Academic Achievement
  • Community Partnership School
  • Financial Stability
  • Health
  • Community Wellness
  • George W. Jenkins End Hunger
  • Basic Needs

Over the past couple of years, UWCF partnered with Givewell to collect data that shows what the greatest needs in our community are through the United Community Needs Assessment (UCNA).

The data that was collected is helping guide the work of both organizations so that donations can be used and initiatives can be created to help make a difference in these areas!

The UCNA identified needs and assets that impact the lives of Polk County residents in six domains:

  • Economic and Employment Opportunities
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Food Security
  • Transportation/ Infrastructure
  • Quality of Life.

In addition to those major areas, the UCNA also identified a foundational issue contributing to local needs: economic barriers for residents. (UNCA-Polk-Snapshot-Digital)

UWCF is a catalyst in our community for positive change. They take the time to collect the data supporting our greatest needs, partner with other agencies to find solutions for these needs, and hold the partner organizations accountable by conducting annual reviews.

UWCF invests only in those services that measurably improve critical community needs. Volunteers on the Community Investment Teams work together to evaluate funding requests, conduct on-site visits of partner agencies, and study the effectiveness of services before recommending funding allocations.

Over the past nine years, I have had the honor of serving the UWCF as a board member, member of their finance committee, past treasurer, and Community Investment Teams member.

All of those opportunities have made my passion for the work being done by the UWCF greater! The staff at UWCF truly care about our community and want to make a positive and lasting change! My personal vision that was created in my head as a young child helping my neighbor is the same vision of UWCF today:

               “To unite our community and empower everyone to achieve their full potential.”

Let’s come together as a community to make this vision a reality!

January 2024

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