United Way Focuses on the Building Blocks

As we look outside our doors, it can be difficult to escape the challenges we face in the region.
Nearly 25% of Springfield families and 37% of Holyoke families with children under age 5 have incomes below the poverty level. Hampden County’s high-school graduation rate is 70.2%, compared to the statewide rate of 81.5%. Specifically, the graduation rate in West Springfield is 66.4%; in Springfield, 54.5%; and in Holyoke, 48.5%. And last year, food pantries in Hampden County served 22% more meals than in the previous year.
While we must face the issues of our community, we do not need to accept them as reality. We can face them with hope, optimism, and courage, knowing that we can make a difference. The United Way of Pioneer Valley is leading that effort. Our focus is on education, income, health, and basic needs — the building blocks for a good quality of life.
 Our efforts around income promote financial stability and independence by raising awareness of mechanisms that support income growth, convening stakeholders to strengthen income stability and enhance access to bank accounts and services, increasing volunteerism in support of financial education, and partnering on statewide collaborative efforts to bolster family assets and financial literacy.
To raise the bar on education, we partner with local, regional, and state initiatives that support the educational achievement of all children. We collaborate with the school systems and community providers to raise the high-school graduation rates. We invest in educational programming, like mentoring, summer learning, and family engagement.
 And, as the need for emergency food, fuel, and utility assistance increases, we will be there for individuals and families to provide much-needed resources and allocations to provide a hand up for those in need — as we always have.
 But it is not solely up to the United Way of Pioneer Valley. We are all part of the community, and we can all be part of the solution. We can all live united. But how? As part of the United Way Live United movement, we are asking people to “Give. Advocate. Volunteer.”  
 You can give of your time, energy, and talents to create lasting change and improve the lives of all.  Your financial contributions can help fund programs that make a difference for poor, low-income and working poor people to have a better life. Many of these are your co-workers, friends, family, and community members.
 You can foster a community of hope and opportunity through advocating for change — be it with a neighbor or a legislator. You can give voice to the vulnerable by supporting initiatives that raise awareness to the challenges faced by our homeless and those who may find themselves on the precipice.
 You can build a stronger community by serving as a mentor to a young adult. You can empower others with your experiences. You can simply share your wisdom with a child.
 We invite you to be part of the change. You can give, you can advocate, and you can volunteer. You can make a difference in the Pioneer Valley, and that’s what it means to live united.

Dora Robinson is president and CEO of United Way of Pioneer Valley.

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