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If, indeed, it takes a village to raise a child then we all share responsibility for making sure that we’re not only fostering their cognitive development, but also their social and emotional development. There’s growing evidence suggesting that mastering social-emotional competencies leads to greater well-being and better school performance. Failing to do so however, can lead to a variety of personal, social and academic difficulties.
That’s why United Way is teaming up with the National Football League to bring character education to schools across the country with Character PlaybookTM—a digital education program that trains students on how to cultivate and maintain healthy relationships during their critical middle school years. It focuses on middle school students because these transition years between early childhood and high school are a time of rapid brain development. It is a period when skills learned and behaviors repeated are hardwired. Those who develop good communication skills and emotional intelligence can draw on them for a lifetime of interpersonal, academic and ultimately, professional success.
Since its launch, more than 47,500 students at 466 middle schools have completed 169,087 modules.
In Philadelphia, sixth graders at William Ziegler Elementary School are using Character Playbook to help manage behavior and resolve conflicts—in the classroom and at home. At a recent Character Playbook event hosted by United Way of Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia Eagles, several students reported using counting and breathing exercises to manage their emotions and taking time to think before acting. According to teacher Adell Shaw, a lot of the “girl drama” in her classroom has been minimized considerably by Character Playbook, and she recognizes her students using the language of Character Playbook in their daily communications.
"At the beginning of the school year, I saw a lot of conflict among my students," said Shaw. "They didn’t really know how to navigate social situations or settle conflicts, and I was losing instruction time to hash out problems. Then we implemented Character Playbook… and the change has been amazing! They’ve learned about why character is important and tips to deal with conflict resolution, build healthy relationships and make good decisions. Now my days aren’t spent addressing as much bickering and drama, so I’m able to teach more and invest more positive energy in my students."
How does Character Playbook work? The curriculum uses an engaging digital platform and real world activities, rooted in evidence-based strategies, to teach middle school students how to build healthy relationships. The program is interactive, and covers the key elements of social emotional learning that are the basis of positive character development:
Students engage with true-to-life scenarios that include bystander intervention strategies and positive relationship examples. Throughout the course, reflection activities help them relate these scenarios to current real-life experiences.
Character Playbook is not a silver bullet but it is giving schools a foundation and common language for this important conversation. Learn more about the work of the NFL and United Way Partnership at www.unitedway.org/nfl.
Second grader William Mack is a "changed man" thanks to Success After 6. When you walk into his SA6 classroom, you'll find him sitting quietly, paying attention to his after-school counselor, and most likely doing his work.
But that wasn't always the case. Last year, William was talkative, struggled with his school work, didn't pay attention at all, and had to sit right next to the counselor so he wouldn't disrupt the other students.
"This year, he's a lot more disciplined with raising his hand. Watching him do his homework this year, he's focused. He is a lot different than last year," says LaToya Hale, William's Success After 6 counselor.
William is one of 200 students in the SA6 after-school program in Youngstown, Ohio. The United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley launched Success After 6, an early education initiative for kindergarten through sixth graders, in 2015.
SA6 is currently in two schools providing additional academic resources with tutoring during the day and the after-school program in the evening. So far, the students in the program have improved their reading and math scores by 80%. They're catching up to their peers by closing the achievement gap at a faster pace than they would without SA6.
It's more than an after-school program, though. Sixty percent of Youngstown kids live in poverty. SA6 provides wrap-around services at the two schools for more than 600 students and their families, all who face extreme barriers.
"Being from the area we come from, some children don’t have the opportunity to be able to experience things. This program exposes them to so much," says Jasmine Hampton, mom of a SA6 First Grader.
SA6 brings everything from food pantries and vision screenings to ballet, art, computer programming, and 3D printing right to the school. It also focuses on improving students' behavior.
"I think it helped William become more disciplined," says LaToya, "He's doing things for himself. I push 'Do the thinking on your own' and he does. So I'm very proud of William!"
Success After 6's goal is for children like William to know there's a big world out there. Their current circumstances may stop them from experiencing much outside of their own neighborhood, so the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley is stepping in to change that...and help create a promising future for these students and families.
It is National Volunteer Week in the U.S. and Canada, a chance to thank volunteers who lend their time, talent, brains and brawn to causes they care about in their community and around the world. There are many ways to recognize volunteers this week and throughout the year. Here are four of my favorites:
How do you honor the impact of change makers in your communities?
London Miller’s experience volunteering with United Way of Greater Toledo on Global Youth Service Day last year was so great that it sparked a commitment to give back again and again. Since then, she has signed on to volunteer regularly with Toledo GROWS, an urban community garden and farm which served more than 6,500 people last year.
This is just one story of the impact from mobilizing young people all across the globe for Global Youth Service Day (GYSD), held this year on April 22. United Way of Greater Toledo is hosting one of the largest GYSD events by connecting over 100 groups of more than 2,800 youth to local projects. Local partners like The Chrysler Foundation, Buckeye Broadband, State Farm and Vito’s Pizza and Subs are supporting the day’s events. With volunteering at the heart of United Way’s commitment to advance the common good, we are proud to be a national and global partner with YSA, an international leader in the youth service movement and founder of what is now the largest annual youth service event in the world.
Global Youth Service Day events like this one are designed to inspire and empower young people to do what they can through service and picture a bright future for themselves and their communities. Young people know that community service has the potential to be positive and life-changing in more ways than one. The connections we form through volunteering -- to individuals, our community and our world – are an important part of a healthy and happy life.
How are youth making a difference in your community? Share your stories here, on Global Youth Service Day, or any day.
Now more than ever, communities are facing new challenges that threaten their health and growth— from opioid abuse and human trafficking, to homelessness and domestic violence. Tackling these areas of concern requires a united front, one that harnesses the heart and hard work of local citizens.
To galvanize people to join the fight against these critical issues, and with a commitment to community betterment, we recently launched “Join the Fight,” a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that marks a new narrative for United Way Worldwide. This PSA demonstrates how, with 2.8 million volunteers, 70,000 corporate partners and 9.8 million donors, we are addressing the tough issues of today.
The PSA first aired on April 8 during an episode of “The Hero Effect,” a docu-series airing on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network that spotlights the heroic endeavors of everyday people. You can watch the PSA on television, view it on websites and read about it in print publications across the country. The footage, while graphic, reveals the difficult and dangerous situations that occur in neighborhoods without intervention from organizations like United Way. The strong imagery paints a portrait of people who are in dire need of support. These are people who need a chance. They need hope.
At United Way, we fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community. Our new PSA is a notice to the world that we are here to fight the challenges of today. We are ready to serve as problem-solvers for the issues that are difficult to face— and too hard to ignore. Above all, our PSA is a reminder that hope lives in each of us, and that we will never give up our fight. We will always #LIVEUNITED. Please watch our PSA, share it and join our fight!
As an advocate for tax policies like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) at United Way Worldwide, I’m reminded each day that 7.5 million Americans are taxed into poverty every year largely because they can’t access this tax break.
I recently saw firsthand the importance of getting that federal tax credit when I toured one of United Way of Metropolitan Nashville’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. Last year, thousands of VITA volunteers across the country facilitated $2.2 billion in returns to local communities – – dollars spent to cover child expenses, pay bills, purchase groceries and household necessities, as well as to save for the future. These dollars are made possible largely thanks to the EITC and Child Tax Credit.
The Foster Street Financial Empowerment Center provides qualifying taxpayers free, reliable assistance in filing federal and state tax returns. While there, I spoke with a cafeteria worker at a local university who relies on VITA volunteers to help her with her taxes. The young mom relayed the financial burden of paying for such services. She’s also been using the center’s financial coaching services, and working towards improving her credit. She plans to use this year’s return to offset some of the expenses that come with raising a child.
This story isn’t uncommon at Foster Street. The center’s walls are filled with pictures and testimonials of people that are on the financial road to success.
The EITC is one of the best tools we have for working families to keep their head above water. Workers that aren’t raising children however, like non-custodial parents that still contribute to child expenses, access little to no EITC. Young workers 21-24, trying to gain a stable foothold in the workforce, are entirely ineligible. Congress can expand this common-sense policy by increasing the size of the credit for this group, and lowering the eligibility age to 21.
Today, the 2017 tax season is coming to a close and with it, the knowledge that VITA programs and volunteers around the country are helping millions of hardworking taxpayers keep more of what they’ve earned. Help us continue making a difference by asking your Representative to #expandEITC in time for the next tax season.
How do you measure the impact of giving back?
For John Deere employees, it comes in the form of bright eyes and big smiles. An integral part of their organizational identity, employee volunteerism has long been a driver of the 180-year-old company.
Last August, summer gave way to a season of giving as 40 employees in Tarnowo Podgórne, Poland, supported United Way Poland’s “First Bell” program, which gives children and youth in need the supplies necessary to start the school year off on the right foot. In all, 500 children in the community were set up for success.
The giving continued months later as 300 employees from Zweibrücken, Kaiserslautern, Bruchsal and Mannheim, Germany, applied their passion toward a new purpose—ending hunger. Although Germany is considered a wealthy country, one in seven people live below the poverty line. Spanning four “Day of Caring” events across the country, employees packed 6,400 food bags containing more than 28 tons of food for local food banks. That’s enough to feed 56,000 people!
Meanwhile, in France, employees mentored unemployed youth to set them on a path toward higher education. And in Spain, John Deere employees hosted a career fair to afford teachers and tutors new opportunities to inspire their children. According to one of the school’s tutors, the event was a “great opportunity for the students to have a glimpse at the future they could enjoy if they work at it.”
These are just a few examples of what is possible when United Way and its partners come together in support of community betterment. How are you giving back in your community? Share you story so that others may learn and grow from them.
Jeff Myers lives with multiple sclerosis and without a computer, so for the past several years, he has gone to Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, PA to receive assistance in filing his taxes. To him, it’s more than an annual appointment. It is a lifeline to money he’s due.
Budding lawyers at the school and other volunteers at 17 nearby locations have signed up for United Way of the Capital Region’s free Money in Your Pocket program to help low- to moderate-income working families complete federal, state and local tax returns. Many of the program’s volunteers have helped taxpayers in their community for the past 10 years. Last year 260 of them filed 5,332 tax returns, resulting in more than $5.1 million returned to local families and helping increase their income by an average of six percent. As this year’s tax filing deadline looms, hundreds of volunteers are again making sure taxpayers get the maximum refund they deserve.
Hundreds of other United Ways across the U.S. train volunteers like these to prepare returns through the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Tax Income Assistance (VITA) program. All volunteers – from greeters to tax preparers to quality reviewers – go through training. While many volunteers have backgrounds in finance, quite a few sign up to learn something new. Taxpayers report using refunds to pay off existing debt, buy household necessities, and increase savings.
The volunteers find it rewarding to be part of an effort that directly helps move people toward financial independence and a better quality of life. Velma, a volunteer with United Way of Wapello County (IA), said, “I love making a difference even though I can’t commit a lot of time.” Donna, another volunteer, said, “I enjoy helping people … get the much needed refunds without the cost of a paid preparer.”
You, too, can help make sure people in need receive their due. Contact your local United Way to learn about VITA programs in your area and join other volunteers in making an immediate impact.
When Deloitte asked me to participate in their Alternative Spring Break program with United Way in Atlanta, GA, I knew it was a good sign. During college, I ventured on an Alternative Spring Break trip through a student organization to the same city. Five of my fellow classmates volunteered on this trip with me and I still remember the jokes, stories, and lessons learned from our time. I wondered if my second Alternative Spring Break trip in the Deloitte professional/supervisor role would provide me with just as many memories and more importantly, friendships. After coming home from my trip, the answer to that question was easily answered:
1. No matter what is planned, the day’s roadmap can always change. My group worked with Meals on Wheels Atlanta (MOWA) and we thought we would be preparing and packaging food. But we didn’t realize that MOWA also supports seniors with an onsite activity center. These programs were just as impactful to the senior’s lives as the meals that would be delivered to them. Lessons learned? Check.
2. Companionship doesn’t require lively conversation. During my first visit to the senior center, I sat by an older woman named Beverly. I tried asking her various questions about her day and life, but I would mostly receive one-word answers back. During our lunch break, I confided in one student that I felt badly for being unable to connect with Beverly better. He wisely suggested that she probably appreciated my company even if we didn’t speak much. The next day when I sat by Beverly again, this student’s words rang true when I saw Beverly’s wide smile. Stories remembered? Check.
3. Fireball is good for the soul. “All right everybody, let’s do some Fireball!” You’re probably thinking the same thing I first thought when I heard this spoken by one of the MOWA staff. As it turns out, much to my delight, this actually signals Pitbull’s song “Fireball” which is a favorite ‘jazzercise’ routine for all of the seniors. Through the music and motions, everyone in the room, including the volunteers, united together through dance and laughter. Memories made? Check.
4. Making 150 sandwiches takes longer than you think. I gladly volunteered to take on the assembly of 150 sandwiches - meticulously placing four precisely-folded turkey slices onto pieces of bread and added a slice of cheddar cheese to each. Next I took plastic wrap and outfitted each of my sandwiches with a full cover. As we neared the end of our shift, my team member asked how many sandwiches I had completed. I feebly answered “82.” As others finished their tasks, my group members helped me achieve the goal of 150 sandwiches in time. Afterwards, I joked with the students that they would never know when their accounting/finance skills could come in handy in the real world – like allocating enough time to make 150 sandwiches. Jokes told? Check.
5. Networking is simply connecting with people. I had not anticipated how much this trip would actually expand my network and how easily I can continue to expand it in the future. Even though I wasn’t interacting with these students, coworkers, and United Way staff on technical issues, we were still building our relationships through our volunteering, Deloitte and United Way’s programming, and social events. Friendships formed? Check.
Today marks Mayor and County Recognition Day for National Service, which encourages elected officials to shine a spotlight on the impact national service members have in local communities. Throughout the country, nearly 4,000 mayors, city officials, and tribal leaders will hold public events to recognize national service as an effective system that improves lives, strengthens communities, and alleviates poverty.
United Way is proud to join elected officials in the nationwide salute to thank AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members who serve.
In Olympia, Washington, United Way of Thurston County and Mayor Cheryl Selby will serve alongside AmeriCorps VISTA members to create health and hygiene kits for a local community schools program.
Many elected officials will issue a proclamation honoring the day, like Mayor Teresa Jacobs did last year in Orange County, Florida. Local organizations supporting national service, including Heart of Florida United Way, were presented a proclamation at the Board of County Commissioners Meeting.
How are your elected officials recognizing national service members in their communities? Consider letting them know how much you value national service and contact Congress to show your support for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.