Yesterday’s Progress Should Inspire Today’s Work

There is a lot of troubling news in the world today. Terrorism, inequality and distrust are just a few that come to mind. But when you dig further, you also see encouraging signs.

I recently came across a blog from Ben Carlson on his site, A Wealth of Common Sense. Ben and I share a similar perspective, and his blog highlights many good examples that remind us how far we’ve come.

For example:

  • 200 years ago, 85% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. 20 years ago, it was 29%. Today, only 9% live in extreme poverty.
  • The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51.
  • The U.S. high school graduation rate was just 9% in 1910. It jumped to 52% by 1940 and 83% today.

If these figures blow your mind, I’m not surprised. These examples don’t fit into the narrative broadcast by those who believe the world is spiraling out of control.

Of course, there is a lot of truth to concerns about growing inequality, our readiness for the jobs of the future, and the increasing failures of government – particularly at the national level. As a result, optimism and trust are declining in many parts of the world.

Surveys today typically find that only a small fraction of Americans trust the federal government to do the right thing. Yet more than 70 percent trusted their local government as of a couple years ago.

These numbers make me optimistic, because they present an opportunity for a bottom-up, community-based approach to improve our society.

It’s an approach where people stop shouting past one another and instead listen and attend town council meetings to discuss improving schools and public safety.

It’s an approach where people connect and find common ground that leads to real, scalable impact.

And it’s an approach where our newfound trust and progress creates opportunities for change at higher levels of society, including the national level.

If that sounds a lot like United Way’s model, that’s because it is. We’ve been bringing people together in communities around the world for more than a century. Today’s environment, where trust in local organizations is greater than in national institutions, offers a critical moment to make an impact.

There is still a lot of work to do. The richest one percent of the world controls half its wealth. American millennials today are far less likely than previous generations to out-earn their parents. And our education systems continue to leave too many young people behind.

But it’s graduation season. A time to believe in what we can achieve, both individually and together. So let me end with these reminders:

Let’s continue to believe in the power of communities and the progress we’re making.

Let’s continue to understand the work left to do on behalf of people and communities.

And let’s remain optimistic that people can – and will continue to – come together to change the world.

Supporting Moms with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

According to the beautiful images on Instagram and Facebook, a plump new baby and a well-rested, smiling mother enjoying every minute of motherhood is the norm in the early days after giving birth.  But real life does not always play out like it does in curated posts and choreographed photos. Every new mother I know is familiar with the roller coaster that accompanies the first few weeks and months after welcoming a new baby. For many, the days just after giving birth are marked by restless nights in the hospital, an uncomfortable recovery from labor, the learning curve of how to care for a newborn – all while attempting to catch up on sleep.

For some mothers, that’s not where the stress and anxiety ends. Some new moms are grappling with their newborn’s health issues. Some mothers could be jobless, homeless or plagued with an addiction, while others deal with a partner who is deployed or not in the picture. Some new moms are teenagers and may have a minimal support system in place. With all of those factors in play, in addition to recalibrating post-pregnancy hormones, it is no wonder that many mothers feel overwhelmed.

The American Psychological Association says postpartum depression afflicts approximately one out of seven new mothers and can start anytime after giving birth, from a few weeks to a year. With almost four million births reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, that means over half a million new mothers are suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety in the U.S. alone. Symptoms and severity range from mood swings, to difficulty sleeping, to feeling overwhelmed to the more serious thoughts of hopelessness or self-harm. A full list of symptoms can be found here. What all new mothers and those around her need to know is that help and support is available to them.

United Way believes that children deserve a strong start in life and that having a healthy mother or caregiver is the first step in that direction. If you or someone you know is a new parent (mother or father) and experiencing any symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, reach out for help. Talk to your partner, doctor, pediatrician, other moms, friends or relatives about what you’re going through. You can also call 2-1-1 for immediate assistance.

This Mother’s Day, let’s ensure every mother gets the support and care she needs to be the strongest advocate she can for her new child.

What Every Kid Needs to Do to be Healthier

Now that warmer temperatures are here, it is a great time to get outdoors with kids to enjoy the sunshine and help them get their daily dose of physical activity. With childhood obesity on the rise and kids spending more than seven hours a day in front of screens, it’s more important than ever that children make daily exercise part of their routine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that kids and teens get at least one hour of physical activity per day. Activities like jumping rope, running, climbing on monkey bars and gymnastics are fun ways that kids can fulfill their daily quota, while also strengthening their bones and muscles.

Craig Williams, director of the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre at the University of Exeter in England, tells CNN that exercise should include muscle-strengthening activities at least three days a week.

“One of the most important reasons that children should be active is for their bone health, as it is shown that in the adolescent years, 33% to 43% of total bone mass is acquired,” he says.

A few other ways you can make exercise fun for kids are:

  • Turn a walk around the neighborhood into a game, or incorporate short races from mailbox to mailbox, for example
  • Take them to the playground or a nearby park to run around with their friends
  • Sign them up for a team sport, like soccer or baseball

One cautionary note: Girls tend to let exercise slide once they reach adolescence, according to Dr. Stephanie Walsh, medical director of child wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She tells CNN that the goal is to encourage teen girls to get their daily exercise without introducing body images. Dr. Walsh’s tip for parents? Don’t ever associate it with weight or weight loss.

“Physical activity has so many other benefits that has nothing to do with weight,” Walsh says. “When you’re talking to kids about that activity, talk to them about the benefits, better sleep, better concentration, feeling better, being stronger, increased muscle mass, all those things that are really important about it, but don’t focus on weight.”

Bottom line: Children and adolescents need 60 minutes of physical activity each day, whether they fit it in all at once or do short bursts of activity throughout the day. The goal is for them to get their heartbeat up, and to instill in them healthy habits that they’ll carry into adulthood.

For more resources on healthy living, check out this blog about reducing stress and this post about how to encourage healthy habits in your children.

Recognizing the Effects of Stress

Stress is a fact of life. Overbooked schedules, demanding work hours, long commutes, an outburst by an angry boss, a stand-off with a defiant teenage child and the bad news that makes headlines every day are all contributors to the increased stress that many feel. Now more than ever it is important to recognize signs of stress in ourselves, our families and our communities and take the necessary steps to reduce stress and intervene if needed. Click here to learn more.

5 Advocacy Wins We Accomplished Together In 2017

While 2017 was a challenging and politically divisive year, United Ways, partners and supporters stepped up to advocate for the communities we serve and managed to accomplish several policy wins to improve opportunity for all.

We would like to thank the United Way network for all the ways you advocated this year – Capitol Hill Days, letters to Congress, targeted outreach, site visits, social media and more. It made the difference. We will be calling on you to continue the fight in 2018 – particularly on tax reform and possible cuts to entitlement programs.

But, for now, we thank you for standing up and giving a voice to those we serve.

Here are just a few things we accomplished, with your help, this year:

1. Restored funding for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA):

This summer, the House Financial Services Subcommittee voted to cut the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) by 50% (from $15 million to $7.5 million) in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 appropriations bill. Fortunately, due to targeted outreach to members of Congress on the Appropriations Committee, local United Ways and supporters communicated the value of this critical program and worked with several congressional offices to restore funding to $15 million for VITA in a technical fix to the bill. The amended bill was passed by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday, July 13th.

2. Met with nearly 300 members of Congress and sent over 9,500 letters to Capitol Hill:

This year, the United Way network met with and communicated the organization’s priorities to hundreds of members of Congress. Facing threats to the charitable deduction, budget cuts to safety net programs, and political uncertainty on health reform, United Way CEOs, staff and volunteers stormed Capitol Hill, met with members in district offices, and sent thousands of letters to Congress to fight for the health, education and financial stability of the communities we serve.

3. Fought for robust funding for Health, Education and Financial Stability:

Given the Administration’s proposed budget cuts this year and the current political environment, we expected an uphill battle to maintain funding for health, education, and financial stability programs. Fortunately, the United Way network and supporters rallied support for funding for critical community services and programs in the FY 2017 and FY 2018 appropriations bills. The FY 2017 appropriations bill, which funded the federal government through September 2017, was largely a success for United Way priorities, allocating level funding for programs such as EFSP, VITA, Head Start, CCDBG, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

The FY 2018 appropriations bill is still being debated in Congress. While we are gearing up for a fight, we secured several appropriations wins this year. The United Way network surpassed our goal to send 2,018 letters to Congress this year on the FY 2018 appropriations bill, for a total of 2,330 letters overall. What’s more, United Ways sent over 600 letters to Congress in one day in advance of an important subcommittee mark-up.

4. Launched the first-ever Advocacy Week of Action:

During August Recess, the United Way network and supporters around the country participated in a social media campaign to raise awareness about United Way’s top priorities. The week-long campaign, held on August 21-25, aimed to increase congressional and public support for United Way’s priorities in health, education and financial stability. As a result of this effort, 241 unique Twitter accounts contributed to the digital Advocacy Week of Action, garnering over 1.9 million social media impressions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. In addition, 50 United Way CEOs in the most influential congressional districts participated in a special policy call to strategize about communicating with their members of Congress during the August Recess.

5. Protected critical health programs from funding cuts and structural changes:

Through call-in days, action alerts, sign-on letters and digital advocacy campaigns, the United Way Health Advocacy Cohort coordinated grasstops and grassroots advocacy in support of the network’s health priorities. The Cohort now has over 95 local and state United Ways actively engaged in health policy-advocacy efforts. Despite attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, United Ways successfully advocated to ensure that these attempts did not result in a reduction of coverage for working Americans. In addition, United Ways worked to protect Medicaid from structural changes that could potentially have devastating consequences for state budgets, and healthcare coverage, and access for vulnerable populations.


By Sarah Yergeau

How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Right about now, many of us are making the same New Year’s resolutions we made a year ago. Eat better. Exercise more. And so on.

Not inspired? Try linking your desire to improve your life with your ability to improve someone else’s life. Consider these common New Year’s resolutions and how volunteering can help you keep them.

Be healthy. Doing good is good for you! A growing body of research links volunteering and benefits to mental and physical health, like reducing stress and the risk of hyper-tension, building self-esteem, and strengthening social connections.

Lose weight. Volunteering can keep you moving and burning extra calories. Consider helping out with a 5K race, packing meals for food insecure families or getting involved with kids’ fitness and nutrition initiatives to inspire you to move more and eat better. Plan to run with us in September at our Moonlight Madness Run at Bailey Park.

Spend less/save more. Share your money-smart ways with people who may be struggling to make ends meet. Improve a family’s financial security by volunteering to help plan and teach financial literacy classes or prepare tax returns.

Spend more time with family. Volunteering as a family teaches children the importance of helping others, teamwork, and generosity and builds stronger connections between family members and your community. Check out these great ideas for engaging kids and teens in service and volunteering.

Travel. Volunteering away from home expands your horizons further than leisure travel. Being exposed to different cultures is also good for the communities you serve. International UN Volunteers deploys thousands of volunteers from more than 150 countries across the globe. Go Overseas and Volunteer Forever offer reviews of programs that accept international volunteers.

Read more. Kids who develop strong reading skills at a young age are more likely to succeed in school, work and life. Reading with and tutoring young students is one of the very best ways to volunteer your time and energy.
Whatever you resolve to do in 2018, make it a happier New Year for you and someone else by volunteering.

Written By: Janelle Touma



One Cure for the World’s Toughest Challenges? Bold Leaders, Connected

Change leadership means thinking big about impact, responding to urgent needs, and actively tolerating risk. This is the kind of big, bold way of working—together—that will get us to a Culture of Health. Read more here .

North Carolina’s Indo Jax Surf Charities Helps Kids With Batten Disease, Other Special Needs

A small North Carolina nonprofit organization, Indo Jax Surf Charities, has recently gained attention for its set of free programs to help children with Batten disease and other special needs build self-esteem.

Since launching these programs, Indo Jax has been featured in several media platforms, including American Way Magazine and TEDx Talks. Its founder is Jack Viorel, who started the group when he was a first-grade teacher at Saint Mary’s Elementary School in Wilmington, N.C.

“The school provided a program for kids born with AIDS,” Viorel said in a press release. “I thought about taking them surfing, believing this would be good for their self-esteem and physical issues. The program coordinator talked me into running three camps that summer.”

Beore the surf camp, many of these AIDS-stricken children had stopped taking their medication, knowing that they were dying, said Viorel.

“By the end of the summer, I knew we were on to something big,” he said. “The children started to open up, their skin issues improved, many of them went back on their medication, they wanted to surf again and be healthy enough to do it, and started talking about future plans.”

Sensing this could be a great success, Viorel retired from his 20-year teaching career and spent the next decade honing and expanding his charity for children with special needs. Today, Indo Jax Surf Charities uses the ocean as a classroom and surfing as a learning tool.

“We believe the ocean has unique healing properties with an ever-changing, unpredictable environment,” Viorel said. “Getting into the ocean and learning to surf, especially special-needs children, is a life-long lesson about stepping out of your comfort zone into unpredictability, and removing limitations. Everything in life has a bit of fear. We teach the kids that it’s okay to be afraid.”

Indo Jax now works in North Carolina, California, Nicaragua and India and different surf camps have specially designed programs for children with autism, visual impairment, certain cancers and neuromuscular diseases, among others.

“Our programs build higher self-confidence and teach a system children can apply to any situation or hurdle in the future,” he added. “They leave with a formula to be more successful, conquer more challenges, and the ability to deal with fear.”

The plan for 2017 is to assist about 1,000 children free of charge, using financial help from individuals as well as corporate donors and sponsors.

“We take on the responsibility of raising the money,” Viorel explained. “Most families with medically fragile, special needs or at-risk children are struggling to make ends meet.”

“I encourage anybody thinking about it to go for it,” said Eric Stanley, the father of 11-year old Jaylen, who is battling juvenile Batten disease. “Jack and his team are great. They’re very patient and know how to work with kids. A parent does not have to worry – they are one-on-one with the children, working with them and watching all the time.”

Batten disease may cause progressive visual impairment, seizures, muscle spasms, difficult sleep, speech and language decline and the general deterioration of fine and gross motor skills, which result in the overall loss of mobility. Ultimately, the child may become totally dependent on families.

Because there’s no cure for Batten disease yet, specialist symptom management and holistic therapy is essential to maintaining a good quality of life. Activities like surfing, which let kids interact with the environment, be in contact with water and have fun, may help increase strength and physical fitness as well as provide much-needed time for social interaction.

Indo Jax will also be the subject of a one-hour TV special, “The Hero Effect,” to air on the Oprah Winfrey Network. A premiere showing will take place Aug. 10 in Wrightsville Beach at Blockade Runner Beach Resort, one of the project’s main sponsors.

By Carolina Henriques

Press Release: United Way Forsyth County to Distribute Free Prescription Savings Cards to Forsyth County Residents

Winston-Salem, NC – July 19, 2017 – United Way of Forsyth County and FamilyWize Community Service Partnership, an organization focused on improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities, are partnering to distribute prescription cards to residents of Forsyth County.

 “No one should be forced to choose between paying for food, rent or medicine because of the high cost of prescriptions. That’s why we’ve partnered with FamilyWize to distribute free prescription savings cards to residents in Forsyth County”  said Cindy Gordineer, President and CEO of United Way of Forsyth County.

 FamilyWize cards can immediately lower the cost of medicine by an average of 42 percent or more for people without insurance or who take medications not covered by their plan. Just by presenting the FamilyWize card at their local pharmacy, customers save on the cost of their prescription medicine, no strings attached.

“So many people are struggling with the high cost of medicine and need help right now. The FamilyWize card can provide immediate savings on prescription medicines, with no paperwork or forms to fill out,” said Susan Gilmore, Executive Director of Community Engagement of FamilyWize.

 The FamilyWize prescription savings card can be used by anyone, including people without insurance and people with insurance but have high deductibles.  The FamilyWize Prescription Savings Card has unlimited use, does not require any personal information from the user and has no eligibility criteria.

 To take advantage of the savings that FamilyWize offers, consumers can print a card from, can call 1-800-222-2818 and request a card to be sent to them, or can download the free FamilyWize app. Staff members from United Way of Forsyth County will be on hand to distribute cards at The Health Fair which will be August 12th at Wentz Memorial United Church of Christ from 11-3.

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About The FamilyWize Community Partnership: FamilyWize is a community service partnership focused on improving the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. Through our partnerships with United Way and more than 100,000 community organizations, government agencies, pharmacies, health systems and businesses, we are making prescription medications more affordable and more accessible.

United Way of Forsyth County brings the community and its resources together to solve problems that no one organization can address alone.


Speak Up to Build Stronger Communities

Join us in calling on Congress to recognize the strong value of federal programs that build the capacity of people to thrive and succeed, and pass an appropriations bill that reflects our nation’s value of opportunity for all.

On Thursday, July 13 at 4:30pm ET, the Fiscal Year 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill is scheduled to be marked up in the House subcommittee.

This bill includes spending allocations for critical social services, including afterschool, early childhood education and job training programs. The House subcommittee is expected to vote on a $3 billion cut to these programs, representing a dramatic reduction in our nation’s safety net.

Your elected officials need to hear from constituents like YOU about the importance of funding health, education, and financial stability programs that improve opportunities for all.

Cuts to afterschool, national service and homeless assistance programs have real consequences for real people – especially teachers, young children with special needs, working families, and students with school debt.

Can we count on you to fight for the health, education, and financial stability of your community? Join us in calling on Congress to recognize the strong value of federal programs that build the capacity of people to thrive and succeed, and pass an appropriations bill that reflects our nation’s value of opportunity for all.

For the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bill, we’re aiming to send 2,018 letters to Congress in support of robust investments in health, education, and financial stability. We’re three-quarters of the way there. Help us reach that goal!

Click here .