Do you know about The People’s Shelter, ABC Today and Tiger Lilies? Perhaps you are more familiar with The Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Central Middle School. The latter all have programs United Way of Southeast Missouri helps fund, and the first three are all worthy programs we do not invest in but support by connecting others. So much occurs behind the scenes in our community that many people who are not involved in the nonprofit world are unaware of the ongoing collaboration by so many worthwhile organizations.
Just in the last two weeks a meeting with a local business owner introduced me to a new program for female students at Central Middle School called Tiger Lilies. It was developed by the same counselor who helped launch the Honorable Young Men’s Club. Although we are very involved in the schools, I had not yet heard of this program, so of course, it was not on my meeting agenda. But just days later I was able to direct the women of Zonta, interested in providing mentoring to young women, to Tiger Lilies.
United Way staff members serve on Big Brothers Big Sisters’ ABC Today network, which is in every school in the Cape school district. Through our workplace campaigns and corporate sponsors, we are able to help them acquire partners and prizes to reward students, and they help us find desperately needed volunteers for our early literacy programs. They work with other mentoring programs we support, including the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the after-school program we sponsor at The Salvation Army, which helped start the Back to School fair for all area students.
The People’s Shelter is a grass roots effort started by St. James AME Church to provide emergency housing during the bitterly cold nights our region recently experienced. While the group successfully utilized social media to rally volunteers and request aid, I first learned of them through our association with the Cape Girardeau Ministerial Alliance. Although their contributions have not been as public, numerous churches in the area have quietly contributed significant funds and services. In the first 48 hours the shelter was operating, United Way utilized our network to acquire large electric stock pots from a local caterer and the ingredients to fill them with hot vegetable soup for several days. United Way donors assisted many other community volunteers and businesses to provide food, clothing, bedding, and even transportation. Now we are working together to prepare in advance of cold weather and establish a process for these organizations to work together in helping our homeless out of the cold.
We also are part of a Community Housing Committee tackling affordable housing for low-income families and individuals. Many of our partner agencies, including Habitat for Humanity, First Call for Help and the Community Caring Council, also are represented.
Housing has been discussed at length in the Long-Term Recovery Committee meetings I attend in Perryville. Our participation in this group, which directs funding for the families impacted by the 2017 tornado, has opened doors to businesses and individuals who can help us grow our presence and offerings in Perry County, while helping its citizens.
Another group I visit when my schedule allows brings together agencies focused on workforce development. This is a key component of strategic plans in many of the communities we serve and will be discussed as we begin revising ours.
We frequently hear people bemoaning “Death by meeting,” but for the most part, the many meetings I attend every week reinforce the strength and value of our network, even to those agencies that are not a funded part of it. These meetings demonstrate our mission every day: to be the leader in uniting people with resources to build a stronger and healthier community.