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Category: Inspiration

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From the DirectorInspiration

Why Diversity Matters

“I just don’t get it.” “Why is diversity such a big deal?” These are some of the comments shared with me in confidence from people willing to confess their true thoughts. Many people, especially in this community that is overwhelmingly white conservative Christian, truly cannot wrap their minds around why DEI — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — is “a big deal.”

I am certainly no expert on DEI, nor do I pretend to be. While I have not experienced racial discrimination, I am of a generation that fought for women’s rights at the kitchen table and the conference table, and I still do.

As the leader of an organization that works daily to level the playing field for everyone, I believe in the value of DEI and all that it brings to any business, nonprofit or group of friends. While it might be more comfortable to surround yourself with people whose backgrounds mirror yours and who think just like you do, rarely does it bring growth to a person or organization.

A study by McKinsey & Company revealed that organizations in the top quarter for gender diversity were 25% more likely to outperform their peers, and those in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity were likely to outperform their peers by 36%. Personal and organizational growth is not only necessary to survive, it is critical to thrive. We need the different viewpoints, experiences, thought processes, and skill sets diversity delivers.

While diversity refers to the importance of bringing together people of different backgrounds, cultures, identities and experiences, equity acknowledges that not everyone has the advantage of starting from the same place.

I attended a conference once that provided an eye-opening visual on equity. All of us were asked to stand in a horizontal line at the back of the room. Then we were asked to take one step forward if various scenarios applied to us. These included: coming from a two-parent home, having parents who were high school graduates, additional steps for our parents’ years of post-secondary education, growing up in a home with income above the poverty level, another step forward if our parents’ earnings were middle income, then another step if their earnings exceeded middle income. Steps also were taken for being male and being white.

These are all scenarios which data indicate are advantages for success in life, but each was beyond our personal control. They were simply situations we were born into. The visual was startling as we looked around the room. Some people easily advanced to “the head of the class” through no effort of their own, while a few never left the back row.

When I hear people remark that someone needs to “help herself” or “pull himself up by his bootstraps,” I am reminded of this visual. It takes significantly more effort to advance when someone begins the race at the back of the pack.

During Black History Month and year-round, I encourage you to think about this exercise. Where are you standing, near the front of the class? More importantly, what are you doing to help those who, through no fault of their own, are working hard to forge ahead from the back row? How are you creating an environment — at home or at work — that nurtures diversity, equity, and inclusion so that everyone feels a sense of value and belonging?

From the DirectorImpactInspirationUncategorizedVolunteerism

Where have all the volunteers gone?

Blissfully, for some people, COVID-19 was no more than a long, albeit frightening, inconvenience. For those whose health, finances, and lives were permanently changed, the recovery is a work in progress. The pandemic impacted all of us differently, which also applies to many nonprofits. While a lucky few experienced increased giving, the majority, including United Way of Southeast Missouri, took a financial hit as many individuals worried about their own financial situation. And nearly all nonprofits that depend on volunteers suffered greatly.  

Before the pandemic, nearly one-third of Americans volunteered at least once a year according to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service. This translates to more than $150 billion in benefits.  A 2020 study by Fidelity Charitable found that two-thirds of volunteers decreased their activity or stopped volunteering entirely after the pandemic began. As nonprofit funding declined, so did the millions of dollars in valuable volunteers’ time. The experience of the majority of the 30 partners supported by United Way of Southeast Missouri reflects these national findings. 

Big Brothers Big Sisters, which mentors through personal relationships, moved their volunteer activities to the virtual world. But many organizations depend on retired and senior volunteers, the group most susceptible to COVID-19 and least familiar with technology. Volunteers are slowly returning to pre-Covid activities, but many, especially those over 60, are not returning. 

Read to Succeed is one of only two programs housed within United Way of Southeast Missouri. Since its inception in 2011, the program has succeeded with the commitment of valuable volunteers, many who are retired teachers. During a normal school year more than 200 elementary students are able to catch up and even surpass grade-appropriate reading levels with the one-to-one tutoring donated by generous Read to Succeed volunteers. After being completely out of the schools through 2020, the program is struggling to get volunteers back into the schools for a program that is critical in helping students return to pre-pandemic reading levels. 

While Read to Succeed asks a commitment of only thirty minutes a week, programs that require a long-term commitment struggle year-round. United Way funded partner, Voices for Children/CASA, provides Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). These volunteers serve as the voices of children who may spend months or even years in the court system as their parent(s) navigate mandated counseling, treatment or, sadly, imprisonment.  

Mark Hotop, Volunteer Coordinator for Voices for Children, organized a Volunteer Fair on Sunday, January 15, from 1-4 P.M. The fair will be in the newly remodeled gym at The Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau; it is open to all area nonprofits and free to everyone. More than two dozen nonprofits have registered to share opportunities and speak to interested volunteers. United Way will offer information on what it means to volunteer as a board member, a critical need many of our partners seek to fill. 

The proven benefits of volunteering are many. Data indicate volunteers live longer, healthier lives through lowered blood pressure and increased cardiovascular health, decreased dementia, and an increased sense of purpose and social connection. And volunteering makes our community better. It is an opportunity to help someone who may not have the same opportunities you’ve had. It truly is a chance to create lasting change. As the mother of one of our Read to Succeed students said through tears, “This program has changed my child’s life! She hated school, and she felt ‘stupid.’ Now that she can read, she is excited about learning and coming to school. She can’t wait to read and learn!” 

We intentionally chose this date at the time we celebrate an American who gave his life to making the world better for others. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Life’s most urgent and persistent question is: what are you doing for others?… Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Please join us on January 15th at The Salvation Army. If you can’t attend the event, volunteer opportunities are posted on our website. Our community needs your help. 

Elizabeth Shelton, Executive Director 

United Way of Southeast Missouri

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UNITE-ing Through the Holidays

As the holidays approach us, it’s easy to get swept away in the joy of the season. The sweet scent of fresh-baked cookies drifts from open windows, past twinkling lights on decorated homes, and moves to busy downtown streets. Christmas carols can be heard twisting in and out of crowded stores as families prepare for their feasts. Children, bright-eyed, gaze longingly at shelved toys, gadgets, and gizmos, unaware that they are already wrapped and tucked safely under the tree.


Amidst all this holiday cheer, many people in our community face hardships that become more difficult to manage during the holidays and cold winter months. Some of our neighbors may be struggling to pay utilities or housing costs. Others may be hungry and not know when they will have their next meal. Children in foster care who have been separated from their families and loved ones may feel frightened and lonely.


The United Way network of funded partners unites to help tackle these issues through the holidays.


Jackson Senior Center helps provide weekday meals and engaging activities for seniors who otherwise might not have the opportunity to enjoy a hot and healthy meal or socialize with others outside of their homes. Scott City Ministerial Alliance and Little Whitewater Food Pantry provide canned and dry food for people who may not be able to purchase many items from a traditional store. Hope for One More teams up with community members to organize family meals and Christmas gifts, brightening the holidays for local children in foster care. The Salvation Army provides hot showers and utility assistance, as well as hosts Meals with Friends at the end of each month, where the whole community is welcome to sit and enjoy a filling meal and fellowship. In December, The Salvation Army also provides an additional packaged holiday meal for those unable to afford a big holiday feast. Community Partnership of Southeast Missouri’s NeighborHub in Cape and New Life Mission Inn’s Drop-in Center in Perryville invite our homeless neighbors to take a hot shower, wash laundry, and receive other services.


Though United Way partners are hard at work, we could not lift our neighbors without the support of our community. Here is how you can help others through United Way this holiday season.
  • Give. Thanks to our corporate investors, 98% of every individual donation goes directly to the programs we invest in. Make a one-time or recurring gift to help others this holiday season. Donate Now.
  • Advocate. Be a positive voice for United Way. Help us by completing our Community Survey and sharing it with others in our area. Follow United Way of Southeast Missouri on Facebook and Instagram to see United Way in action this season.
  • Volunteer. There’s no better time than the holidays to volunteer your time to someone else. Visit our Volunteer page to find current one-time and recurring volunteer opportunities. Sign-up for our quarterly Volunteer Newsletter to receive updates
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ImpactInspirationPartner Stories

United Way Donors Change Lives

United Way of Southeast Missouri believes it takes a community to lift a community.
That is why when you give, your donations stay right here in Southeast Missouri. Although UWSEMO has not been asked to invest in specific veterans’ programs, many partners in our network support veterans like Stacy, whose life was changed thanks to donors like you. 
Stacy came to Lutheran Family and Children Services of Missouri after experiencing chronic complex and acute traumas resulting in multiple suicide attempts. She had been to counseling before, but she couldn’t afford long-term treatment. She has been using a prescription multiple times a day to ease her PTSD symptoms. Stacy and her therapist spent some time building rapport, which is essential before trauma interventions can be effective. Stacy commented she had not had a safe relationship like the one with her therapist in a long time. She stated this was what she found most healing, even after the trauma interventions. Eventually, with treatment, she also lowered her use of prescriptions.
Without the funding from the United Way of Southeast Missouri, her progress would not have been possible. For trauma survivors, long-term therapeutic relationships and treatment are the basis for healing. They thrive with access to quality and consistent mental healthcare.
Thanks to United Way donors, Stacy can now envision a future where her symptoms will not interfere with her life and her relationships with others. You have helped United Way give her hope and find resilience.

8 Ways to Thank Frontline Workers

How will you participate in #GivingTuesdayNow?

Nurses. Doctors. Grocery store employees. Delivery drivers. Warehouse workers. First responders. Truck drivers. Cleaners. There are so many people who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak. They continue to help keep our community safe and the world running. To honor and celebrate their ongoing sacrifice, let’s say thank you!

May 5: Say Thank You

Join United Way of Southeast Missouri on May 5 as we rally the entire community to say thank you to the essential workers who have tirelessly and bravely continued to do their jobs. Our effort will be one part of a bigger day of giving and unity called #GivingTuesdayNow.

Every year people come together on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving for #GivingTuesday, a global generosity movement. As an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19, we are joining nonprofits and individual people around the world in a special #GivingTuesdayNow event. On May 5 people around the world will take action to collectively drive an influx of generosity, citizen engagement, business and philanthropy activation, and support for communities and nonprofits around the world.

We want to show the world that Southeast Missouri is United for frontline workers!

8 Ways to Say Thank You

There are many ways to say thank you. Below are some ideas our staff put together. Choose one – or more – so frontline workers can know how much our community appreciates them!

  1. Donate a meal

Everyone loves a free meal. If you are thinking about donating a meal, be sure to coordinate with the location so your delivery can be done efficiently and safely. If you can’t make the delivery yourself, you can buy a meal instead. Many national and local businesses are delivering meals to support frontline workers. Find a list of restaurants and their options on the Keep Cape Strong website here:

 Remember meal donations can be a great way to thank hospital workers as well as the staff at your doctor’s office, EMTs, police officers, firefighters and grocery clerks.

  1. Make a sign for your window or front yard

Make someone’s commute to work brighter by posting a sign in your window or front yard telling frontline workers how much they mean to our community. This is a great project for kids!

  1. Be kind

Essential workers who are keeping grocery, convenience and pharmacy stores open see large groups of people every day. When you must shop at one of these stores, be respectful of the people working there. Tell them thank you, wear a protective mask, keep your distance from employees and be kind to team members and other customers. These small acts can help workers feel appreciated and safer at their jobs.

  1. Share a message on social media

As we all keep our physical distance, connecting online has become even more important. Using social media is a great way to thank frontline workers. You can tag people you know or send a general message using the hashtags #FrontlineLove, #FrontlineHeroes, #COVIDHeroes or #InThisTogether. On May 5, you can also reshare posts from our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn channels.

  1. Leave items for delivery workers

Delivery workers are putting in long hours and many find it hard to get to the store. Help them by leaving items such as water bottles, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, snacks and other essentials that will get them through their day or save them a trip to the store. Remember to sanitize the items as best as you can and leave instructions so the delivery people do the same.

  1. Email Congress 

Show frontline workers you appreciate their work by helping them get the support they need. During this time of uncertainty and economic crisis, many people, including those still working, need a boost to make ends meet. Vital services like 211, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and SNAP can provide relief for frontline workers – and others – in need. You can ask your representative to increase funding for these services. Use this form to email your member of Congress.

  1. Stay at home

The most important thing you can do to thank frontline workers is to stay home. When we all stay home, we limit the spread of COVID-19. So limit outings to essential trips to the grocery store, medical appointments, picking up prescriptions, walking pets and helping the vulnerable. When outside, use social distancing to stay at least six feet away from others.

  1. Join our Give United Car Parade

On May 5th, starting at 9:00 AM at the Osage Center in Cape Girardeau, we will be touring around town thanking essential workers. Decorate signs as a family and join us as we make noise to show our appreciation. Even though we are apart, we can still be United. Let’s show frontline workers that we are in this together!

Want to Do More for Our Community? United Way of Southeast Missouri is supporting people in our community impacted by COVID-19. Your donation makes it easier to help more people. Donate Today:


If You Could Help Just One Person, Would You?

Last week when the temperature was in the 20s, I gave a ride to a woman with six children who were walking off the interstate, having been put out of the car by her husband. She tearfully explained they had moved here several months ago for her husband’s new job, but things weren’t going well. She was reluctant for me to call the police, because she did not have custody of all of the children and feared they would be separated in various foster homes. As she softly spoke, the children, probably aged five to fourteen, sat in complete silence, stunned by what had just occurred and by what their future held. Staring down at her crumpled tissue, she quietly voiced, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to go. We have always had a home. Here it is Christmas, and I don’t even have a place for my family to live.”

I have no doubt why I was put in her path that day. Thankfully, with our network of agencies, we have help for her and her children. With our focus on collaborative impact, we help to prevent more people from finding themselves in equally terrifying situations. Rarely does someone need the help and service of just one agency or program. By investing in a network of 34 programs, United Way of Southeast Missouri supports those with immediate need, while helping to create lifelong change that reduces the need. When you invest in United Way, you create change that truly can change a person’s life.

As you count your blessings this time of year, think of those who are frightened and fearing their future. If you invest even a small percentage of what you will spend on throwaway toys and meaningless video games, you just might change a life.

Doing good also benefits the giver in many ways—emotionally, spiritually, some studies even show improved heart health. Here are some financial reasons that may be especially timely for those in need of year-end tax benefits:

  • A charitable gift can help you move to or remain in a lower tax bracket.
  • A donation of stock will help you avoid taxes on capital gains, and you can receive a charitable deduction for the full fair market value of the stock at the time of your gift.
  • Most importantly, you will help others (and probably yourself) during a season that is all about giving.

We thank you for your support of our organization and our community. We hope as you make your resolutions for the new year, you will remember your gifts of time and talent are equally valuable and appreciated. Click here for details on specific opportunities to Give, Advocate, Volunteer.

We wish you and yours the blessings too many families do not have:  a warm home, a steady income, good health, and above all, hope for a brighter new year.


Spread Cheer to Promote Good Health

July 11 is National Cheer Up the Lonely Day, a day dedicated to spreading love and kindness to those who society sometimes forgets. This day was designed to alleviate the mental and emotional strain caused by loneliness in certain people, but there are also ways in which celebrating Cheer Up the Lonely Day can improve the physical health of not only the people you visit, but yourself as well.

Studies have shown that loneliness does not only have negative effects on mental health, but can be linked to physical ailments as well. People who report lower feelings of social connectedness and more feelings of loneliness tend to have weakened immune systems and be more susceptible to viruses. Loneliness has also been linked to increased stress, which can cause an increase in blood pressure and likelihood of heart disease.

There are a couple of simple ways in which you can help reverse these effects in yourself and in others.


Smile more.

Numerous studies suggest that smiling, even if it is consciously forced, triggers a reaction in your brain to produce dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These are all neuropeptides, or hormones linked to feelings of happiness and contentment. The release of these hormones causes changes in your emotions which can make your forced smile feel more and more genuine and natural. What this essentially means is that when it comes to happiness and smiling, you can fake it until you make it.

In addition to this, research into brain cells known as “mirror neurons” has revealed that just seeing someone else smile can trigger someone’s brain to release those happiness hormones, which improves that person’s mood and causes them to smile as well. Your smile really is contagious.

Smiling doesn’t just improve your mood. For starters, dopamine, one of the hormones released when you smile, is a natural pain killer and can bring relief to those suffering from chronic pain. Additionally, the flood of neuropeptides that wash through your brain when you’re happy and smiling triggers your brain to stop releasing cortisol, the primary hormone linked to stress. This decrease in stress can lead to lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system.

Smiling more can improve the mental and physical health of you and those around you.


Give someone a hug.

Like smiling, hugging and physical contact triggers your brain to release a wave of neuropeptides. Hugging people also leads to the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “cuddle hormone”, which, in addition to making us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, can increase feelings of devotion and bonding between two people. This kind of emotional bonding can decrease feelings of loneliness and alleviate symptoms of depression.

Just like sharing a smile, sharing a hug can lead to decreased stress, lower blood pressure, and lower heart rates in both parties.


Celebrate National Cheer Up the Lonely Day this weekend any way you wish, whether it be by calling a friend who you haven’t seen in a while, visiting someone in the hospital, or just sending a card to somebody going through a rough time to let them know that they are appreciated. Whatever you do, remember that how you feel emotionally has an effect on your physical health as well, and how you express your felling with others can affect theirs. While you’re out and about July 11, make sure you share that beautiful smile of yours, it will spread like wild fire to those around you and bring cheer to everyone who sees it, and if you do visit an old friend or relative, maybe give them a hug before you go. You can make a difference.


Fostering kindness in your child

Earlier this week was Random Acts of Kindness Day, which celebrates the importance of kindness and caring. Teaching children the value of kindness and caring can be a daunting task. Harvard University’s Making Caring Common project provides five  ways to foster kindness and caring in your child.

1. Make developing caring, loving relationships with your children an important priority.

To learn to be compassionate and kind, children need their parents to maintain healthy, loving relationships with them. Parents can create these relationships by spending time with their children, paying attention to their children’s physical and emotional needs, and discussing their children’s feelings.  Setting aside regular times to spend with your children and engaging them in meaningful conversation whenever the opportunity arises also helps them feel cared for and loved.

2. Encourage children to expand their social circles beyond their family and friends.

Most children care deeply about their small circle of family and friends, but they need encouragement to expand that circle beyond those few key individuals. Children will learn to express empathy for others if you talk with them about children they know who are facing challenges or needs (for example, the new kid on the block, or someone who is struggling with a disability) and encourage them to listen to people who are different than they are.

3. Look for opportunities to practice caring for others in some way.

We want children to be kind, caring, and grateful. In order to develop those traits, however, children need repetition and practice. You can help your child develop these characteristics in a number of ways. For example, you can encourage your child to develop a sense of fairness by finding ways for him or her to pitch in around the house. Or ask your child to collect empty bottles, take them to a recycling center that pays for the items that you bring in, and then take your child to the supermarket and have him or her drop the money in the donation jar at the checkout line. Make sure to acknowledge when your child has done a kind deed—unless you point it out, they will not know that they have been kind!

4. Act as a role model for children by modeling kindness and compassion yourself.

Children learn how to treat others by watching their parents and friends. When providing a model for your children to emulate, remember to use both words and deeds.  For example, you might thank the pizza delivery guy, be a good neighbor and take your neighbor’s trash can out to the curb for trash pickup, or model humility and honesty by admitting your own mistakes and saying you’re sorry.

5. Help children learn how to manage their feelings more effectively.

Children often experience frustration, have meltdowns, and otherwise act impulsively and need help learning how to manage those strong feelings. Rather than telling your child that he or she is overreacting when he or she gets upset, teach your children to deal with strong feelings, including frustration, anger, jealousy, or embarrassment, more effectively. To do so, remind your children that all feelings are OK. After encouraging them to identify negative feelings, show them to more effectively manage those feelings by stopping, taking some deep breaths, and counting to five or ten when they are frustrated or upset.


Remember that being kind should not be reserved for just one day. Make it your focus to spread kindness throughout the entire year.


Make a resolution to be kinder this year

With the onset of a new year, people are setting their New Year’s Resolutions.  Some may have already broken them! This year, set a resolution you can actually keep by resolving to be a little kinder.

Throughout the upcoming year, take every opportunity to brighten someone’s day, be unselfish, think of others, and show kindness. No matter how small the deed, kindness has a rippling effect of positivity and we all can use more of that in our lives.

Here are 10 ideas to get you inspired:

  1. Pay it forward: Pay for the person behind you at the drive-thru or counter. This can spark a chain of pay it forwards lasting for hours! Also, if you have not seen the movie, Pay It Forward, make an effort to watch it. It is very moving!

  2. Volunteer in your community. Whether it is a one-time project or an ongoing commitment, volunteering is giving something that you can never get back-your time. Visit our website for some volunteer opportunities in your community.

  3. Leave a generous tip when you go out to eat. Most waiters/waitresses are earning minimum wage or even less and relying on tips to make up the difference. Remind your waiter/waitress that they are important and that you appreciate the hard work they are doing at their jobs.

  4. Just smile. Smiling is contagious! Even though you may not be aware, people are responding to your facial expressions. Be conscious of the vibe you are putting out and aim to smile more often.

  5. Compliment someone. It feels good to get noticed and recognized and an unexpected comment may be just what someone needs to hear at that moment.

  6. Do something without being asked. Do something just because. Why not?

  7. Bake cookies and give some to your neighbor. We aren’t as “neighborly” a society as we used to be. Do you know your neighbors? Make an effort to visit your neighbors and get to know them. They may not get many visitors and your visit may lift their spirits.

  8. Offer to return the cart of a stranger who is unloading his/her car. Simple acts like this remind people that there is still good in the world. And, if you are going in, you will need a cart anyway!

  9. Donate food to a local pantry. With more and more people relying on pantries to ensure their families are fed, food pantries have a tough time keeping up with the demand. Adding a few extra cans to your cart when you do your shopping will be greatly appreciated by those in need. Remember, it’s okay to include some yummy items too. Most donations do not include these “extra” items, but we all deserve a treat every once in a while.

  10. Ask someone you wouldn’t normally ask how their day is going and genuinely mean it. With our busy lives it is easy to go about our business and overlook people. Think about some people you see throughout their day, that you may know very little about, except for their names, and have a conversation with them.  Give them your full attention for that time and show them they do matter.

Do not wait for Random Acts of Kindness Week to come around to be kind, and rather than be random, resolve to BE INTENTIONAL!