United Way working to break cycle of poverty

It’s a shift in practice that, sadly, makes all too much sense.

The United Way of Snohomish County, in announcing $2 million in community grants, said all of the funds will go toward the efforts of nonprofits and others who are working to break the cycle of poverty in the county.

The emphasis on poverty is being made following some 500 conversations with agencies and community groups, said Jacqui Campbell, communications director for the nonprofit organization.

“Poverty kept coming to the surface as being one of the single-greatest needs in the community,” she told The Herald’s Chris Winters.

Of the county’s nearly 750,000 residents, more than 10 percent — 82,546 in 2013 — live below the federal poverty level. For a single parent raising two children,` that amounts to an income of $19,790 or less, about the median annual income for someone working for the $9.47-an-hour minimum wage at a fast-food restaurant. And the change in the number of people living in poverty continues to grow, more than 11 percent in 2013, according to United Way statistics.

While the $2 million doesn’t represent all of the organization’s work throughout the county, it does represent the acknowledgment that poverty is holding back individuals, families and the community itself in terms of housing, food and nutritional security, employment, education, health care, mental health services and chemical dependency treatment.

A total of 56 separate programs within 25 organizations will share in the $2 million, representing charities and agencies such as Housing Hope, Cocoon House, the YMCA of Snohomish County and Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

A look at employment issues show how community programs can assist people not just in finding work but in keeping them in jobs and allowing them to advance to better-paying employment:

Consider our single mom with two kids who makes less than $20,000 a year at a fast-food restaurant. Employment, while it provides a vital income, often involves expenses of its own, particularly for transportation and child care. Those expenses can easily sap, if not exceed, the income of a working parent.

Add to that the basic necessity of housing and an increasingly tight rental market in the county’s larger cities, and the need comes into even sharper focus.

The social support services that United Way is helping to fund increase the ability of individuals and working parents to find and keep jobs by offsetting the costs associated with employment. It also assists them to find and afford housing, providing stability for families. And stable families help ensure healthy and well-educated children, who carry the hope of breaking that cycle of poverty.

The United Way of Snohomish County has shown itself to be a good steward of the donations that are entrusted to it, as evidenced by the community’s support and its 86 percent rating with the independent charitable giving adviser, Charity Navigator. Likewise, United Way has shown care in how it chooses its grant recipients. It also shortened its grant funding cycle this year from three years to one to allow it to more closely monitor the results of its grants and make adjustments to funding where necessary.

Many of us make annual or monthly pledges to United Way through our employer. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from making additional donations directly to United Way at www.uwsc.org/.

More than simple charity, the grants supported by your giving are investments that will result in stronger families and a more liveable community.

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