Indie Ogden Spotlight: United Way of Northern Utah

United Way is impacting our local community and helping neighbors in need with a programs aimed to help them to improve their lives.  Since 1954, this local organization has built and grown programs that are directly impacting Ogden. Check out this spotlight to learn all about what they do and how you can get involved.

What is United Way and what does the organization do for Ogden?
United Way of Northern Utah started in 1954 as a combined fundraising drive for a group of local charities. It has grown to become its own entity under the umbrella of the national United Way organization, but we have local independent leadership and focus solely on the needs of our community, not a national agenda. Our service area includes Box Elder, Morgan, Oneida, and Weber Counties.

People think of United Way as a fundraiser, and we do collect money through community donations and workplace giving campaigns. Last year we raised $2.9 million from the community, which was used to fund the programs mentioned above, and $200,000 in grant funding was given to local nonprofits. We also run several programs, usually with partners, focused on improving the health, education, and financial stability of every person in Northern Utah.

Welcome Baby: In-home visits to new parents to teach them about child development and parenting skills
Inspire Playgroups: Free community playgroups and parent education
Read.Graduate.Succeed.: In-school reading tutor program for students who are behind grade level
Ogden United Promise Neighborhood: A combined effort with Ogden School District and a long list of community partners to help students and their families overcome intergenerational poverty, succeed in school, and achieve success and independence.
SparkPoint Center: Partnership with Cottages of Hope, housing multiple agencies in one building to help people overcome debt, find better-paying jobs, manage finances, and clear criminal records through expungement
2-1-1 Information and Referral Service: In partnership with other Utah United Ways, a dialing code with live operators who connect callers with local resources for health and human services; also offers information by text message and on a website

How does United Way differ from other local nonprofits?
Because of our long-standing relationships with hundreds of nonprofits, our strength is bringing organizations together to solve critical problems in the community. For the past few years, we have been working on a massive partnership called the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood (OUPN), which brings together the school district and a host of community partners to change the cycles of poverty and lack of graduation. The Promise Neighborhood Zone focuses on central Ogden, identified as an area of high poverty rates and great need. OUPN’s goal is to support children and families from cradle to career, starting with prenatal education for parents and all the way through school, graduation, and college or career training.

One example of this effort is the creation of the Utah Bright Futures Fund, in partnership with the Utah Educational Savings Plan and several other agencies. In the first two years of the program, 191 children from low-income families have been given a $200 investment in their own college savings accounts, after their families completed financial education classes and participated in a 1-to-1 savings matching plan. These kids are now four times more likely to graduate college, just because they have started saving for it. We hope to expand this opportunity in the next school year.

The OUPN partners have made great strides in the past few years, and we just received a three-year, $1.5 million grant that is providing even more opportunities. In addition to college savings plans, we have worked with partners to expand preschool classes through the YMCA, place resource specialists in three local schools to help students graduate on time, provide an education and career advocate through Weber State University, increase tutoring and mentoring in junior high, and offer financial literacy education and parent education. We will be continuously adding services to help students and their families on the path to success.

What are some memorable moments you have had working with United Way?
I have had so much fun meeting and writing about several people who have benefitted either from United Way programs or from the grant money we give to other nonprofits. I will never forget their stories. Ashley grew up in a bad situation and watched her mom die of a drug overdose. As an adult, she was homeless and spent much of her life addicted to drugs, but was able to overcome her drug use, find a job, and get into her own home with the help of several local agencies. JJ got kicked out of home and was ready to drop out of school when he started attending an after-school program, where he took classes and gave community service; he also learned welding skills that led to a great job after graduation. Ranelle has five children, two with special needs, and in-home visits have given her better parenting skills and helped her access resources to get help for her autistic son. Talking to these people and hearing their gratitude for another chance in life has been incredible.

I love knowing that all our efforts and money are making a difference in the lives of real people here in Utah. There are hundreds more people like this whose lives are better simply from access to help and resources. You can read their stories on our website to get an even better idea of the range of services we support through our work and our partners. www.uwnu.org/stories

Are there any programs the community can utilize or get involved in?
Parents with children under the age of three can sign up for monthly home visits through our Welcome Baby program. We also partner with Help Me Grow Utah, which is another resource for parents of kids up to age 8. They offer developmental screenings and monthly phone calls that provide customized help. We are also accepting registrations for our fall sessions at Inspire Playgroups, where parents come with their kids (up to age 5). All of these programs are free of charge.

2-1-1 is a great option for anyone who needs help and doesn’t know where to turn. People can dial 2-1-1 to speak to an operator, or they can text their zip code to 898-211 or visit 211utah.org. This service gives referrals for so many different services, including utility payments, childcare options, veterans services, counseling and mental health, and help for aging seniors. The great thing is that if you don’t know what kind of help you need, the specialists can help you figure it out and tell you about services you didn’t even know existed.

SparkPoint Center at Cottages of Hope is another great resource that everyone should check out. They offer financial coaching, and frequently offer free classes on budgeting and finances. They host a Stretch Your Bucks series that helps people learn how to save and can qualify them for free matched savings money through a Utah Individual Development Account. During tax season, they are one of many locations that offer free VITA tax preparation for qualifying households. (Other free tax help can be found through 2-1-1.)

Do you have any upcoming events or do you need volunteers this summer?
One of our most rewarding opportunities is to volunteer to provide monthly home visits for the Welcome Baby program. Anyone can be a home visitor, and we provide training and all the resources they will need, but experienced parents are invaluable. Volunteers will set their own schedule and decide how many families they have time to visit, even if it’s just one family a month. Most volunteers develop strong friendships with the moms and families they visit.

Another ongoing volunteer need is tutors for our Read.Graduate.Succeed. program with AmeriCorps. During the school year, volunteers commit to tutor for one hour per week at a local elementary school. They meet with the same student every week, and work through a reading program that is provided. These kids who are tutored are almost always able to catch up to or move beyond the average reading level for their age. Being able to read fluently by the end of third grade is one of the strongest predictors of whether a child will graduate from high school.

Twice a week in the summer, we visit Ogden parks where free lunches are provided, and we give out free books to kids and promote our parenting programs. Volunteers would be welcome to help us with book distribution—a fun way to get kids reading. We are also hosting a Family Fair in August for our families in the Playgroups and Welcome Baby programs, and we need volunteers to host and run children’s games.

Even though the school year just ended, back-to-school sales are starting soon. We are getting ready for our annual Backpack Bonanza in partnership with Catholic Community Services. We always need volunteers to help us collect backpacks and school supplies at our collection event, which will be Monday, August 7 from 4:30–8:30 at Mount Ogden Jr. High. People can also help by purchasing and donating backpacks and school supplies, or even better, by organizing a backpack drive at work or with a neighborhood or group of friends. My kids love to earn money to buy supplies, and help out at the collection event. Just before the winter holidays, we will have another drive for coats and warm clothing, and this is a great time to find last year’s winter clothing at bargain prices in stores. Finally, we are always accepting donations of diapers and baby supplies for many of the low-income families in our programs.

You can volunteer for some of these programs through our website, www.uwnu.org, or call our office at 801-399-5584.

Mikaela is a transplant from Portland, fell in love with Ogden her first day in town and created Indie Ogden the next week. She enjoys outdoor adventures with her husband, 2 kiddos and fur baby and making a mess crafting. You can find her at a local cafe or cycling around town with her family.

1 Comment

  1. Great story. Thanks for the information on all of the valuable programs that UWNU supports. We can always use help getting the message out to those who may need assistance. And “Thanks” to all of the supporters of UWNU!

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