“If you have a child with autism, it doesn’t really matter who you are and what kind of financial means you have, you need the experts and the resources that come with that to be able to live a better life,” according to Linda Baker, a 19-year resident of Blount County and the chief development officer of the Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center. Glenwood is also one of over 80 nonprofit organizations that partner with United Way of Central Alabama to address community needs in the five-county Central Alabama area.
United Way’s mission is, “To increase the organized capacity of people to care for one another and to improve their community.” To fulfill that mission, UWCA relies on support from local communities like Blount County as well as more than 80 partner organizations that seek to address community needs in areas such as education, health, and financial stability.
“I give to United Way because it’s a very easy way and a proven process where I know that the money I give is being distributed in very meaningful ways to my neighbors and that it’s something that will be there for my family and me if we ever have needs,” said Baker.
Of United Way’s 80+ partner agencies, 12 currently operate in Blount County and another 27 serve Blount residents from outside the county’s borders. Altogether, United Way Allocation Agencies served 26,491 Blount County residents in 2015.
One of those partner agencies is the Blount County Children’s Center, a Child Advocacy Center that works to prevent child abuse and provide help to abuse victims and their families. In 2016, the children’s center received $116,820 from United Way.
“There were times back during the 90s that we would not have survived had it not been for United Way,” said Jim Ed Clayton, the executive director of the Children’s Center. “There were a couple of pretty lean years that without United Way stepping up and helping us out, we would not have survived.”
Another organization working to meet the needs of Blount County is the Blount County Education Foundation. “The Blount County Education Foundation was created in 1988, and our mission is to promote academic excellence in Blount County schools, so all of our projects are academic focused to support our students and enhance their opportunities,” said Mitchie Neel, executive director of the Foundation.
Though not an allocations partner agency, the Education Foundation has received funding and grants from United Way’s Bold Goals Coalition for programs such as the Dreamcatcher Summer Program at Susan Moore Elementary School, which served breakfast and lunch to residents 18 and under. The program also included enrichment activities that included reading, music and STEM education.
“It’s really important to us to be able to provide the students of Blount County with the greatest opportunities possible,” Neel said. “And we can’t accomplish that mission without the support from wonderful organizations like United Way. They’re a tremendous partner.”
In addition to partner and allocation agencies that operate directly out of Blount County, there are also several United Way initiatives serving the Blount County area. One such service is the Crisis Center, which aids individuals who have experienced sexual assault. The main Crisis Center office is located in Birmingham and recently opened a satellite office recently opened in Oneonta to serve the residents of Blount County.
The Food Bank is another United Way agency that has recently expanded its service in Blount County with two new programs. The Weekender Family Market helped provide 135 families with food and fresh produce throughout the school year. The Produce in Pantries Program has delivered between 6,000 and 12,000 pounds of fresh produce each month to Blount County agencies since February.
The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) has also been working in Blount County to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence, provide college readiness and tax education as well as registering voters. HICA is also partnering with the Literacy Council, another United Way agency, to provide free English classes in Blount County.
“Blount County is a wonderful place to live, I’ve been there 19 years, and there’s a real strong sense of community and people taking care of each other,” Baker said. “I believe that United Way is a very strong fit with the culture and the pride that people in Blount County take.”
The need in Blount County, as in other communities served by the United Way, continues to be great. Donations from residents and businesses are vital to helping the United Way and its partners bring active and lasting change to Blount County.