Rebuilding Community, Rebuilding Hope with United Way

September 23, 2022  

Bloomington, Ind. – Community members gathered to help launch the United Way of Monroe County fall fundraising drive “Rebuilding Community. Rebuilding Hope.” On Thursday, September 15, under beautiful blue skies, kick-off attendees were invited to help build a community where friends and neighbors not only weather life’s unexpected challenges but also thrive.  

A Community Emerges from the Pandemic:

“The past year has been a time of emerging from the pandemic while facing many challenges. We saw increased demand for mental and physical health services, for food, and for affordable housing,” shared Kirk White, United Way of Monroe County Board Chair and Indiana University Vice Provost for External Relations-Bloomington and Assistant Vice President for Strategic Partnerships.  

He continued, “We can be proud of the many ways United Way has been here to work on these three areas. Demand for services has increased and remains higher than in previous years. We are all here for the same purpose – we all want to embrace those challenges. And this year we are moving beyond reimagining new possibilities into actively rebuilding our community as a resilient and strong one. We are grateful for you joining us in the work ahead.”

During the pandemic, the people of our community responded, navigated, and cared for one another in new and innovative ways. Supporters ensured that United Way was able to quickly respond to the pandemic and the severe impact it had, particularly on vulnerable friends and neighbors. Shifting from that emergency response, last year United Way took a lead role in the recovery phase. Even though the pandemic did not end, our network and team began the work of reimagining and restructuring to create a better future for all.   

Working with partner agencies, United Way took steps to address inequities by developing bilingual program materials, supporting mobile food pantries, and making healthcare easier to access for underserved communities.  

Housing and sheltering issues came to the forefront. With the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, several United Way partner agencies, and funding support from the City of Bloomington and Monroe County government, United Way took the lead on an ambitious project to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-repeating in our region. Heading Home of South Central Indiana is a community-wide collaboration working to decrease homelessness and strengthen housing security.

Rebuilding Community, Rebuilding Hope:

Efrat Feferman, United Way of Monroe County Executive Director, explained, “You helped us reimagine a better future. Now it’s time to deliver on the promise of rebuilding hope and rebuilding our community. That is what the year ahead is all about. Our friends and neighbors are looking to us to do so and I know you are all here because you sense that as well.”

Feferman shared a story about Susan, a community member who is included in fund drive materials this year. “Her story kept me up a few nights thinking, and to be honest, maybe I identified with her on some levels.” Susan graduated from IU and raised her children here. She was an active volunteer and just as her kids were leaving the nest, she suffered a brain injury in a car accident.  

This traumatic event upended her life – forcing her to stop working, apply for Disability Benefits, and give up her home in search of a more modest one. The United Way team talked with Susan about the services she’s already accessed as well as ones she was unaware of, such as meal delivery services, transportation, advocacy for accessing benefits, and financial assistance while she recalibrated and readjusted.   

Feferman continued, “I could tell that the deep appreciation she’s held for our community was shaken as she attempted to navigate the process of rebuilding her life. She’s not finding housing options she can afford. Waitlists for help are long. The paperwork and navigation are arduous. How can she think about anything else when she doesn’t have a secure place to live moving forward? In one of the emails we exchanged, Susan shared, ‘This town looks different to me now. Potentially being homeless is scary.’“

Unfortunately, Susan’s story is not unique. In the region, nearly half of all households are living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial ruin. Other barriers include a lack of affordable housing options, limited transportation and childcare options, a shortage of mental health services, and increased social isolation. “Our partner agencies see this every day, whether they’re working with kids, adults, or seniors, these issues impact us all,” highlighted Feferman.

Shaping Our Shared Community:

United Way is working to secure hope for Susan and so many others with initiatives like the Heading Home collaboration, the Financial Stability Alliance, and the Resiliency Investment Framework. Structural changes are needed to help people on their journey to recovery and financial stability.

Through investments and partnerships, gifts to United Way in the coming year will shape our shared community:

  • 8,729 children and adults will access physical and mental healthcare.  
  • 1,990 youth will participate in mentoring and after-school programs.  
  • 2.8 million meals and 1 million pounds of fresh produce will feed people at risk of hunger.  
  • 1,000 children and adults will find safe shelter  
  • Expand Financial Coaching and literacy programs; expand volunteer engagement opportunities; and launch new programs and partnerships towards the Heading Home goal to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-repeating.   

Donna Colon, American Red Cross Southwest Indiana Chapter Executive Director and United Way Agencies Directors Association President spoke about the importance of collaboration. “To make our community resilient, it takes a lot of people and agencies working together. We need agencies that help with immediate needs, but also those who focus on long-term recovery. We work together, united. And your contribution helps that mission.”

Stephanie Shelton, Cancer Support Community of Southern Indiana Development Manager, spoke about the value and impact of programs funded by United Way. “We are new to the community and focus on the mental, emotional, and other needs outside of the clinical setting that people affected by cancer face. We each know that cancer makes a deep impact on a family almost immediately. They might need to quit their job; they may no longer have health insurance. We’re here to help get through challenges.”

Shelton continued, “We’d noticed that people were struggling financially. A new program, the Patient Assistance Fund, allows us to provide free grocery and gas cards to anyone in active treatment who qualifies by income. We wouldn’t have been able to add this program in Bloomington if it hadn’t been for United Way. And because of the United Way funding, we were able to get a matching grant from another source. So, we can provide double the funds to each person for the next year.”

Cancer Support Community also provided a demonstration of their Supportive Sounds Music Therapy for cancer patients and caregivers. They additionally hosted a display of artwork by support group participants who took part in a class led by signature members of the Bloomington Watercolor Society (BWS).

The fall fundraising drive is a critical part of United Way outreach, which continues year-round, especially in times of disaster or deep need. Funds raised will touch the lives of one in three individuals in the community.

Last year, nearly $1.1 million was raised during the United Way fall fundraising drive to help uplift our most vulnerable neighbors. This year, the outreach is more vital than ever as many families face greater challenges caused by the pandemic, the economic downturn, and the ripple effects in the months and years ahead. Never has it been more important to work united to face community challenges.  

Get Involved:

United Way brings together partners who work collaboratively on these tough issues, laying out roadmaps for action well into the future. This work will rebuild the community and rebuild hope for Susan and everyone else who needs it.  

Every dollar raised this fall impacts someone in need. Community support means Susan won’t find herself on the street. She’ll connect to funds to move into her own home, pay her bills, and access healthy food and medical care. Support of United Way assures that our community develops more affordable housing, a stronger food security system, and accessible physical and mental healthcare. Contributions will lift up neighbors and build a stronger community.