The United Way has set two distinct targets in its 2015 fundraising campaign: To raise $1.5 million and to initiate a collaborative approach to addressing poverty in the Central Okanagan and South Okanagan/Similkameen regions.
Local United Way executive director Shelley Gilmore outlined her plans at the annual fundraising campaign kick-off breakfast Wednesday morning at the Coast Capri Hotel to reach those two goals.
Gilmore said poverty is an underlying social issue that many United Way service providers and agencies deal with on a daily basis, from children in school to the working poor in cities like Kelowna.
“We live in a beautiful place but for too many of us, it is also very challenging place,” she said.
Gilmore said there is a cost savings potential if the United Way uses its position as an umbrella agency for many of the poverty assistance program service providers to work more collaboratively to fight poverty.
“Instead of giving $5,000 to this group and $5,000 to that group, and they then go off in their corner and do what they do, what we are saying is here is a pot of $15,000 to draw from, how can the recipient agencies work more collaboratively to reach out to people in need for given services,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore outlined two specific programs the United Way is working with partners to launch that speak directly to poverty concerns.
One involves working with the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation, Costco and the Central Okanagan Foundation, to provide 70 adjustable car seats for parents.
“It is a terrible choice for parents to choose whether to buy a car seat or put food on the table,” said Gilmore. “And the best thing about this is the car seats are adjustable as the kids get older, so they will never have to worry about that issue again.”
Gilmore noted when her grandchild was recently receiving neo-natal care in the hospital after being born, she noticed how car seats were an issue for the many parents she met at the hospital, and she decided the United Way should do something about that issue in the Okanagan.
“We are doing 70 this year which is great, and hopefully in the years going forward we can increase that,” Gilmore said.
The other program involves placing a social worker at Pearson Elementary, a school identified in the Central Okanagan School District as a socio-economic high riisk catchment area.
Working together with the ministry of education, the Pearson program has been tagged with the moniker “The Hub,” a pilot project that Gilmore hopes can be in place next spring and be established in other schools in the years to come.
Gilmore said schools are often the front lines for poverty issues, with both kids and parents, and having a social worker in place can help point people in the direction where they can seek direct help or assistance from existing programs.
“Again, it’s a case of going where the need is…helping or kids to succeed is an ultimate goal because if a child grows up in poverty, the risk is very high that child will live in poverty as an adult,” she said.
Last year, the United Way campaign set a goal of $1.5 million, and ended up at $1,313,482. Gilmore said the goal again this year is to strive for $1.5 million as the demands on United Way supported social service agencies continues to grow.
Bruce Olson, chair of the local United Way board, encouraged those at the breakfast and the greater community to give in whatever way they can—by direct donation, as a volunteer or workplace donation campaign—to help build stronger communities in the Okanagan.
“We want to help kids be all they can be, and to help move people from poverty to possibilities in life,” Olson said.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran noted the city donated $30,000 to the United Way campaign last year, as council has identified the United Way as their charity of choice because it reaches out to support more than 50 agencies across the Okanagan.
“United Way fundraising is to help our most vulnerable citizens and to strengthen our community’s social fabric,” he said.
For more information about how to donate, visit unitedwaycso.com.