The local United Way of Southeast Alaska began in 1986 as a way to help local nonprofit agencies. In 2005, it became a community impact United Way, focusing on ways to target specific areas of care within the community where a difference could be made through the collaborative efforts of government, business, volunteers and agencies.
Brenda Hewitt, executive director for United Way of Southeast Alaska, said United Way mobilizes the caring power of a community.
"United Way is an effective and efficient way for people to give because we give people an opportunity to donate through payroll deduction - a few dollars a week, which from several people adds up to real dollars that can help support the social fabric of our community," Hewitt said. "If these tasks were left solely to government to fulfill, it would cost the community substantially more in their taxes. This isn't meant to say that it is an either or proposition but truly nonprofits can deliver these needed programs more efficiently and at a lower cost by combining charitable giving, tax incentives, volunteer labor and passion with leveraged grants.
In this way, we are able to deliver needed services at a reduced cost to society - from youth programs to feeding the hungry, caring for the elderly or helping those in crisis."
Juneau residents may go online to http://theresource.wetpaint.com, a resource provided by Juneau Public Libraries, to find out about social service agencies.
Here are Hewitt's answers to five questions asked by Capital City Weekly concerning a few of the many missions of United Way.
How does philanthropic giving affect a community?
Philanthropic giving not only affects the community in a positive way, it affects the individual person in a positive way. Multiple studies have shown that volunteering and charitable giving deliver both physical and mental health benefits to an individual. Other studies have shown that it is important for people to be given a choice as to where they want their dollars to go to work. It makes for a better employee and it engages them in their community's health. Basically, it makes them feel good to know they are supporting something that is near and dear to their hearts.
If you look at the list of Forbes's most livable cities - you'll see that they are also the same cities with high charitable giving. I don't think it is a coincidence.
Many towns come together during a crisis - for instance the threat of the Capitol move years ago. Hopefully we don't need to wait for another crisis to pull us all together to address a common vision for our region.
What needs to be done to create more options for affordable housing?
United Way has been a leader on affordable housing and homelessness since 2005, when our Compass research showed that 72 percent of Juneau felt affordable housing was an issue facing the Capital City. Homeownership and rentals are both top priorities - Juneau has the highest rentals in the state, out of reach for nearly 50 percent of Juneau's residents. Our average home price, clocking in at more than $375,000, is unaffordable to nearly two-thirds of the population. Plans for higher densities and development with connectivity to public transit should lead to more affordable options, and numerous policy proposals on the table will help guarantee an affordable housing supply. For instance, inclusionary zoning would set aside new homes in a development as affordable, and shared-equity ownership models would sell homes without selling the land, drastically reducing the price of the purchase. New revenue sources to increase the supply of rental housing, such as a city-sponsored fund, would help ease the tight vacancy rates on housing and generate new options. These solutions aren't simple, but they're badly needed. The majority of young professionals in Juneau are squeezed out of housing, and from 2000-2006, about 1,000 young households under 40 left Juneau. As the market gets tighter, more and more working families are squeezed out altogether, and homelessness is on the rise among these working households. United Way is working hard to create critical workforce housing to sustain Juneau's future.
What is the outlook for childcare needs in Southeast Alaska?
Childcare is a critical workforce issue that employers and families must address. The National Organization of Women recently held a meeting in Juneau to help raise people's awareness of the issue and to look for solutions. United Way of SE Alaska was also involved. Employers are finding it hard to attract and retain a quality workforce and Juneau has been losing many young professionals due to the cost of housing and lack of availability of childcare.
We know that the quality of childcare is critical to the development of a child and that many of the problems we deal with today could have been eliminated if children had received the nurturing support of a quality childcare provider early in life. Success in school is directly related to early rearing and success in school in directly related to future success in life.
We need to encourage more licensed day care providers; in home childcare; and a 24-hour day care facility for shift and night workers. United Way is working with employers in the Salmon Creek area for additional day care to service that area's particular needs and they helped to finance Puddlejumpers through Catholic Community Service.
United Way also convenes both the Juneau Coalition for Youth and the Partnerships for Families and Children to help address issues concerning kids with our community partners.
Where does money given to United Way go and how can someone donate?
Donors can self-select the destination of their dollars to be given to a particular town in Southeast Alaska or to one of our 39 partner agencies. We also give people the opportunity to give to the Community Impact fund that is used to help us target particular needs in any of our Southeastern towns through the distribution of mini-grants for special projects. It is important to know that 99 percent of the money donated stays right here in Southeast Alaska.
People can donate online at www.unitedwayseak.org; they can call our offices at 463-5530 and we will mail them a form or they can call Kristin Mahle, our campaign coordinator, to have a workplace campaign presentation given at their place of employment.
With an aging population and the retirement of "Baby Boomers," what does this mean for leadership in Juneau?
Another revelation from the Compass II project was that we need to promote new leaders in our community to serve on boards, to lead in businesses, and to serve as elected leaders. Eighty million baby boomers are retiring in the next five years and there are only 50 million Gen Xers to take their place. Fifty-85 percent of the nonprofit executives are baby boomers.
Leadership Juneau is a rigorous educational program that will provide a platform for the next generation of leaders to acquire the individual skills necessary to jump into those positions - communication skills, diversity training, presentation skills and the like. To go with this individual training, the program that begins in January, will provide the 25-30 participants who are selected with the chance to interact with the Juneau community through experiential events and work on community impact projects. These activities will help the emerging leaders understand most accurately the current situation here in the Capital City and subsequently begin to lead.
Those interested in participating or who would like to nominate someone for the program should visit the Web site at www.unitedwayseak.org or call our office at 463-5530.
Editor's note: To send suggestionsfor interviewees, send e-mailto Amanda Gragert email@example.com.