Giving Back: Christmas is busiest – and best – time of year for United Way of Madison County

single-meta-cal December 12, 2017

City Blog is taking a look at the good work performed by corporate citizens. The United Way, which next year celebrates its 75th year in Madison County, connects donors and volunteers with charitable agencies. Christmas season is the busiest time for United Way but, as we’ll see, it’s a 365-day-a-year operation.

There’s the single mom, struggling on a small income, but wanting to provide a memorable Christmas for her children.

There’s the veteran, tripping over the federal red tape, just seeking some assistance in finding a job and much-needed dental work.

There’s the recent incident where a disabled man boarded a bus in the northeast, eager to visit family in Huntsville, Tex. He arrived in Huntsville, Ala., before he recognized the mistake and was in need of a meal, transportation and medical attention.

And there’s the United Way, with an avenue to a solution for these and countless other challenges.

The United Way is the rebar of the non-profit community.”

The United Way of Madison County, which will mark its 75th anniversary next year, has funneled more than $237 million to local agencies during its existence. It has done so while incurring administrative costs far less than the national average for non-profits.

There are nearly three dozen agencies partnered with the local United Way. It works to support its partners across the board, or a donor can earmark the donation to a specific agency or interest.

A number of metaphors are used to describe the United Way, including the aforementioned “funnel.” It’s an umbrella under which other non-profits gather. But Cathy Miller, Community Impact Director for United Way of Madison County, recently heard a new one.

“Somebody said the United Way is the rebar of the non-profit community,” says Miller, referring to the strong, reinforcing steel that’s inside a concrete or masonry structure.

Generosity peaks this time of year

Christmas may be the happiest time of the year for more folks, as the song goes, but it’s the busiest time of the year at the United Way. The offices on Andrew Jackson Way are celebrating the season, with a lovely Christmas tree and various halls decked accordingly.

Christmas brings the greatest need, particularly in trying to provide gifts, meals and necessities to the less-fortunate. As Miller says, “The needs that we see all year long are in some ways magnified.”

However, this is also the time of year when the community is more generous, when corporate support is heightened and when the organization’s fundraising campaign is in full swing.

“We have a lot of individuals and groups and corporations that reach out to us and ask what are some of the larger-scale efforts they can participate in,” says Clay Vandiver, president and CEO of United Way of Madison County.

That’s where events like toy drives and coat drives come into play.

There is also an increase in volunteerism, whether it’s basketball team coming in to help pack holiday food boxes or individuals coming in to help wrap gifts.

Vandiver sees an overall growth in the number of people eager to volunteer, especially among millennials, from a decade ago.

“It’s in their DNA,” he says. “They want to get their hands involved and volunteer.”

There is a web-based Volunteer Center on the United Way site and more than 5,000 people in the past two months visited the site to look for volunteer opportunities, Vandiver said.

“There are so many new people moving into Huntsville and Madison County,” Miller says. “A great way to get to know your community is to volunteer.”

United Way has year-’round mission

Miller can quickly quote the mission statement for the organization:

“To identify the health and human service needs in Madison County and to work with donors, volunteers, and collaborative partners to develop and implement effective strategies and solutions.”

That’s not a seasonal statement. That’s year-‘round.

The agencies under the United Way umbrella – or connected by the rebar – file reports twice a year to assure their accountability and there is much stability and consistency on the roster of partners. Two agencies – the YMCA and the Girls Scouts – were supported by the United Way 75 years ago when the local group began.

However, as time passes, needs change. There is a growing emphasis on helping an older generation through organizations like the Community Free Dental Clinic and Still Serving Veterans.

There are two special programs through United Way that deserve extra attention. The 2-1-1 hotline is a 24-hour referral service staffed by Crisis Services of North Alabama. “FamilyWize” is a cost-saving program for health care expenses; Madison County residents were able to save a total of $126,000 in prescription drug costs through FamilyWize in 2016. That benefitted numerous families in a broad range of incomes as they required expensive, often-rare pharmaceuticals.

There’s  another good metaphor left to use as the United Way brings together those in need and those eager to help: Cog.

As Vandiver says, “Our leaders know that if we have a great network of social service agencies, the United Way is the big cog in the middle of it, helping the quality of life in our community to be stable and sound.”

United Way of Madison County’s partners:

  • Alabama Cooperative Extension System
  • Alabama Kidney Foundation
  • Alabama Non-Violent Offenders Organization
  • American Red Cross of North Alabama
  • The Arc of Madison County, Inc.
  • The Autism Resource Foundation
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Alabama
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of North Alabama
  • The Care Center
  • CASA of Madison County
  • Christmas Charities Year Round
  • Community Free Dental Clinic
  • The Cornerstone Initiative
  • Crisis Services of North Alabama
  • Family Services Center
  • Girls Scouts of North-Central Alabama
  • Girls, Inc.
  • Harris Home for Children
  • HEALS, Inc.
  • Heart of the Valley YMCA
  • Impact Alabama
  • Manna House
  • National Children’s Advocacy Center
  • New Hope Children’s Clinic
  • North Alabama Medical Reserve Corps
  • The Pathfinder, Inc.
  • Phoenix
  • The Salvation Army
  • Still Serving Veterans
  • United Cerebral Palsy of Huntsville/Tenn. Valley
  • Village of Promise