The poverty level in a community influences academic achievement, workforce readiness, economic development, crime and safety, government spending, health and healthcare costs and many other issues. Choosing between putting food on the table, purchasing medication or buying school supplies is a daily financial dilemma for many families, one that is avoidable with the right support system in place. You can help individuals struggling to make ends meet. Through United Way, you can volunteer your time and services to programs that support people in your own backyard. From poverty to possibility… here are five ways to help.
1. 2-1-1 is a free information and referral service line, offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by simply dialing 2-1-1 (or 1-800-318-9335) or by visiting www.uw211.org where users can email or chat live with a trained professional. 2-1-1 will connect users to local resources and services, such as financial, legal, healthcare, employment and youth services. So, if you or someone you know is in need of food, clothing, or shelter, then 2-1-1 is the place to call. Or, if you or someone you know has a child needing after school help/programming or your elderly parent has just been diagnosed with dementia, 2-1-1 is the place to call.
How you can help: Share the 2-1-1 service with others by promoting the 2-1-1 direct dial option or the website, www.uw211.org.
2. FamilyWize is a free prescription discount card. Whether you have insurance or not, FamilyWize could provide you with savings depending upon your prescription. The average savings is about 40% per prescription. To-date, more than $3.7 million has been saved by Rutherford and Cannon county residents. There is no activation required for the card and users can check their prescription discount pricing online prior to visiting the pharmacy. Alleviating the cost of prescription medication could be the difference between a family paying for their electric bill or groceries.
How you can help: Promote FamilyWize to any resident of Rutherford and Cannon counties, and direct them to our website at www.yourlocaluw.org; click “Our Work” and then “Health” to receive their free discount card.
3. VITA – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is a program offered from January to mid-April for households earning less than $66,000. Trained, certified volunteers prepare taxes at no charge and the client receives their full refund. For families who are working to make ends meet, this service provides an opportunity for the family to file for free and have additional dollars for necessary living expenses. This year, local sites include Patterson Park Community Center and the Smyrna and LaVergne public libraries. Additionally, an online option is available at myfreetaxes.com. More information is available at yourlocalvita.org.
How you can help: Anyone can volunteer with VITA; tax prep experience is not required. Visit yourlocalvita.org to learn how you can volunteer. Additionally, help us share with others about this program to those who may qualify.
4. Books from Birth – Illiteracy and poverty have a significant relationship. In fact, one recent study estimated that children living in poverty have a 50 percent weaker vocabulary than their wealthier peers by the time they started school. Given that 80% of a child’s brain is developed by age three, this statistic is staggering. Books from Birth is a program that mails an age-appropriate book to children each month, at no cost to the family, until they turn five years old. If a child is enrolled at birth, he or she will receive 60 books by the time they graduate from the program.
In 2015, our United Way became the local sustaining partner for Books from Birth in Rutherford and Cannon counties. Currently, 68% of eligible children in Rutherford county, and 76% in Cannon county, are enrolled in the program. Due to a recently-formed partnership with Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital and TriStar StoneCrest hospital, each baby born at those hospitals will be enrolled in the program and go home from the hospital with their very first book.
How you can help: If you or someone you know has a child under the age of five, start the enrollment process for that child to receive free books by visiting yourlocaluw.org and clicking on the “Our Work” tab. Additionally, there is an opportunity on this page to make a gift that will allow us to continue expanding the number of children enrolled in the program.
5. Volunteer Connect - One of the easiest yet most impact things you can do to help alleviate poverty in our community is simply volunteer for a cause that works with those in need. Launched in March 2017 as the result of a grant from Volunteer State Bank, Volunteer Connect is a digital program that matches volunteer interests with agency needs in Rutherford and Cannon counties. Volunteers simply create an online profile and are notified when opportunities that match their interests are posted. Additionally, volunteers can browse opportunities by agency, date, or event type. To date, nearly 90 agencies and more than 700 volunteers are taking advantage of Volunteer Connect.
How you can help: Visit yourlocaluw.org and click on the “volunteer” button at the top of the page to get started. In addition to the many volunteer opportunities listed, be on the lookout for postings about United Way drives such as Stuff the Bus and the Community Baby Shower, which helps get school supplies and baby supplies to those in need