UnitedWaySEAKlogoUnited Way of Southeast Alaska is in the midst of its 2016 annual giving campaign. Representatives from the organization were at the Chamber of Commerce lunch in Ketchikan last week to speak about the campaign, and services provided by United Way.

United Way of Southeast Alaska is a volunteer-driven, grass-roots organization that works to bring resources together to address community-wide issues. Mark Mesdag is the board chair. He says the three tenets of United Way are health, education, and financial stability.

“Everybody should have the opportunity to have a good-quality education, and have a stable job with enough income to support them through retirement.”

Mesdag says United Way helps bring groups together so non-profit agencies can directly address community needs.

“It’s really the opportunity for United Way to support our partner agencies so they can focus on mission. And the more ways that we can figure out how to do that, the more efficient we can be. And the more we can be in Southeast, and the more our agencies are able to take a step back from doing administrative functions and really do what it is they’re supposed to do.”

Mesdag says support through individual donations and workplace campaigns make United Way possible.

Peggy Cowan is a campaign co-chair. She says contributions were up 16 percent in 2015, and United Way was able to give approximately $15,000 in grants to eight agencies throughout Southeast.

“Communities across Southeast are facing challenges, heavily in Juneau, but across Southeast, depending on the government. We need to support our communities and make them strong, and the United Way can contribute to that.”

Some of the Ketchikan agencies that benefitted last year are Ketchikan Youth Initiatives, Women in Safe Homes and Southeast Alaska Independent Living.

SAIL is one of 35 partner agencies with United Way of Southeast Alaska. The non-profit works with the elderly and people with disabilities to inspire personal independence. Keith Smith, executive director of SAIL, spoke about how United Way has helped SAIL.

“With their impact grants, the United Way has helped us with things such as our ‘last resort fund,’ where we take very small pieces of money that have lasting impacts at key periods in people’s lives in order to get them out of a hard place and be able to solve a problem.”

A service offered by United Way is the Alaska 2-1-1 help line. This is free and confidential, and offers information on a broad range of services such as rent assistance, child care, job training and legal assistance.

Wayne Stevens is the President and CEO of United Way of Southeast Alaska. He says 2-1-1 can help companies that don’t have employee assistance programs.

“Any non-profit can list their non-profit, including the chamber, the arts councils, any of the social service agencies, and as an employee, and you know that somebody is struggling with issues, whatever they may be, it’s easy to say, ‘I don’t want to get involved in your personal business, but here’s a phone number you can call, 2-1-1, to help you connect with whatever it is you may need.’”

The help line is available to all Alaskans, and is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.

The United Way also coordinates the “Get Connected” program for organizations needing volunteers. Non-profits create their own profiles and list needs. Stevens says those interested in helping also can create individual profiles.

“Maybe I don’t mind mowing lawns on sunny days. So I might volunteer to mow somebody’s lawn. WISH might say, ‘We really need our lawn mowed’ and they type in ‘mow our lawn,’ and I will get a ping on my profile that says, ‘You live in Ketchikan and they need some help, can you help?’”

There is no cost for non-profits to become a United Way partner agency, and they do not have to be a partner agency to receive assistance from United Way.

United Way of Southeast Alaska home page – www.unitedwayseak.org

2-1-1 helpline information – www.unitedwayseak.org/alaska-2-1-1-0

Get Connected program – getconnected.unitedwayseak.org/