A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: TJ Holsen

A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: TJ Holsen

At 18 years old, I have moved eight times. Each move brought new faces, friends, and memories. But each move also posed a unique challenge. A community becomes something you depend on during these times. It’s a hope you will be able to seek solace in your neighbors. T.J. Holsen is the Director of Development at Lake Area United Way, an organization dedicated to improving communities through partnerships focused on education, financial stability, and health.

“I’ve worked in non-profits and education my whole career. I’ve worked for many different non-profits. United Way always attracted me as a career because the United Way partnership involves so many different non-profits in its work and working for United Way always seemed like I could maximize my ability to really impact the entire community. Only United Way works in an entire community and with so many different stakeholders so that really attracted me,” Holsen said.

As the Director of Development, it was Holsen’s duty to maximize the fundraising abilities of LAUW.

“I manage a staff of three other people that are all working with the rest of the organization, but our main focus is the United Way campaign and United Way fundraising efforts. When we say resource development, it’s developing those resources with regard to the fundraising; the financial resources that we have on hand,” Holsen said.

While LAUW’s main objective was to improve communities, they have recently directed their focus toward specific residents of Lake County.

“Well, struggling working families are a priority. For us, this is a new kind of laser-like focus. We’ll continue to focus on anyone in the community that needs help so there will still be a focus on basic needs and safety net services for people that are in a crisis or an emergency. But we’re gonna shift the bulk of our focus to helping working families that are struggling to make ends meet, Holsen said. "There’s been some new economic analysis in several states across the country. They’ve done it here in Indiana as well and we now know here in Lake Country one in four families are working, so they’re trying, they’re working hard, but they’re living paycheck to paycheck. They’re one crisis or emergency away from really going into a severe crisis. We want to look at ways to help those families because many times they aren’t aware of, or they may not qualify for many types of support and services that people who are below the poverty level have access to,” Holsen said.

Holsen saw the value of integrating the idea of neighbor helping neighbor back into communities.

“I always say, somebody you know has been helped by our United Way partnership. A co-worker, family, friend, neighbor, somebody in church, somebody you know has been helped. And that’s why it’s important for all of us to give back and support because we ourselves might need that kind of help - a hand-up not a handout. It’s neighbor helping neighbor,” Holsen said.

Recently, LAUW released an initiative called #StopTheOgre, an initiative that Holsen said would hone in on breaking the cyclical, core problems in communities.

“It’s a metaphor for addressing core issues rather than addressing symptoms. As we focus on struggling working families, we want to identify the underlying core issues that are causing the difficulties for struggling working families rather than just addressing the symptoms which in the end won’t fix the problem,” Holsen said.

Holsen saw LAUW as the central part of a network. Holsen and employees of LAUW, supported through its Board of Directors and thousands of donors and volunteers, were able to help community members through specialized partnerships that helped uplift the community. LAUW partnered with Northwest Indiana Community Action and dozens of other local agencies, to make these resources more readily available. Through partnerships, LAUW is able to help 85,000 families annually.

“I think our work over the years is helping individuals and families with the outcome being changed on a community scale. When we’re working on core, underlying issues the end result is a healthy, vibrant community. By working individually and with families, you end up impacting on a community scale and that’s another reason United Way works solely in partnerships. That’s part of the United Way philosophy, or approach is that if we’re working with a multitude of partners and service providers and agencies and donors and volunteers who are providing the resources to do the work then we are working on a community scale and eventually we believe we’ll lift the entire community and improve the quality of life for everybody,” Holsen said.