United Way Northwest Indiana (NWI) hosted a gathering of partners and donors to launch its 2023-2025 strategic plan. The plan was created using a combination of community feedback and data to address the most urgent needs of Northwest Indiana. The event featured opening remarks from Jeff Strack, president and CEO of Strack & Van Til as well as the United Way NWI board chair, followed by a presentation from United Way NWI President and CEO Adam O’Doherty featuring Level Up Graduates Rafael and Lourdes Swift.
“One of the biggest things that I think we need to do is educate residents on what United Way Northwest Indiana means in the community,” said Strack. “It’s about helping individuals and families to improve their lives.”
The plan consists of four points: securing income independence for working families, assisting community members who need help, strengthening the foundation of service provided, and growing United Way’s capacity to help people in the Region. O’Doherty and United Way are tackling those goals through their Level Up program.
“Just in our Region, over 30% of our population consists of people that are working but can’t make ends meet,” said O’Doherty. “That puts people in poverty. We’re trying to reduce the number of Northwest Indiana households living below financial stability by producing 1,000 graduates through our Level Up program.”
The Level Up program helps individuals in the Region gain financial stability through one-on-one career navigation, certification opportunities, and the removal of barriers that might prevent job retention among other strategies. Lourdes and Rafael Swift graduated from the program and believe it was a life-changing experience.
“It's truly a blessing to know that there's an organization out there that's going to support you,” said Lourdes Swift. “They’ll keep growing you as long as you allow, and I’m so deeply grateful for this organization.”
United Way plans to further extend its education opportunities beyond its Level Up program by providing people in need of assistance with help navigating available resources.
“When we talk about community resources, instead of just having a number to call or a website to go to, we want to have a person that someone can connect with,” said O’Doherty. “We're not just going to connect them to the resources we’re going to guide them through the process, otherwise we're just continuing the poverty cycle.”\
United Way’s nonprofit partners are crucial to the success of the plan. Andrea Sherwin, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Northwest Indiana, appreciates all of the work United Way puts into maintaining healthy relationships with its partners.
“We serve the same clientele, so where one leaves off, the other picks up,” said Sherwin. “Adam always honors the nonprofit partners because we're out there, boots on the ground, doing the work. He really wants to strengthen our partnerships as we continue to build families up.”
“United Way is always looking and striving to improve the way they serve the community,” said Carrie Higgins, program director for the Tobacco Education & Prevention Coalition for Porter County. “There are many needs, and those needs are not going away. I think that hearing from Rafael and Lourdes today about how they have been helped by the Level Up program allows the folks here and the community at large to see the impact United Way is creating.”
Since it launched in 2019, 120 residents have graduated from the Level Up program, and enrolled a total of 300. Additionally, United Way supports the community by providing meals for children in need, offering emergency disaster relief, and directing community members to resources they may need most. O’Doherty knows that improving someone’s life uplifts the community as a whole.
“This is a result of what, united, of all our efforts can achieve,” said O’Doherty. “It does take a village to get people to a better place.”
To learn more about United Way Northwest Indiana and donate, visit the website at www.unitedwaynwi.org.