Niles sees benefits of United Way mergerPublished 8:48am Tuesday, April 3, 2012
The United Way of Southwest Michigan has tripled the amount of programs it offers Niles residents since merging with the United Way of Greater Niles more than two years ago.
Speaking to the Niles-Buchanan Rotary Club Monday, UWSM campaign manager Susan Matheny said Niles residents have access to 45 prgrams.
Prior to the merger, she said, the United Way of Greater Niles offered about 12 to 15 programs.
“The merger wasn’t just about lowering the administrative and overhead costs,” Matheny said. “It was also about raising the impact the organization would have on the community.”
In 2010, Matheny said UWSM provided services to Niles residents a total of 3,721 times.
“If a dad gets help with a substance abuse issue, his whole family is helped by that,” Matheny said. “So you can think about that 3,721 times and multiply it by three or four.”
The United Way is a largely volunteer driven organization focusing on four impact areas: education, income, health and basic needs. Local chapters address the needs specific to their communities. For instance, one of the big focuses in southwest Michigan is early childhood education.
“If we can get kids ready to go to school and get them on track and keep them on track, they are less likely to need any of the adult services we provide later in life,” Matheny said.
Matheny provided a few examples of the programs offered and their impact:
• Girls on the Run is a 10-week self-esteem program that uses running to help girls become stronger, smarter and braver. In Niles and Brandywine schools, there are 161 girls participating this year, up 55 percent from 103 girls last year.
• Familywize prescription card is a card offering discounts on prescriptions. Niles families have saved more than $250,000 using the card, Matheny said. There have been 17,000-plus claims in Niles, with an average savings of 35 percent on prescription drugs.
• Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a preschool reading program where children are mailed free books every month. More than 722 Niles kids are receiving books.
• Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is a program where trained volunteers give free tax prep to low-income working families. The average return for a family last year was $2,000, Matheny said.
For more information on UWSM and its programs, visit its website at uwsm.org.