Addressing Community-Wide Needs

by Michael Stephan, Heart of Illinois United Way

By mobilizing people and resources in the areas of education, income and health, the Heart of Illinois United Way is a leading collaborator in addressing the health and human care concerns of central Illinois. Like other health and human care agencies, the United Way must continually assess and understand the needs of those we serve. By working together with area businesses, labor, government and other nonprofit organizations, we continue to identify and develop strategies to improve the quality of life for people in our region.

Over the last several years, our organization's strategies to address specific needs in the areas of education and access to social services have been answered by the development of three initiatives managed by the Heart of Illinois United Way in collaboration with organizations throughout central Illinois.

Launched in 2006, Success by 6 is an early childhood education initiative that provides knowledge about opportunities for early learning and pre-literacy skill development. From birth to age six, children’s brains develop very rapidly. Early childhood development programs build cognitive and character skills while preparing children for success in kindergarten and overall achievement in school.

In 2012, Success By 6 partnered with Illinois Action for Children to advocate for quality early childhood education. This partnership has led to improved access to early childhood education, improved social and emotional skills for area preschool students, built mathematical thinking skills in the preschool setting, and provided continuing education for local teachers in the areas of social/emotional skills and math skills.

Supporting Student Success (S3), formerly the Community in Schools program, is our second education initiative to be implemented in 14 early childhood, primary and middle schools in Peoria and Tazewell counties. Research has shown that students who attend schools that provide counseling are more likely to have higher grades and future academic success, better access to college and career information, and enjoy a school atmosphere that is positive and with fewer disruptions in the classroom.

S3 offers local students and their families in-school social services focused on prevention, intervention and case management. In collaboration with our 43 partner agencies, these services work in tandem with educators and administrators to ensure a student's success in school.

The Heart of Illinois United Way has always served as a lead collaborator in addressing health and human care needs. But, addressing these needs starts with providing access to services. Every day, individuals go without help because they don't know where to go or who to call. In June 2013, the Heart of Illinois 2-1-1 information and referral line launched to connect people in need with help that is readily available.

A partnership with Advanced Medical Transport of Central Illinois, the Heart of Illinois 2-1-1 service is available 24/7 throughout Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Marshall, Stark and Putnam counties. Through the end of October 2013, the 2-1-1 call center had answered 2,683 calls, resulting in 11,431 referrals to area health and human care services.

Since 2005, the Heart of Illinois United Way has partnered with Bradley University to conduct a community assessment every three years. As we begin research for the 2014 Community Assessment this winter, the Heart of Illinois United Way will be partnering with Central Illinois Business Publishers to share this critical research with the community next summer. By illustrating the social service issues and trends impacting the communities we serve, the United Way utilizes the Peoria Area Community Assessment to establish—and fund—outcomes and initiatives that make positive, lasting change. iBi