Caring for the Most Vulnerable in our Community

By Dick Hester


As United Way’s 2019 community engagement co-chair, it’s important for me to be in our community, seeing all the work being done “on the ground,” helping to connect more donors and supporters to the impact we are making together.


Recently while visiting a community center in our Centers for Working Families network, I met a lady who needed help. She talked to me about how it felt to not have enough to eat. She described the desperation of not having any income. Her family needed her, and she couldn’t provide. She had almost run out of hope. I was heartbroken. I wanted to immediately grab my wallet and hand her anything that might help relieve her of suffering.


But then she said something remarkable – something I will never forget.


“I’m here because I have goals,” she said. “Right now, I’m hungry and scared. But I want to learn how to take care of my family. I want to learn how to take care of me. I want to pay taxes like everyone else does. And, I want to one day contribute back to the community that has helped me so far on this journey.”


With that, she handed me a $5 bill.  “And I want to start now.”


With a lump in my throat, I pictured this lady as I took part in United Way’s Basic Needs Fund workgroup of board members, staff and community volunteers that had the difficult yet important charge of granting funding to 47 community-based organizations in our six-county service area. Launched on April 15 of this year, the Basic Needs Fund aims to make a direct impact on the most vulnerable individuals in our community who are facing a crisis or are in dire need of the basics to survive:  safe housing, nutritious food, access to healthcare services, and access to reliable transportation.


Today, United Way donors made it possible for our work group to grant $4 million to these organizations so that promising outcomes could be achieved in the coming year. And that’s just the beginning. United Way will grant another $1 million in a second phase of the Basic Needs Fund this fall, as well an additional $3.5 million in grants to organizations from its Family Opportunity Fund and Social Innovation Fund, among so many other initiatives, thanks to our donors.


All of these strategic initiatives are aimed at stabilizing households, helping people get back on their feet, educating our children, feeding and housing our homeless, providing employment and financial services to adults, and improving physical, mental and behavioral health for all those individuals who need it most. It’s daunting to think how about the hundreds of thousands of people in our community who are struggling. Now more than ever, I see how community impact and community engagement are deeply connected. In order to combat poverty, we just need more people who care to make even greater impact possible.


United Way is here to do just that – care for our neighbors in need, care for our families in crisis, care for our community at large, and yes, care for the one lady I met at the community center.


And you can too. Learn more about United Way’s impact funds. Donate, volunteer, advocate…and care. Perhaps one day like me, you’ll be lucky enough to meet someone who will show you how much your care and support meant to them.


Richard (“Dick”) Hester is a senior partner at Indiana Business Advisors and board member of United Way of Central Indiana. Dick is a vocal champion and active fundraiser for United Way and has been known to say with a smile, “I can look any donor in the eye and say confidently, ‘your money is being thoughtfully spent on specific outcomes that will make our community better.’”