Last year was a roller coaster ride of a year, and 2012 looks to be just as exciting. This annual edition of NWI Now! provides us the opportunity to look back and reflect on the events of 2011, and more importantly, to make plans to improve this year.
Residents of the region have much to be proud of from 2011:
• Generous donors contributed $7.65 million to the United Ways in Northwest Indiana for vital health and human services.
• 2,100 volunteers of all ages participated in the United Way Regional Volunteer Center Days of Caring last August at 101 sites in the region.
• 48 AmeriCorps members, volunteers who commit to a year of national service, served in 38 nonprofit organizations and schools, providing tutoring and mentoring, career advising, financial literacy training, volunteer recruitment and capacity-building activities.
• Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites were expanded in Porter and Lake counties. Northwest Indiana Community Action Agency, Lake Area United Way and United Way of Porter County trained volunteers who provided free income tax preparation for the elderly, low-income families and individuals with disabilities. In all, 1,304 tax returns were prepared with refunds to individuals totaling $1,469,780.
• Success By 6, our regional early childhood initiative, is raising awareness in the four areas that affect early child development: family and parent education, child care, health, safety and physical development as well as social and emotional development.
Early childhood education training was conducted for providers. Parents as Teachers expanded throughout the region. Kindergarten readiness training was launched with the schools and eight Born Learning Trails were constructed in the region. Meanwhile, a new website -- www.uwsuccessby6.org -- was launched.
• And we are so proud that our collaborative effort with Lake and LaPorte counties, Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery in Indiana, closed out its work after helping 3,395 families recover from the floods and storms of 2008.
We recognize this year brings many challenges. Nonprofit and faith-based organizations across our county and region are aware of how individuals and families are still hurting, despite signs of slow economic recovery.
For example, the 211 Call Center that serves our Northwest Indiana region answered more than 50,000 calls from people needing help, with calls for housing and utility assistance topping the list. Our local food pantries report challenges in keeping up with ever-increasing needs. Some report helping families who have never asked for help before.
Many political leaders point to churches and nonprofits as the community safety net. While United Ways and our partner agencies and the faith community want to serve everyone in need, the reality is that we simply cannot fill the gap in the loss of federal and state funds. Despite our extraordinarily generous donors, government still is the primary funder for health and human services.
The federal Office of Management and Budget is planning how federally funded services will be cut beginning in January 2013. These cuts, combined with our state government's response, will undoubtedly affect how education, housing, child care, services for senior citizens and people with disabilities will be delivered.
Our nonprofit community and faith-based organizations will be challenged to work differently, often with flat or reduced resources. We will draw upon our rich history of working together collaboratively to find solutions to local needs.
We invite you to "Live United." We will draw upon the generous spirit and resources of volunteers and donors to make Porter County and the entire region a better place to live, work and volunteer this year and beyond.
Sharon Kish is president of United Way of Porter County. The opinions expressed in this column are the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.