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Thursday, June 3, 2010 09:28 am

Helping others help others

United Way provides $1.7 million to human service programs

Local health and human service agencies will receive much-needed funding, as United Way of Central Illinois awards $1.7 million to 45 programs this year.

The largest private funder of health and human services in Sangamon County, United Way gathered donations from 9,200 individuals and companies. The donations will fund social service programs meeting basic needs as well as programs providing lifelong learning beyond the classroom or promoting community education.

Many programs are attempting to address greater community needs on a slimmer budget, says Danielle Zellers, area director of Springfield Catholic Charities. This money is essential to groups like Catholic Charities, which received more than $211,000 in program funding from United Way, she says.

“In some cases, agencies have had to reduce their hours of operation and lay off staff,” Zellers says. “This assistance from United Way helps keep programs operating, so they can continue to support clients.”

This year, United Way funding will support two pilot programs: Sparc Janitorial and the Capital College Preparatory After-School program. According to John Kelker, president and CEO of United Way of Central Illinois, pilot programs are either brand new, or less than a year old, and are created to address unmet needs.

Sparc, or Springfield Arc, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that provides residential and employment services to several hundred individuals with developmental disabilities like autism, mental retardation and epilepsy. Their pilot program, “Sparcling Clean” received $50,000. Sparcling Clean is an extension of the current janitorial training program, which gives participants work experience cleaning for local businesses. This pilot program will allow employees to work for additional for-profit janitorial companies, expanding their skills and independence, Kelker says.

The Capital College Preparatory program, sponsored by the Springfield Urban League, received $20,000. The program will begin during the 2010-2011 school year in Springfield’s District 186. The program will support after-school activities, which build on subjects students study during school hours: science, math, technology and engineering.

Three established programs received first-time funding. Springfield Urban League program “Wee Grow” received $20,000. Wee Grow is an early education program that compliments the federal “Head Start” program to provide health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income parents and children. Another Urban League venture, Freedom School, received $30,000 to combat the learning loss many children face during summer vacation.

Achieving Academic Success, a program from Springfield’s Rutledge Youth Foundation, also received first-time funding of $40,000. Students will work one-on-one with caseworkers to ensure good attendance and academic achievement at school.

Overall donations to United Way were down five percent from last year, Kelker says. Funding decisions were particularly difficult this year, he says, because United Way received $2.7 million in requests, and had only $1.7 million available.

“As we prepare funding for 2010, we think that’s going to continue to be a challenging year,” Kelker says. “But we’re confident, and we will be proactive about sharing the message for a need for our essential services. Our programs are helping individuals and families, and we’re always confident that Springfield and Sangamon County can provide the resources that we need.”

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.

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