Alamance United Way aims to raise awareness

By Todd Cohen

BURLINGTON, N.C. — In the two years since she became the first director of community impact at United of Way of Alamance County, Heidi Norwick has been on a mission to build partnerships that focus on critical needs in the community.

Now, as its new president, Norwick aims to keep United Way in conversations and planning on community priorities, while also raising awareness about them helping the community understand the role United Way plays and its impact.

“We have a seat at important tables where problem-solving and the future of Alamance County is being discussed, and we want to continue to be that relevant organization that gathers resources from the community to help the community,” she says

Norwick, who served for 16 years as executive director of the Women’s Resource Center in Alamance County before joining United Way, became its president on July 1 to succeed Ronnie Wall, who also is Burlington’s mayor and resigned his United Way job.

A survey that North Star Marketing in Burlington conducted for United Way this spring found good public opinion of United Way but mixed understanding of its work.

Norwick says United Way will be working to continue to build community partnerships that focus on pressing issues; better engage volunteers and help them see United Way’s impact so they will invest their time and money; and use technology to share information about community needs and opportunities to get involved in fixing them.

In its 2013 annual fundraising campaign that began last fall and just ended, United Way raised nearly $1.7 million, falling short of its goal by less than $50,000.

Using funds raised in the campaign, which was chaired by Bill Gomory, senior vice president at BB&T, United Way will invest $656,000 in 40 health and human services programs at its 32 partner agencies, up from $606,000 last year.

In addition to supporting those programs, United Way has been involved in recent years in community initiatives that focus on hunger, children, education, homelessness and other issues related to poverty.

Nearly half the county’s population does not earn a living wage, Norwick says, and the unemployment rate is just over 6 percent among those actively looking for jobs.

“We have working class poor who get by, but there’s not enough to save money and really move forward,” she says. “We also hear from employers there are jobs but they need skilled workers to fill those jobs.”

For the past two years, United Way has administered the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, that helps low-income people complete their tax returns and apply for refunds. This year, that effort generated over $300,000 in refunds.

After the shutdown last August of Loaves and Fishes, the county’s biggest food pantry, United Way compiled data on hunger in the county and convened meetings of other food pantries, churches and businesses.

In a county with an estimated 7,000 families a month turning to local food pantries, the Salvation Army has seen the number of families seeking food assistance surge to several thousand a month from several hundred, Norwick says.

United Way funded an additional position at Salvation Army to help handle the increase in demand, as well as an additional position at Allied Churches to handle higher demand at its pantry.

United Way also collected 70,000 pounds of food for the annual Stamp Out Hunger campaign sponsored by local postal workers.

In her role as director of community impact, Norwick has participated in the local homeless coalition, Children’s Executive Oversight Committee, and Vision Plan for Education.

Now, as it gears up for this fall’s campaign, to be chaired by Griffin McClure, owner of Green & McClure Furniture in Graham and America’s Best Mattress of North Carolina, United Way aims to focus its fundraising throughout the county and to work to engage more young professionals, Norwick says.

It has been talking with Elon University, Alamance-Burlington School System and Alamance County Area Chamber of Commerce on collaborating to better distribute information about volunteer opportunities and nonprofit services and job openings through the Community Council, a group United Way administers that includes a list serve and monthly meetings about community issues.

United Way also will be a using a new tagline — “What Our Community Needs … Is You” — that has been adopted by United Way Worldwide.

 “We want to continue to work with those partnerships we have with larger employers and small businesses, the faith community and every nook and cranny we can find,” Norwick says, “with the message of what we do and how we impact the lives of people in our community.”

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