United Way of Miami County sparkles with 'Bright Star' award

Peru Tribune - Staff Reporter

Sunday, April 30, 2017

United Way of Miami County sparkles with 'Bright Star' award

Honors 'Excellence in Community Impact'

The light shining from United Way of Miami County is attracting attention.

The tiny organization recently received the “Bright Star Award” from the Indiana Association of United Ways.

Presented at the 2017 United Way and Funds State Leaders Conference Awards banquet held on April 13 in Indianapolis, the award honors “excellence in community impact,” according to Executive Director Debi Wallick.

“(The award) is based on six essential elements,” Wallick said. “Engaging the community to identify aspirations and priorities, building strategies and targeting long-term change, among others ... it’s given to a United Way making clear progress in all six ... and success in at least three.”

Miami County received the Community Impact Rising Star award in 2015 and is the first in Indiana to receive both the Rising and Bright Star Awards, she said.

It’s also significant because United Way of Miami County, with a staff of just one and half, was selected over much larger organizations.

“I attribute much of this success to the leadership and hard work of Executive Director Debi Wallick, who is extremely well organized, and diligent in her efforts to improve our community,” wrote Joe Pandy, Peru Utilities’ General Manager and United Way Board Member in an email. “I’ve been involved in United Way efforts in five other states, and have found United Way of Miami County to be the most significant caring organization of all that I have seen. Many people generously give time, talent, and funds to make this happen. Success also goes to Brian Maggart, 2017 Campaign Co-Chair and Volunteer of the Year for Miami County; well done, Brian!”

In a word, Debi Wallick is a “superstar,” said Dr. James M. Callane, Assistant Superintendent for Maconaquah School Corporation, also via email. “She has a passion for Miami County like no other I have met.  Kids and families in Miami County are lucky to have her on their side.”

The recognition is wonderful, Wallick said, but the lives that have been changed are more important. Wallick was recently moved to tears when an elderly senior who had attended one of her job training classes shared that he was able to land a job with the skills he learned from her.

“He was so excited and thankful,” Wallick said. “In his job interview, the man said that he would be punctual, reliable, and a hard worker and that his family relied on his income to provide for their well-being. That’s what it’s all about.”

The man began crying himself -- in part because he wanted to continue taking the last two classes, she said.

But it’s been a long road to the recent successes. The journey actually began in January 2009 when the Miami County board re-assessed the group’s strategic framework, adopted new outcome policies and expanded their capacity by embracing new partnerships to offer Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to every Miami County child born at Duke’s Hospital, Wallick said.

“These partnerships propelled us forward by targeting educational attainment for students and adults, and financial programs for under-resourced residents, and promoting self-sufficiency,” Wallick said.

To increase their capacity, United Way of Miami County:

• Leveraged what are called “Indiana Association of United Way’s Work2Gether grant dollars” to include a “financial stability initiative”

• Created a five year strategic plan called “Bold Goals 2020”

• Strengthened their partnerships with the Maconaquah, North Miami and Peru school corporations, the Miami County Career Success Coalition and Dukes Memorial Hospital

• And worked with agencies to measure outcomes in education, income, and health.

The results have been impressive, she said. Since 2009:

The Imagination Library has provided books to children from birth to age five. The schools pay for children to participate and Dukes Memorial Hospital pays for marketing material and provides the names of newborns for the program. United Way administers the program, with 412 children currently enrolled – and 195 have graduated, said Wallick.

Meanwhile, reading literacy increased by 77 percent for participating children. At the same time, pre- and post-test scores showed an increase of 57 percent in social, emotional, and cognitive skills required for children to succeed in kindergarten. Parent engagement in kindergarten also went up by 50 percent, she said.

In addition, United Way partnered with the local Career Success Coalition and all three school corporations to 2014 to establish two “Bold Goals,” Wallick said.

• A 90 percent high school graduation rate, now on track with 90.9 percent students graduating and 30 percent of those will obtain a post-secondary degree or certificate

• 67 percent of students went on to either a 4-year or 2-year post-secondary degree last year

• Six percent went on to a vocational or technical school.

This was accomplished, in part, by paying seniors for either a college application fee or ACT/SAT test fee, as well as support with FAFSA applications, she said.

The Work2Gether Initiative for Financial Stability began in 2015 in partnership with Purdue Extension and other volunteers, she said. That includes a 6-week Financial Stability workshop and a 2-week healthy eating and meal preparation course for individuals and families.

Taught by volunteer experts, the financial workshops increased knowledge in budgeting, credit counseling, reducing debt, increasing savings, and reducing reliance on high–cost financial service providers, she said.

This initiative has two “Bold Goals,” Wallick said: to reduce the number of lower-income families who are financially dependent and increasing the employment rate among program participants in just two years.

As a result of the program, there was a 39 percent reduction in the number of lower-income families who are financially dependent among those who participated, Wallick said. And of class attendees, 94 percent have become employed or employable, she said.

Just like the elderly senior who recently landed a new job.

These achievements are even more impressive knowing United Way of Miami County raises just under $200,000 annually and has a full-time staff of just one and a half.

“This work doesn’t happen without robust board, committee leadership and daily staff commitment. It’s a true team effort,” Wallick said.

United Way of Miami County President Cindy Fouts Stone was also on hand when the group was honored with the Bright Star Award. “I am grateful for the leadership provided by Executive Director Debi Wallick and her dedication to our community,’ said Fouts Stone. “The award acknowledges the measurable progress being made towards improving life for citizens in Miami County.”