Helping Babies Reach Their First Birthdays

By Rich Desrosiers, Repository Executive Editor

July 9, 2017

In most homes, a baby’s first birthday is celebrated in grand style.

Big parties with gifts and balloons, maybe even a smash cake — although why anyone would buy or bake a cake and not eat it seems like a waste of great sugar (and a subject for another day).

Today’s focus is on the fact too many babies in Stark County aren’t surviving to age 1. Infant mortality rates have improved, but there is still a long way to go, especially among minority groups.

Over the past few weeks, two local agencies waged a friendly competition to bring attention to the issue of infant mortality by collecting items that will make a difference for at-risk families.

Together, the United Way of Greater Stark County and ArtsinStark will donate roughly 10,000 diapers and 20,000 baby wipes for distribution in August at a “Healthy Moms, Healthy babies” event hosted by Mercy Medical Center’s Immigrant Health Outreach Program.

The donation challenge “was a great opportunity to help families in our community and also a way to promote safe sleeping habits,” said Cassie Ausperk, director of the Health Impact Council at the United Way. “One of our ‘Bold Goals: 2020’ is to reduce infant mortality, and we saw this as a way to help reach that goal.”

With some variance, infant mortality numbers generally fall in the mid single digits (per 1,000 live births) for most demographic groups locally, statewide and nationally, Ausperk said. However, it is still slightly above 10 for African-Americans in Ohio — about 25 percent above the comparable national rate.

Low birth weight, premature births and unsafe sleeping environments all contribute to infant deaths. Some of the contributing factors are poverty, smoking, poor nutrition and lack of education.

United Way’s contribution to the “Community Baby Shower” also will include $1,000 to buy “sleepsacks” for mothers to use with their infants. The sleepsacks swaddle the baby and promote healthier sleep habits.

“Safe sleep means the baby is alone, in a crib and on its back,” Ausperk said.

Serious, yet fun

Kimberly Douce, vice president for Community Impact at the United Way, said the competition involving ArtsinStark was a first for the local agencies. She said Maria Heege, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Stark County, “reached out to ArtsinStark, where we have a good relationship.”

On Thursday, Robb Hankins, president and CEO of ArtsinStark, and two of his team members — Kimberly Phillips, director of education; and Steven Kleiber, vice president of advancement — brought their donations to the United Way’s office in downtown Canton. The brief ceremony, which included Ausperk, Douce and Dan Jenkins, United Way’s marketing and volunteer engagement coordinator, featured just the right amount of trash talk for longtime partners who contribute to each other’s annual campaigns and share a mission of improving lives.

“We called in our numbers early,” Hankins said, “so that gave them all night to go to Target and cheat.”

Hankins at first insisted ArtsinStark had collected 250,000 diapers “but someone broke into our office and took them.”

While the real number was far less, the stacks of boxed diapers soon will go to deserving young families as part of a Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies event Aug. 16, along with vital information that could make the difference in determining whether every baby reaches its magical first birthday.

That would be something to celebrate.

For more information about donating to future baby showers, contact Jenkins at daniel.jenkins@uwstark.org

Reach Rich at 330-580-8310 or rich.desrosiers@cantonrep.com

Chuck Ducey: Impact Council Member & MyBudgetCoach Volunteer for United Way of Greater Stark County

Chuck Ducey worked for Diebold 35 years and supported United Way of Greater Stark County through the annual workplace campaign. He heard about United Way’s work in the community work at campaign rallies, and it piqued his curiosity about volunteering. Chuck checked out volunteer opportunities, and decided that he was interested in the area of education. He spoke with Kim Douce of United Way’s Education Impact Council.

 “Kim is a wonderful lady. She encouraged me to come and join the Education Impact Council. That’s how I started out with volunteering with United Way. It was really a great experience.”

Chuck was shocked and amazed at the amount of work involved the allocation process. “That Education Impact Council is composed of different folks with different levels of education…all local folks,” Chuck explains. “The funds allocation process, I can assure you, is an unbelievably rigorous process. I was extremely impressed with it. The people are just unbelievable to work with.”

He also speaks highly of the agencies and programs that receive funding from United Way. “Stark County is very blessed.” He learned that there are numerous agencies operated by people who don’t make a lot of money – but bring lots of passion & hard work, and help a lot of people. “United Way staff & agencies are wonderful people just trying to do good.” Chuck enjoyed the EIC sessions, keeping quiet at first so he could listen and learn as much as possible.

Around this time, United Way was revising the existing Strategic Plan with BOLD GOALS in Education, Income and Health - unique to each community being served. To accommodate this, the Education Impact Council adjusted their framework to support sustainable progress toward 2 local BOLD Goals in Education by 2020: 100% of eligible students being kindergarten ready and 100% of students graduating from high school. “We believe very strongly that hitting those 2 goals would have a very big impact on the community, says Chuck. “We had a lot of support, great people. “

Chuck’s opportunities to volunteer kept increasing. United Way’s Dee Shelton reached out to Chuck about the MyBudgetCoachTM program. “It seemed like a great way to get involved and help people.” He met with Dee & Chrisann Leaman and learned about the tremendous support given to volunteers. He was immediately impressed with the excellent training and great program.

Dee and Kim encouraged Chuck to participate in Bridges Out of Poverty, a full-day training program offered by United Way of Greater Stark County for anyone working with those in poverty. Chuck believes this is one of the most helpful tools to help him work with clients, because he learned about the differences between social-economic classes. The specialized training enhances sensitivity to individuals’ situations, behaviors, thinking, coping skills. “These folks live in the moment. If you want to try to talk with them about 5 or 10 years out, they’re not going to hear you. They’re not going to be receptive to it.” Chuck explains, “Without that training, I never would have had that type of sensitivity.”

Chuck was also made more aware of the reliance upon relationships among those struggling with poverty. “They don’t rely on the written word, contracts, or anything like that. They rely very heavily on relationships.” He saw the level of his clients’ trust increase with the MyBudgetCoach sessions, which led to success in the program. He is inspired by the resourcefulness and can-do attitude of his clients. Understanding that helps make the program more relevant.

The biggest payback for Chuck is working with the clients. “Fantastic, hard-working people who want to learn and do better.” Chuck finds it very rewarding helping people improve their situation. “It’s the best feeling in the world. I hope to have many more, I hope to do more!”

Chuck encourages everyone to get involved with United Way of Greater Stark County. “It’s been a wonderful experience. I suggest that everybody to either support United Way financially or do both – support financially and work as a volunteer, because it does great things for the community. Volunteering with caring and compassionate people at United Way gives me an opportunity to help the community and feel good about the work I am doing. It's all about the people you work with and serve.”

Kevin & Linda Smith: Co-Chairs for the 2017-18 United Way of Greater Stark County Fundraising Campaign

Kevin Smith knows what it’s like to face tough challenges. He grew up in an unstable household with limited resources. He started working at an early age to help his single mother with five children make ends meet. Although he is mindful of his humble beginnings, he also acknowledges a work ethic instilled by his grandfather and how this helped him become resilient and determined. Not one to use a difficult past as an excuse, Kevin eventually earned a computer technology degree and designed software systems for the accounting industry. He started as a sales representative for PPI Graphics in 1976 and purchased the company in 1995.

Kevin has always supported United Way through the workplace giving campaign at PPI Graphics, and in 1997 he was asked by then-CEO Steven Miller about donating the campaign printed materials. Mr. Miller asked Kevin and his wife Linda to tour the YWCA and have their picture taken.

During the tour of the YWCA, Kevin and Linda started learning more about the important work being funded by United Way throughout the community. The experience inspired them to do something to help. They were distressed seeing the number of people struggling with poverty in the community and realized - with their backgrounds and his business success - it was time to get involved.

Kevin began serving on the United Way Health Impact Council and now serves as co-chair. He has served on the Finance and Leadership Committees and Board of Directors, working to guarantee that funds are spent responsibly. He knows that there is a level of trust established between those who donate to a non-profit organization, and those who accept accountability for assuring that the funds are handled responsibly.

In 2015, Kevin was honored with United Way 2015 Gold Key award. He was nominated by Tena Wilson, Executive Director of the Stark County District Library. Tena says Smith is a “great advocate for the children and families of Stark County.” She admires Smith’s get-it-done attitude and always remembers his quote, “I would rather run head first into a wall than sit on the sideline.”

Kevin’s wife Linda shares Kevin’s dedication to the United Way mission and goals. She is an active United Way volunteer, serving as Chair of the Women’s Leadership Council, an organization dedicated to lifting women out of poverty. Linda is passionate about the group – which is about to announce a new name and energized mission statement. “WLC provide a forum for our members to promote the exchange of ideas and experiences, provide networking opportunities, offer educational and cultural programs, enhance the growth of our members as leaders and decision makers,” she explains. “We strive to make a positive contribution to the next generation of women leaders and to our community.”

When Kevin and Linda were approached about serving at 2017 Campaign Co-Chairs, he admits that he was caught off-guard. He wondered what they saw in he and his wife, to entrust them with such responsibility. He was told that they were inspiring.

 “I guess I never saw myself as inspiring.” Kevin explained to attendees at the 2017 United Way of Greater Stark County Annual Meeting Breakfast:

“It is my belief that most people - when asked to accept a challenge - would like to stand up and be inspiring and make inspiring remarks that would lead to great action and have a big emotional response. Well, I don’t see myself as being able to stand up like a great football coach and win one for the Gipper.” But, what we can do is look each and every one of you in the eye, and tell you Linda and I took on this challenge because YOU all inspire US. Your day to day passion for what each and every one of you do every day that makes Stark County one of the most generous and forward thinking areas in our entire county, is inspiring.”

He mentioned some of the work being done every day in our community. “Teaching a child to read is inspiring. Saving one person from a life of addiction is inspiring. Preventing a suicide is inspiring. Working a family through a financial crisis and helping them get on their feet is inspiring. Providing free prescription medication to those in need is inspiring. And countless other programs United Way helps provide is inspiring. How could the two of us top that?”


Ted Swaldo: Co-Chair 2016-17 United Way of Greater Stark County Fundraising Campaign

I would like to share a story with you. As a local business owner, I run a workplace-giving campaign for United Way of Greater Stark County. While reviewing this year’s employee contributions, I discovered that a staff member named Charlie had made a rather generous donation.

I was familiar with Charlie’s job and pay scale, and I was concerned that perhaps he had accidentally put the decimal point in the wrong place on his pledge form. I met with him to discuss this and he assured me that the amount he gave was indeed correct. Charlie then told me about his recent life experience. He explained that - a few years ago – he was married with a son, owned a nice home and was working at a steady job. “Life was good,” he told me. However, he started missing work when his young son was diagnosed with a serious illness. Soon after that, everything fell apart. Charlie lost his job and his son died. His marriage couldn’t survive the tragedy, and his wife moved out. He was able to find a part-time job, but couldn’t afford to keep his home and ended up living in his car. He had lost everything that was dear to him, and it seemed hopeless…until he got help from United Way. He was given financial assistance for things like food and clothing, and even received counseling. Today – he is back on his feet and working full-time. He told me that giving back to United Way is his way to “pay it forward.”

I knew nothing about my employee’s incredible journey until he shared it with me. It made me think about how fortunate I am, and how quickly my life could be turned around by unanticipated events. It also made me consider the people with whom I interact every day - people who have their own story about overcoming obstacles, people who have struggled or are still struggling with financial challenges, unexpected circumstances, health issues. These are the people in our own community who are helped by your donation to United Way of Greater Stark County.

My family and I have been long-time leadership donors to United Way of Greater Stark County, because we knew our gift was making a difference in the lives of people right here in our community. We understand and value the important work being done by this local organization, so we were honored when asked to co-chair the 2016-17 fundraising campaign. We soon realized that what we knew about our United Way was simply the tip of the iceberg, and that this year’s fundraising campaign would have a different emphasis than in year’s past.

Instead of focusing on money, we’re focusing on greater outcomes. There is no thermometer gauging how much money has been raised this year. Instead, United Way of Greater Stark County is focusing on how contributions are leveraged to have the greatest impact on people right here in our community. Instead of focusing on a specific dollar amount, we will be focused on the number of men, women and children who are helped by United Way. Obviously we cannot make these things happen without money, but we are concentrating on how we are affecting lives and getting measurable results.

Our annual campaign launched on September 9th and will run through December 9th. With only a few weeks left, we want to remind everyone that their contribution – big or small – is what fuels the work we do every day in Greater Stark County. The money raised during the campaign will go toward United Way's BOLD GOALS — Education, Income, and Health — United Way's essential building blocks for quality of life. Our real objectives are to make sure kids are prepared to learn when they enter school, they have the support needed to stay in school and graduate, families are financially secure, they have a safe, affordable place to stay, they receive good job training, and we have a healthy community where they can live and thrive.

Right here at home, many businesses and individuals are facing financial challenges right now. Because of this, some of our reliable contributors are not able to make the donations as they had in the past. As we wrap up this year’s campaign, it’s clear that we’re going to come up short. That’s why I’m making this urgent request for your support of United Way and the important work being done throughout Greater Stark County. I believe in United Way’s mission and I know that the organization assists those in need, efficiently and effectively.

You’ll be seeing more stories like Charlie’s in the next few weeks as we wrap-up the annual campaign. I encourage you read these stories and think about how your life would be changed if you encountered similar challenges, then consider how your donation can help someone in a tough situation. You can visit the UWGSC webpage at uwstark.org or call the office at 330-491-0445 to make a donation. Your financial support during this campaign means more Stark County residents will have what they need to lift themselves up all year long.

William Cook: Chair 2016-17, United Way of Greater Stark County Board of Directors

I am proud to re-introduce to you an organization that has been involved in our community well over 75 years. Its people and mission have evolved to be community leaders in addressing and removing obstacles in order to help local men, women and children achieve their full potential - regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, economic position or location. We utilize the various talents of volunteers and staff to develop, operate and fund programs that make a difference in people’s daily lives. This vital organization is your United Way!

As a member of the United Way Board of Directors, I assure you that every activity and resource is used in the most effective, efficient way to maximize the benefit to our community. Did you know that for a $1 investment with United Way, $1.61 is generated in services and funds returned to our fellow residents? This is achieved through the work of fabulous volunteers that give generously of their time and talent to ensure that every dollar invested returns value to those served.

I ask that you spend a few moments to read how YOUR United Way is bringing positive change to our community, and how - with your help - we can move closer to achieving our BOLD GOALS in Education, Income and Health.

You may have seen or heard United Way’s new spokeskid Priah telling you, “Together – We Make Awesome Things Happen!” That’s because United Way knows that a thriving community takes a lot of work, and we can’t do this work without the contributions of many caring people. We improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities…bringing together donors, volunteers, businesses, government entities and other organizations – to work as a team.

In 2014, United Way of Greater Stark County’s Board of Directors approved a strategic plan based upon a new approach known as Community Impact. The process was driven by an evaluation of how the organizational structure and allocation practices have carried out our overall mission and impacted the community. During this process of analysis and renewed focus, the United Way Community Impact volunteers worked on identifying community needs, and how United Way can more effectively address those needs.

The impact councils spent nearly 18 months working with a consultant and issue experts to examine areas of need in 3 categories: EDUCATION, INCOME and HEALTH. Statistics and data were gathered, other United Way models were studied and current community resources were inventoried and discussed. This process identified specific opportunities for improvement in our communities and a renewed commitment to strategic investments with long-term results. We call these our BOLD GOALS for Bold Change.

Let’s start with the BOLD GOAL of EDUCATION. United Way envisions a community that supports and enables all students to reach age-appropriate academic and developmental milestones that lead to graduation and careers. We’re laying the foundation for young people to succeed in life. Through United Way’s funded programs and community collaborations, children and youth will be given the best possible start to develop to their fullest potential.

To support the BOLD GOALS in INCOME, United Way partners with numerous organizations and agencies to help families become self-sufficient and strong.  Financial self-sufficiency is vital to a successful family life, and United Way funded programs work to remove barriers and build skills necessary to attain and maintain employment. This creates a cycle for financial success, and improves the stability of the entire community. United Way’s Income initiative funding is a sustainable investment in prosperity for everyone in Stark County.

The BOLD GOAL in HEALTH supports programs that provide families and individuals with food, shelter and clothing during crisis situations. United Way collaborates with numerous community organizations that help expand access to care for all ages. By promoting healthy behaviors and increasing the availability of preventative care, we create a solid foundation for strong, stable families.
United Way of Greater Stark County finds solutions that create positive change, so our community grows stronger. We couldn’t do this important work without our dedicated team of volunteers. I am honored to serve as Chair of the Board of Directors - 28 people of various backgrounds, all committed to a better future for Greater Stark County. These knowledgeable community leaders give generously of their time, establishing policies and allocating resources to assure that the organization is properly managed. As an active and responsible governing body, the Board of Directors ensures effective governance over the policies and financial resources of the organization.

We also rely upon hundreds of committed individuals who reflect the diversity of the people we serve – contributing their expertise to United Way committees, and participating in numerous year-round events that take place throughout the community.

We can never express enough gratitude for the generous residents of Stark County who donate financially to our annual campaign. In fact, your involvement is our most powerful resource! Because you contribute to our efforts, you are a part of our team. By giving to United Way of Greater Stark County, you are assured that your contribution will be leveraged responsibly to make the most impact toward improving the quality of life in our community, with measurable GOALS. With your help, we can create a better future for Greater Stark County.

United Way of Greater Stark County believes that helping one person is like helping everyone. We envision a community that supports and empowers all men, women and children to prosper and succeed. Our staff and volunteers strive toward BOLD GOALS in EDUCATION, INCOME and HEALTH – to build a better future for everyone in our community. This takes a lot of work, and we can’t accomplish this without you on our team. This spirit of teamwork and collaboration helps the people who need it the most, and bring about positive change. Together – we CAN make awesome things happen in Stark County!

William Cook is Senior Vice President, JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and chair of the United Way of Greater Stark County Board of Directors. For more information about United Way’s BOLD GOALS and strategic vision, visit uwstark.org.