HomeBensalem TimesUnited Way of Bucks County hosts annual breakfast meeting

United Way of Bucks County hosts annual breakfast meeting

The United for Good event featured emotional testimonials, awards and details on an expanded HELP Center

More than a meeting: Marissa Christie, president/CEO, United Way of Bucks County, speaks at the annual United for Good celebration. Source: United Way of Bucks County

United Way of Bucks County’s annual breakfast on May 5 wasn’t just your average meeting. Rather, it was a chance for the nonprofit to highlight the good that it’s able to do in the community with the help of partners, advocates, donors and volunteers.

“Today, we’re really here to celebrate the ways in which together, we can change lives for good,” said Marissa Christie, president and CEO of UW Bucks.

Throughout the event, which took place in-person at Bucks County Community College and via livestream, attendees heard emotional testimonials from individuals who have been aided by UW Bucks, which aims to create opportunities for quality education, financial stability and good health to ensure real, lasting change in the county.

Ryan N. is the first participant to complete the new LIFT (Learn to Invest in Your Future and Thrive) United program, a collaboration among UW Bucks, Penn Community Bank, the County of Bucks and Credit Counseling Center that helps ALICE (asset-limited, income-constrained, employed) residents build financial skills, improve their credit scores, put a down payment on a vehicle and/or secure a low-interest used car loan.

For Ryan, the program helped him get more than just a vehicle. He was able to draft a roadmap of what he needs to do for a better future, including learning about his credit and how to be financially responsible.

“I’m now at the point where I’m able to get my own apartment,” he said, adding that this couldn’t have happened without the budgeting lessons instilled upon him in LIFT United.

Jeane M. Vidoni, president and CEO of Penn Community Bank, who has been on the UW Bucks board of directors for nine years, explained how important it is to help ALICE, which accounts for 27 percent of the population at any given time. These individuals are above the poverty line, yet they can struggle to cover the cost of basic needs and earn too much to qualify for government assistance programs.

“This [LIFT United] helps ALICE families remain stable and stably-employed,” she said. “When we support ALICE, we support our whole community because we are all connected.”

Paul Bencivengo, COO of Visit Bucks County, added that there are many ALICE workers in the hospitality industry. If they don’t have access to reliable transportation or solid child care, this may prevent them from being able to work, which affects their place of employment (especially small businesses) and has a trickle-down effect on the hospitality industry.

Raymond Santiago, UW Bucks director of development, stressed that ALICE requires a quick response. When families come to the nonprofit, they’re already in an urgent situation. He shared the story of Emily, who should’ve been celebrating her new, higher-paying government job. However, when she took in her daughter and grandchildren, she struggled to financially support them and pay her rent. Despite facing eviction, her income was too high to qualify for assistance. Upon contacting UW Bucks, the organization worked directly with her landlord to provide one-time rental assistance, which helped her get back on track.

United for Good attendees also heard from Elissa H., a shopper at the HELP (Healthy Eating and Living Partnership) Center, a collaboration among UW Bucks, Bucks County Opportunity Council and St. Mary Medical Center, with support from Penn Community Bank. At the Bristol-based warehouse, locals can secure cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items and other essentials through a dignified personal shopping experience, all free of charge.

Elissa was newly-sober and ready to start a fresh chapter, and the folks at the HELP Center managed to lift her up as she put her life back together.

“The HELP Center is not merely a food pantry or a place to go when you need things for your home,” said Elissa. “It is the very embodiment of community. The United Way shows us all every day what it means to truly love your neighbor. My life is still not perfect, and I still struggle every day. But every day, I get up and continue pushing forward knowing that no matter what, I have my family at United Way.”

Currently, Elissa is in a new marriage, secured a loan to buy a new car and is a proud small business owner.

During the event, UW Bucks recognized several individuals and organizations with awards. Matt Hanson, Police and Fire Federal Credit Union, received the Board Excellence Award. He was chosen by his peers for his dedication to the organization and community, which includes working with New Hope Celebrates and its annual Pride Fest. This award came with the ability to designate a $2,500 gift to a UW Bucks member agency of the winner’s choice, with Hanson selecting Credit Counseling Center.

“I’m excited about where United Way of Bucks County is going and I can’t wait to help out even more in the future,” he said.

The United for Community Award went to local nonprofit One House at a Time, which helps families who are lacking resources establish a self-sufficient life by providing the necessities of a functional home environment. Over the past year, OHAT worked with the HELP Center to provide 69 children with cozy, clean beds.

OHAT executive director Kate Fay accepted the award on behalf of the nonprofit, which she said is comprised of only four people. According to Fay, it’s not about the beds or other items given out. She said, “It’s about the impact it has on their health from the point that they receive the bed ongoing through the rest of their childhood. It just allows them the opportunity to thrive.” Fay added that it provides a sense of dignity and self-worth.

Julie Frantz, who started volunteering at the HELP Center in 2021 (and has been there every week since), received the United in Service Award.

Last but not least, Vidoni earned the United for Impact Award, which goes to an individual or group that builds a stronger community by contributing to the interconnected areas of education, financial stability and health.

The breakfast event concluded with some exciting news from Christie: UW Bucks is looking to expand the physical space of its HELP Center.

“We want something not just good, we want something great,” she said. “We want our new space to be the kind of place that really rises up to meet people, where when our guests come through that front door, they decompress just a little bit knowing that they are not only going to get help, they’re going to be treated with love, courtesy, dignity, respect.”

More details are expected to come over the next year.

Visit uwbucks.org or call 215-949-1660 for more information.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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