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Central Iowa United Way: Evictions up, child care openings down

Live United award winners announced during annual celebration

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The United Way of Central Iowa held its United to Thrive celebration Tuesday at the Meadows Events and Conference Center. Photo submitted by the United Way

The number of evictions in Central Iowa rose 35% from 2021 to 2022, and more than 1,000 child care openings in Polk County have been lost since mid-2022, according to the United Way of Central Iowa’s 2023 Community Report, released Tuesday.

The report was unveiled during the United Way’s Live United celebration luncheon at the Meadows Events and Conference Center, where it also recognized four organizations and three individuals with Live United Awards.

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Mary Sellers

In a release issued before the event, Mary Sellers, United Way of Central Iowa’s president, said that the report addresses critical issues the community is facing, and that the organization is navigating through the issues in partnership with other groups and individuals in the community.

“We focus on not only the Five Elements of a Thriving Community with equity at the center, but on how, like a puzzle, each piece is interconnected,” she said.

Under its United to Thrive strategy, adopted in 2021, the United Way of Central Iowa addresses challenges identified within five elements of a thriving community, including essential needs, childhood success, education success, economic opportunity, and health and well-being.

Progress is measured and tracked through multiple community metrics compared with the three goals from the previous decade. The strategies and initiatives place special emphasis on equity and reducing or eliminating barriers to ensure every Central Iowan has the ability to thrive.

Highlights from the 2023 Community Report:

Essential needs

  • Evictions in Central Iowa increased by 35% from 2021 to 2022. That amounts to nearly 20 evictions a day.

What’s being done

  • United Way convenes expert work groups to identify and enact solutions in housing, food Insecurity, reentry and other poverty-related issues. The organization also funds programs such as food pantries, homeless shelters for adults and families, and those providing legal representation involving evictions, landlord/tenant counseling, and case management, along with funding to support building and rehabilitating affordable housing units, all to assist families in breaking the cycle of poverty and unstable housing.

Early childhood success  

  • Polk County has lost more than 1,000 licensed child care openings since mid-2022.

What’s being done

  • United Way supports child care initiatives by working with partners to provide high-quality, affordable child care for low-income families, and advocates for policies to increase the availability of child care and compensation for child care providers.

Education success

  • Twenty-six percent of Central Iowa high school graduates don’t know what they’re doing after graduation.

What’s being done

  • United Way works with schools and partners to support initiatives and programs that help students graduate and understand their options after high school. The United Wayfinder program offers middle school and high school students introductions to employment options, including skilled labor.

Health and well-being

  • Thirty-three percent of Iowa adults were not able to receive the mental health treatment they needed.

What’s being done

  • United Way provides funding to multiple partners offering mental health care services to individuals and families of low income. United Way also works to create access to resources that support healthy lifestyles.   

During Tuesday’s celebration, the United Way of Central Iowa also recognized individuals and organizations with Live United awards for the work they do to improve the lives of others.

This year’s award winners include:

The Spirit of Central Iowa Award, which went to Athene, where corporate and employee giving increased 24.7% from the previous year to more than $1.9 million. Athene volunteers also participated in the United Way’s Day of Action, with 363 volunteers working 920 hours. Athene also continued its long-standing work to advocate for education, helping equip students in the Des Moines area for success in school.

Live United Leaders

  • Christine Bruner, for exceptional work in early childhood success.
  • Breanne Ward, for her work in connecting Central Iowans to programs and mentors necessary for them to have a thriving life.
  • Connie Wimer, for dedicated efforts in mentoring young students to have a plan beyond high school graduation.

Live United Champions

  • Bankers Trust
  • Ruan
  • Shazam

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