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United Way of Central Iowa releases Community Report, presents Live United Awards


Sean Vicente, United Way of Central Iowa board chair, and Grant Kvalheim, president and CEO of Athene USA, accepting the Spirit of Central Iowa Award, which was awarded to Athene at Monday’s Live United celebration. Photo submitted by United Way of Central Iowa

Central Iowa is facing significant needs, from access to quality, affordable child care to reduced third grade reading proficiency scores, according to the United Way of Central Iowa’s 2022 Community Report released during Monday’s Live United celebration.

The United Way of Central Iowa also recognized 20 organizations and three individuals with Live United Awards, and named its 2022 Spirit of Central Iowa Award winner during Monday’s celebration at the Meadows Events and Conference Center.

Mary Sellers, the organization’s president, said while the community is experiencing significant need and some instability, the United Way and the community have a 105-year history of coming together to overcome those challenges.

“We have been here before,” Sellers said. “From the Great Depression through wars and natural disasters, United Way of Central Iowa has been here to help Central Iowans stand strong amidst crisis, uniting people across our community to navigate challenges together through hard work, exceptional generosity and a spirit of collaboration. Our path forward is built with hope, courage and determination.”

Sellers said the organization’s United to Thrive strategies, unveiled last year, provide a path forward to help Central Iowans thrive. That includes addressing the five elements that United Way officials say are needed for a thriving community. They are:

  • Essential needs.
  • Early childhood success.
  • Education success.
  • Economic opportunity.
  • Health and well-being.

The United to Thrive strategies build on growth and progress of the past decade, which was focused more on meeting residents’ foundational needs. Progress will be measured through multiple community metrics.

Officials say each of the strategies emphasizes equity and eliminating barriers to opportunities for Iowans to thrive.

Highlights from the Community Report include:

  • 1 in 4 Central Iowa households are “housing burdened,” spending at least 30% of their income on housing.
  • There are 30% fewer child care providers in Central Iowa than there were five years ago.
  • 4.5% of Central Iowans who have jobs are living in extreme poverty [an annual household income of $27,750 or less for a family of four].
  • Third grade reading proficiency scores in Central Iowa have dropped 23% in the past two years.
  • 24% of Iowa teens contemplated suicide last year.

During Monday’s celebration, Athene received the Spirit of Central Iowa Award for its efforts to increase giving and volunteering by its employees. It was the second consecutive year that Athene won the award.

According to the United Way of Central Iowa, Athene’s corporate and employee giving increased 27.8% to more than $1.56 million and employees volunteered more than 5,000 hours last year. Athene was also recognized for its continued focus on advocating for education to help students in Des Moines schools succeed.

Individuals and organizations that received Live United awards Monday:


  • Molly Ver Mulm received the Game Changer Award for strong leadership during Shazam’s 2021 United Way Campaign.
  • Mira Yusef received the Impact Maker Award for advocacy extending beyond gender-based violence in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
  • Sedona Traljesic received the Hand Raiser Award for volunteer work to help Afghan refugees.


  • NCMIC, F&G and Krause Group received the Game Changer Award.
  • Beckley Automotive Repair, Shazam and Principal received the Impact Maker Award.
  • McGill Junge Wealth Management, ITA Group and Nationwide received the Hand Raiser Award.

Sean Vicente, United Way of Central Iowa board chair, said celebrating everyone who contributes to making Des Moines a thriving community is a “great experience.”

“Being together with the companies and organizations that bring this work to life is such an honor,” he said. “It’s no secret we’ve experienced some tough times, but I know that with this community behind us, United Way is going to make great strides to improve Central Iowa.”

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