I am proud and humbled to serve as both the president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber and as a board member for the United Way of South Hampton Roads. These two roles give me a front row seat to the intersection of business and community.
The Chamber serves as an advocate for the region, always trying to set conditions for the business community to succeed. As such, we recognize that to make lasting positive change it’s imperative for local businesses to support the community.
The Chamber and the new president and CEO of United Way of South Hampton Roads, Michele Anderson, understands we must work together to ensure our region benefits from inclusive economic growth as the business community prospers. And, most important, that we do not leave behind our neighbors who need us the most.
United Way has been supporting our neighbors in need for 96 years – bringing businesses, organizations, and people together to lift community members out of poverty. United Way creates solutions to problems that are too big for any one person to solve alone, and the Chamber is proud to be at that table.
Our challenges are significant. Throughout the region, thousands of families, young children and veterans are living through disparities such as homelessness, unemployment and financial issues. According to Greater Hampton Roads Connects, 9% of the region is living below the poverty level, with 53.6% of the region spending 30% or more of their household income on rent alone.
Our region is home to 230,000 veterans – nearly 12,000 of them live in poverty. And one in three children in our region is growing up in poverty – one in five of them will not graduate from high school. United Way helps to alleviate these issues for people in need by giving them access to critical services such as food, housing support, employment and affordable child care.
United Way is working to build a continuum of support to those who need it most – children, veterans and families in or near poverty. A true beacon of collaboration, they partner with over 100 local agencies to support our citizens in times of crisis and instability. The ultimate goal, of course, is to help get them back on their feet with the tools necessary to become self-sufficient, thriving members of our community.
One of the many programs United Way leads is United for Children. This program brings together community partners to provide resources and opportunities for children and families at risk of falling into extreme poverty.
Since the program’s launching in 2012, the United Way has served more than 25,000 children, remains dedicated to increasing graduation rates in local schools and ensuring that young children are socially, emotionally and intellectually ready for school.
Mission United is another United Way program supporting local veterans, active-duty military members and their families. More than 3,700 have been served, and United Way boasts over 70 community partners actively aiding the military community. Additionally, Aspire, a partnership launched by United Way’s Women United leadership group, helps at-risk women and their families by moving them out of crisis situations and providing mentoring to help them set goals and take steps to transform their lives.
Through a collective impact approach, United Way’s role in South Hampton Roads is a convener, problem solver, and community funder.
“We know that corporate social responsibility is important to you, and it’s important to us too. We want to be the go-to corporate social responsibility partner for local companies. From employee giving to volunteer activities, we want to partner with local businesses to inspire philanthropic and community-minded employees,” Anderson said.
“The business community can also support our efforts by sharing high-quality employment opportunities with United Way staff, which we will then pass along to clients who might be a good fit.”
It’s critical the business community supports the United Way of South Hampton Roads, and works together to lift vulnerable community residents out of poverty and end the systemic cycles. Taking care of all residents, mainly those most at-risk, builds stronger communities from which we all benefit. This is why I view supporting United Way as a long-term investment in our community and our future.