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Local will to help others finds a new 'Way'

Jenni Marsh, president and CEO for United Way of Delaware and Henry Counties, speaks during Wednesday’s Henry County Commissioners meeting.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Where there's people with a united will to help others, there's a way.

Wednesday night, Henry County Commissioners heard a presentation by Jenni Marsh, president and CEO of what is now United Way of Delaware and Henry Counties.

Marsh, who has local family ties, said she's eager to help pick up where the former Henry County United Fund left off when it dissolved last summer.

“First and foremost, we try to figure out how we can work ourselves out of a job," Marsh said. "United Ways fight for the health, education and financial stabilities of every person in every community. We want to live in a community that doesn’t need a United Way."

Marsh emphasized that while the combined organization will operate under the name United Way of Delaware and Henry Counties, money raised here will stay here.

Henry County hasn't had a United Way affiliation since 1997, when it broke ties with the national organization and became the United Fund.

"The change means it will have the benefit of a United Way staff to help the community examine goals, needs and funding potential to reach identified objectives as well as organizational structure in place to deliver on those objectives," Marsh explained. 

The need here is still high.

“So what would Henry County look like if it didn’t need a United Way?” Marsh asked rhetorically. Then she cited statistics that her office hopes to reduce and possibly eliminate in United Way efforts to come. She said:

• 16 percent of Henry County households live in poverty and qualify for public assistance;

• 28 percent of Henry County households "are what we call ALICE – asset limited, income constrained and employed," Marsh said. “These are families that are working hard, really hard, sometimes two and three jobs trying to meet their basic budget but barely able to do so. They don’t have enough money to set aside for personal savings or a safety net or any kind of asset building like buying a home or getting an education. They really live one crisis away from sliding into poverty. Those are the families the United Way really tries to help."

When those two statistics are combined, it means nearly 50 percent of residents here could use help from organizations the United Way serves.

But during her remarks Wednesday, Marsh emphasized the United Way's most important tools are ears, not voices.

“We start first and foremost by listening to and learning from our community members,” Marsh said. "What are the biggest challenges you face and how can we overcome them together?

"So we’re going on a listening tour," Marsh continued. "We’re listening to and learning from community members all across the county, trying to find out what Henry County’s hopes and aspirations are for your fellow communities so we can find and impact agenda that really transforms this community for the long term."

Marsh – whose mother is Linda McGalliard, a well-known former teacher and principal at Shenandoah Elementary School – said Henry County's transition back to the United Way would also include a new use for the former United Fund office.

"We are interested in forming a THRIVE Center in what was formerly the Henry County United Fund office," she said at the Commissioners meeting. “This is a center that brings federal dollars into Henry County for the citizens of Henry County and to help those struggling families put aside some safety net savings, some asset building saving and get to where they really want to go with their careers and their lives.

"This space is perfect for us to do some financial coaching, to get some guidance and some work development coaching, to put to use some barrier-busting resources," Marsh continued.

The Commissioners unanimously approved Marsh's request to use the former United Fund office on 1201 Race Street, Suite 103 in downtown New Castle.

Marsh emphasized the United Fund’s highly successful annual Day of Caring event — during which hundreds of volunteers make a huge difference across the community — will continue. The event in 2019 will be Friday, Sept. 6.

“This is an incredible Day of Caring that is much bigger than any single organization,” Marsh explained. “We are so fortunate to have Hope Initiative taking a lead on this effort and serving as the fiscal agent for the event. The Community Foundation and organizations across the community are critical to the day’s success.”