We've all heard about how COVID has upended the lives of people all over the country, whether it be through job loss, financial difficulties or many other negative consequences. But what is easy to forget or overlook is that even before COVID, thousands of families in Central Oregon were already struggling.
"In Central Oregon, in 2018—before the pandemic—37,500 of our households were living on the edge," says Diana Fischetti, Director of Development and Marketing for United Way of Central Oregon. "27,000 were ALICE households—households that earn incomes above the federal poverty level but less than what it takes to survive in their communities."
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This information comes from a financial hardship study that United Way of Central Oregon commissions every two years. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained Employed, which would describe someone who is employed with an income above the federal poverty level but is living paycheck to paycheck with no savings, or has to decide between things like having childcare or paying rent, according to unitedforalice.org.
United Way Central Oregon has realized that typically when people fall into a vulnerable category, it requires a multifaceted approach to help them. For example, just because someone has the resiliency to figure out how to make ends meet every month doesn't mean they are financially stable or are really thriving in their community. So, the mission of UWCO is to "fight for the health, education, financial stability and resiliency of every person in our Central Oregon community," Fischetti says.
To make this possible, UWCO takes a three-step approach. The first step is a needs assessment, like the financial hardship study. From there they work on finding funding through grants and other opportunities. The final step is to take collective action, which oftentimes means distributing money to other organizations in the area that are already well established.
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This has been the process for the almost 70 years that UWCO has been a part of the Central Oregon community. During that time, they have been pivoting and shifting to help the needs of the community as those needs change as well.
"Our United Way knows how to rapidly mobilize funding and redirect it immediately to be in the hands of those who need it most, and how to allocate resources so that they can make the greatest impact on those who need the most help," Fischetti explains.
Although the name of the organization used to focus more on Deschutes County, it was in name only as UWCO has always helped residents of Crook and Jefferson counties, as well as members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
One specific program that UWCO has been focusing on recently is TRACEs—Trauma, Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experiences. This movement is a collective partnership between over 150 private, public and nonprofit partners in the Central Oregon area.
"Since it started, TRACEs has touched over 8,200 lives in an effort to tackle the root cause of challenges faced by many in our community," Fischetti says. "It's raising awareness of the effects of trauma, reducing its impact in the community, and building resilience in individuals, families, and our community."
Trauma that happens during childhood can have long-lasting impacts throughout an individual's life, especially if never truly addressed. Chronic exposure to trauma affects how a child's brain develops, which is why it can literally change an individual's life for the worse.
United Way of Central Oregon and TRACEs take a two-pronged approach to addressing these traumas. One approach is immediate - giving people assistance to address the needs they are currently facing. This is where the flexibility and timeliness of the organization can have a huge impact, especially in the short term. One way they do this is by giving funding to other organizations in the area, such as Bethlehem Inn, Family Access Network and KIDS Center. These organizations are already working with people who need support, so the funding can be used right away.
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The other approach they take is more long term, but just as impactful. By looking into why childhood trauma occurs, TRACEs and UWCO can address the long-term cause and effect so that hopefully the trauma can stop because people are getting the assistance they need.
"Not everyone is dealt the same hand in life," Fischetti says. "Often, circumstances are a vigorous and robust pipeline to failure. United Way Central Oregon is working upstream to address the root cause of issues that are immediate today, so that they don't exist tomorrow."
There are many ways community members can get involved with UWCO, whether it's on an individual level, or as a company/employer. Giving a financial gift is the best way to ensure someone in Central Oregon gets the assistance they need. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org