It likely comes as no surprise that community conditions aren’t improving for many of our Lake County neighbors. With all of the hard work being carried out by social service agencies, concerned citizens, volunteers, faith-based and municipal organizations across the region, the needle for many families is just not moving. Realizing this, the Staff and Board of Directors at Lake Area United Way thought long and hard about our role in the community and our responsibility to serve those who truly need it—those who aren’t looking for a handout, but could really use a hand up. With so many in need, how would we identify one specific area on which to focus? In doing so, would we leave out others who are also so deserving of assistance? We found ourselves at a crossroads. It was time to make changes in how we operate and redirect our efforts to create sustainable and lasting change in Lake County.
While being driven, focused, excited and admittedly overwhelmed at times, we have mapped out our transition to an issue-focused organization. It’s a carefully considered journey marked with milestones and goals. We’ve held many discussions with stakeholders and those who will be most affected by our shift. We’ve poured over data, reports and survey responses. We consulted with the top economic and workforce development leaders in Northwest Indiana. We partnered with One Region and The Times Media Co., and launched our “Let’s Talk” initiative, an opportunity to host community discussions during which residents shared their areas of concerns and pointed out hurdles they feel hold Lake County back. They confided in us their sincere hopes, aspirations and visions for an ideal Lake County. We compiled our findings. The picture was painted.
It was painted, and it’s stark. One in four of Lake County’s working households is on the edge of survival. As revealed in the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Study of Financial Hardship, 43,860 Lake County households earn more than the U.S. poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living for the county. Simply put, our hard working neighbors, despite their very best efforts, do not have access to much needed supports or assistance. You likely know someone who is struggling, faced with hard choices no working families should have to make. Maybe it’s you, the family next to you at church or the child that sits next to yours in school. These families work hard. Despite making countless sacrifices, making ends meet is next to impossible. They face hard choices daily: repair the car to get to work or pay for the necessary prescription medicine? Pay for safe, quality child care or pay the utility bills? Go to the doctor or put food on the table? What would you do? There is no good choice. Each possible outcome has long-term consequences.
Essentially the whole community suffers when working families are forced to live on the edge of survival. Extra burdens are shouldered by the already stressed educational and health care systems. Without sufficient resources, our working neighbors cannot afford emergencies in their lives, which leads to instability within the community, higher taxes, and stunted economic growth. Indiana’s cost of living is higher than what our neighbors earn. We need to help bridge the gap and help our neighbors reach a place of stability, independence and success.
You may be wondering how Lake Area United Way plans to address this problem. We’ll set out to educate our donors and the entire community about the hard facts and issues that face so many of our neighbors. We’ll serve as a backbone organization, convening those who have a stake in this issue. We’ll oversee the process and make sure the management of data is concise, ensuring we are serving as many in our community as possible. Perhaps most importantly, we will listen to the families themselves, to determine how we can help those who find themselves living on the edge. We’ll focus on creating conditions which strengthen families, to prevent them from falling into a situation of instability. Lake Area United Way will be pulling out all the stops to help families living on the edge of survival – through targeted programs concentrating in education, health and achieving financial stability.
We’ll be looking to you as well. Won’t you please help bridge the gap? Stability throughout Lake County equates to a brighter future for all.
(Originally Published 10/25/2015 - The Times of NWI)