United Way points out area's top needs

Saturday, May 3, 2003

The Area Wide United Way has devoted more than $240,000 over the past three years to address "critical needs" in Southeast Missouri, but executive director Nancy Jernigan told a group of business leaders on Friday that there's plenty more to do.

"Get involved," Jernigan said at the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce-sponsored First Friday Coffee. "If you're a banker, look at your portfolios to see how you can help people buy homes. If you're a parent, talk to your kids about drugs. If you're a business owner, get your employees involved in a service project."

The United Way, its paid staff and the volunteers who drive the group know something about getting involved. Jernigan went over a report that showed how the group has addressed four critical areas of need -- transportation, affordable housing, youth substance abuse and assistance to low-income families.

The United Way devotes 10 percent of its overall campaign funds to addressing those issues every year. It basically has given $80,000 a year to groups over the past three years, Jernigan said.

For example, the United Way has given $10,000 to Cape County Transit Authority, $10,000 to Habitat for Humanity, $8,000 to DARE and $10,000 to help families find child care. The list of other groups that the United Way has given money to is lengthy.

Janet B. Ruopp, treasurer of the Habitat for Humanity board, said they never could afford a full-time employee until getting a $10,000 one-time grant in 2001. They used that money to help pay a full-time construction manager.

Since that employee was hired, they have completed five Habitat homes in two years.

"Our building has accelerated because of our ability to have somebody work full-time," Ruopp said. "We couldn't have done it without the critical-needs funding from the United Way."

The United Way's four areas of need were prioritized after a community assessment process in 1999. Members of a United Way special board met with business leaders, charitable organizations and civic agencies to gather information.

"We needed a focus," Jernigan said. "We knew we could never raise enough money to meet all of the needs in the community, so we chose these as the most critical."

They modified their data over the last year. They learned:

Statistics show that 38 out of every 1,000 teenage girls in Cape Girardeau County between the ages of 15 to 19 have babies.

There is an estimated demand for transportation of 2,000 trips per day from area senior citizens, disabled people and the poor. Existing transport services -- such as Kelley Transportation and Cape County Transit Authority -- provide only 550 trips per day.

57.3 percent of Cape Girardeau residents own their own home, below state and national averages.

54.5 percent of Missouri students have used alcohol in their lifetime.

Almost 30 percent of Missouri students questioned had used alcohol in the previous 30 days.

14 percent of students from grades 6 to 12 had used drugs in the past 30 days.

The Salvation Army saw housing assistance needs go up 21 percent last year, prescription drug assistance grow by 32 percent and food assistance requests increase by 15 percent.

"We've gotten people off of welfare," Jernigan said. "But now we have this group of working poor we have to deal with."

To address the transportation shortage, they plan to begin meeting with current providers to see what challenges they are seeing. They also want to work with Cape County Transit Authority to develop a plan to fill gaps and develop a transportation system that better meets the needs of the community, Jernigan said.

For youth drug abuse, the United Way is looking at public awareness campaigns for parents, educators and children.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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