United Way of Lake and Sumter CEO talk new programs, what’s next

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LEESBURG – The CEO of United Way of Lake & Sumter Counties is taking the organization by storm.

During Monica Wofford’s two years in this role, she worked to expand the organization’s reach in South Lake and Sumter counties, establish new programs and services, and move away from the United Way model of your Grand parents.

Wofford spoke with the Daily Commercial about how the organization is run and what it does to meet community needs. She also reflects on some of her biggest accomplishments to date and her aspirations for the future of the nonprofit.

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“Not your average Centraide”

United Way is a Leesburg-based non-profit organization focused on providing service and assistance to those in the community who need it most.

United Way’s mission is “to create lasting change in our communities by meeting the greatest needs of our community in the areas of income, health and education, providing opportunities to improve the quality of life of ‘at least 40% of our residents’.

But Wofford points out that it’s not the same United Way that most people know.

“This is not your average United Way. We are not the United Way your grandparents grew up with and we are not the average United Way in the entire international United Way community, as we offer seven different programs that directly serve our local community,” she said. .

Wofford explained that the local organization model is different from the “original community chest map in a Monopoly game”.

The money arrived through Centraide and was routed to other local entities or agencies. The focus was not on direct services.

“It’s the old United Way model,” Wofford said. “We treat United Way much more like a business. We deliver programs and services directly.

And United Way does not receive money from any international organization or state or federal entity. Instead, “we breed local and it stays local,” Wofford said.

“Thus, funding from all influencers in Lake and Sumter counties goes to individual customers and needs met in Lake and Sumter counties.”

Keep overhead costs low

Currently, United Way has a team of 20 employees, which grew from seven at the start of Wofford’s tenure.

“These team members are some of the hardest working people our community has ever seen and it’s such a gift to watch them,” she said. “You know I have to beg them to come home. Like no, you won’t be working all weekend – you’ll be coming home. I’m really, really proud of the team we’ve built and we’ll continue to build outstanding individuals who contribute.”

Still, the organization’s overhead is low, Wofford explained.

Instead of building new offices, United Way often uses shared space at Brick and Mortar facilities primarily with their existing partner agencies to reduce costs.

“It’s not about rushing to expand for expansion, but about expanding where the need is greatest and where it makes the most financial sense for us to spend our donated funds,” she said.

Currently, 8% of United Way funding is dedicated to general administrative costs.

“So 92% of every dollar goes to local needs,” Wofford said.

Expansion to South Lake and Sumter County

Since Wofford began her role as CEO of United Way, she has focused on expanding the reach of the organization, particularly in South Lake County.

“It’s one of the biggest growth areas,” Wofford said. “South Lake is definitely among the 10 fastest growing regions in Central Florida.”

Census data shows that Clermont has grown exponentially. In April 2010, the population was 28,742. This number increased in 2020 to 43,021 people.

This growth has not stopped. And as more people come to the area amid an affordable housing crisis, there is a growing need for United Way’s services.

“There are more clients or potential clients for us who are struggling to pay their rent, or a challenge to find housing, or a challenge to buy food and pay their rent and pay their mortgage,” she said. “Also, with the creation of COVID and the outcrops and ramifications of that, the need is definitely going to be greater where there’s a greater population.”

She says the number of residents in an area can often increase the number of needs, and that’s where United Way comes in.

Michelle Dean, Director of Educational Programs, assists a Master Teacher Program student in South Lake County.

One of the many programs offered in South Lake County is the Master Teacher Program, a training initiative aimed at improving the quality of preschools.

“We go to preschool learning centers – which are in most cases struggling – and we raise the abilities, skills and abilities of instructors and students to an average increase of 60% in the ability of children to two to four year olds to learn, express themselves and communicate, giving them a head start on the game to enter the K-12 school system,” she said .

The program has taken place over the past six months at five different centers in South Lake and is just one example of the growth of United Way’s educational services.

Help with COVID-19 relief

For the past two years, United Way has partnered and worked with the county government to provide COVID-19 relief to the community, specifically assisting the county with distributing federal relief funds.

Last year, between August and December, United Way distributed $1.7 million in partnership with Lake County to help fill the gaps people were experiencing primarily due to COVID-related hardships.

She says the organization was fortunate to find a process that worked and was grateful to be seen as a viable partner by Lake County.

Supporting Vets and Helping Create Stronger Families

Over 34,000 veterans live in Lake and Sumter County. United Way works to provide them with employment services, legal assistance, education, health care, stable housing and medical transportation.

United Way Mission United has two ten-passenger buses that are used to transport veterans.

“Those suckers are like rolling American flags. They’re a sight to behold. And it’s an AVA-compliant, ten-passenger bus with a wheelchair lift,” she said. “So having these vehicles available to transport our beloved veterans, whether to the local VA clinic or to Lake Nona, is quite a gift.”

The Mission United bus used to transport Lake and Sumter County veterans.

These two vans could soon turn into three — United Way has applied for a grant to build a garage for a third bus.

Wofford is also particularly proud of the launch of the Stronger Families program, a free 15-week course for local residents focusing on the organization’s main pillars of income, education and health.

“There are five courses focused on improving your income, getting a better job, five courses on getting a GED, going back to school, educational articles, and five courses health oriented – whether it’s shopping on a budget, eating well and not going to fast food all the time, how do you prepare meals for your children when you have three jobs and not the time,” Wofford said.

United Way’s target audience for this program is the working poor.

“It’s an accident far from a major setback or crisis. A $150 flat tire and now they can’t pay the grocery bill. So this 15-week program, one night a week for 15 weeks, was a huge success.” she says.

Their first class had 16 people and five sponsors in Sumter County. The class currently in session in Lake County has 42 entries and five sponsors.

“So we’re definitely gaining momentum and that also shows you that the needs in Lake County are significantly higher right now,” she said.

The program also works with partner agencies to bring in speakers on specific topics.

“They’re able to share extremely valuable information like, ‘How do you buy a house in Lake County? How do you get your roof fixed when you don’t have the money to do it? How do you get your GED at Lake Tech? going back to school at Lake Sumter State College? “, She said. “So we are able to publicize all kinds of services in our county.”

Look forward

Wofford has a very specific goal for the future.

“Personally, the whole team and I agree and are pitching in wholeheartedly – our goal is to double revenue,” she said.

She wants to double the amount of funding they receive by fostering relationships with local businesses, individuals and donors.

Among other things, this money would allow the organization to focus on expanding its health programs.

“Our three big pillars are income, education and health and for years we have done little or nothing in the area of ​​health,” she said. “We now have five classes and Stronger Families to address health, but the big goal is to launch the United for Health division.”

For this division, United Way would hire an employee to oversee the operation and create dental funding, mental health funding, and school funding to address physical obesity.

If all goes well, United for Health Division will launch in April.

“We currently have two major grant applications, so fingers crossed,” Wofford said. “It’s really funding-based. Because starting the division without funding is a much more difficult process.

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