Aug. 10 at 11:37 a.m. the landscape of Jasper County, Iowa changed significantly when a derecho with long-lasting 95+mph winds blew through Mingo, Ira, Baxter, Colfax, Newton, Kellogg, Sully and Lynnville.
Before Aug. 10 most of us had never heard of a derecho or knew what it was. But after the 45 minutes of torrential downpour and straight line winds ripped through it was clear a derecho was something we would never forget.
While the storm was terrifying, the not knowing the condition of homes and businesses and safety of friends and family was exponentially worse. Jasper County was fortunate as there were few serious injuries caused by the storm but the trees, crops and property did not fair as well.
United Way of Jasper County stepped in to partner with Jasper County EMA, The Way and Community Heights Alliance Church to coordinate clean up efforts for elderly and disabled individuals who were impacted by the storm. From Aug. 17-22, more than 80 individuals volunteered more than 1,000 hours helping 93 homes throughout Jasper County. Jobs ranged from small (raking and removing small debris from yards) to very large (7 massive oak trees falling across a yard). Some jobs were beyond the scope of what we could do and we partnered with Brandon Talsma and Dave Cupples that had access to larger equipment. We also had help from the Drake men's basketball team, Newton Cardinals football team, TPI and several other churches, organizations and individuals who stepped out to help neighbors and strangers in the aftermath.
If you would have asked me if I thought Iowa would see a hurricane I would have thought you were making stuff up for a movie. But after experiencing hurricane strength winds and seeing the aftermath of the storm I won't doubt what 2020 has the power to unleash. In all of the challenges that have come about this year the one thing I can say with total confidence is I'm very proud of the work we have accomplished at the UWJC and our amazing group of volunteers who acted so selflessly in the wake of a devastating natural disaster. 2020 has been a difficult year but people are truly working united as one to help those in need.
The United Way of Jasper County is committed to being a resource for Jasper County during the Covid-19 pandemic. While our office was closed to the public in April and May, we were working behind the scenes to assist our Emergency Management Agency and other organizations on the front lines of the pandemic.
The United Way has invested more than $15,000 in PPE for both or our frontline workers (see article above) and free masks to the public since the pandemic began. we also distributed thousands of dollars in Emergency Food and Shelter funds to organizations throughout the county who are working to ensure everyone has enough food to eat.
Our agency also supports the United Way 211 office which answered thousands of calls during the pandemic answering questions about COVID and helping identify resources for struggling families. Additionally we helped organize volunteers to assist in temperature readings and screenings at a local nursing home.
On the lighter side, we also sponsored three movies at the Capitol II - Selma, Shrek and Back to the Future - to give individuals and families an opportunity to have entertainment to look forward to and provided masks to Capitol II for guests who may not of had any.
As a new normal sets in and business reopen their doors we continue to work with our partner agencies and fellow nonprofits to share information on valuable resources, identify community needs and look at ways of funding programs to combat the pandemic, support people who have lost jobs and individuals who are in need.
We thank you for standing with us during this difficult time and appreciate your financial support which allows us to continue our mission. If you'd like to make a donation you can do so by visiting our secure online donation site at https://secure.qgiv.com/for/uwojccd/. You can also send a check to United Way of Jasper County, PO Box 844, Newton, IA 50208.
Stay safe. Stay well.
NEWTON - United Way of Jasper County and Newton High School Student Council have teamed up to launch a new program aimed at encouraging students to get involved and make a difference in their community.
The program, Cardinals United, launched with the new school year and will offer Newton students the opportunity to earn a varsity letter in community service. The idea was presented to the local United Way by members of the student council.
"The students really spearheaded the idea of developing service programs at the school," said Kelly Tremel, NHS teacher and student council adviser. "We have a great group of students who recognize the impact that they along with classmates could have on the community."
Cardinals United, which name recognizes both the Newton mascot and United Way, was a joint effort between student council members, student council advisers Tremel and Randy Mills and UWJC. It is part of the new Cardinals Care initiative, which includes the Silver Cord program.
"When asked if United Way could help develop a service program with the students it was an immediate 'Yes!'" said Jessica Lowe Vokes, UWJC Executive Director. "The opportunity to engage teens in helping positively impact Jasper County residents is an amazing one and will have a lasting and powerful effect on the community."
Students will earn a letter by volunteering at various non-profit organizations throughout the year and recording the hours served. Volunteer hours can be completed through United Way events and programs, and at area non-profits, churches and through school activities like Red Pride Service Day. To earn a letter for the 2018-19 school year, students must complete 75 service hours. Students who earn their letter will be recognized at a special banquet hosted by United Way.
"I believe, in addition to making a difference in Jasper County, the program will really show the students how much they can accomplish," Lowe Vokes said. "Sometimes young people are overlooked as far as what they can do. I think Cardinals United will be an empowering experience for those who take part."
The program was unveiled during a series of assemblies and students had the opportunity to learn more during their lunch break on Thursday. More than 70 students signed up to learn about volunteer opportunities and Cardinals United.
"Our goal is to have at least 20 students complete the hours required for their varsity letter during the first year of the program," Tremel said. "Twenty NHS students completing 75 hours of volunteer work will equal 1,500 hours. That is a tremendous benefit to the organizations and people who will be served by the students."
Modeled after similar varsity letter programs hosted by United Ways around the country, Cardinals United has been tailored to fit the local high school. It will focus not only on United Way programs but allow students to pursue volunteer opportunities with organizations they are passionate about or want to learn more about through hands on experiences.
"Whether it is organizing a blood drive, collecting for the local food bank, lending a hand at the animal shelter or being part of a mission trip, I did not want to limit the students ability to have an impact" Lowe Vokes said. "We all have different skills and talents and I hope the students will be able to use theirs in ways that are meaningful to them."
While currently only at NHS, Lowe Vokes said she is meeting with WEST Academy Principal Bret Miller to discuss expanding the program and hopes other Jasper County schools also will get involved.
"My hope is all school districts in Jasper County will become part of the varsity letter program," she said. "I'd love to see Bolts United, Tigerhawks United, Mustangs United and Hawks United become a reality in the near future."
NHS students who are interested in learning more about Cardinals United can contact Tremel or Mills at NHS or the United Way at email@example.com. Applications are due Sept. 17 to Tremel.
"I think this program is full of potential," Tremel said. "I hope parents and families will encourage their students and support them in their efforts to earn a letter in service. We want the students to know they can truly have a profound impact for good and we want everyone to support them in their efforts."
This morning I heard the Domestic Violence Victims' advocate that has an office in the United Way of Jasper County building that she had a client who needed some help. The woman had fled a dangerous situation with nothing but the clothes on her back. She needed some of everything. She had nothing - no underwear, socks, shirts, shorts, pants, toothbrush … Nothing.
So the advocate quickly went to work gathering up donated items she had in her office - shampoo, some shirts. I looked through my "Just In Case" cabinet and found a couple more shirts, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Realizing we still didn't have what she needed and the shelter did not have her sizes either I put the call out on facebook asking for help with donated clothes to help this woman. Within a few minutes I had been contacted with offers to help. Someone dropped off a bag of clothes and $20, another stopped by with $18 and a Starbucks gift card - "She may want a smoothie or something special" she said. I gathered up the $78 we had collected and went to the store on a mission.
I can't say thank you so much to those that helped out!! Above is a photo of all the items purchased - 10 pairs of underwear, 10 pairs of socks, jeggings, shorts, 5 shirts and a dufflebag - with donated money, along with everything that was donated
And if you are wondering why I went to pick up these items instead of the advocate it is because she was called out to help another woman. The issue is real folks and it happens all the time - everywhere.
I am thankful for the Crisis Center, the amazing advocate who does this daily, the ladies who came forward and donated today and all the people who support United Way so we can have a Jasper County advocate dedicated to helping the men, women and children in need in our community.
After the New Year things get busy at the United Way of Jasper County. Agencies submit their applications for funding, volunteers are contacted, lots of copies are made and the allocations process begins.
At the UWJC, 20 community members (board and volunteers) are tasked with reviewing all the applications and supporting documentation from health and human services agencies seeking support from UW. While some may think that this is a simple process it actually spans from end of January to mid-March.
The process includes each team member being assigned to a set of agencies. Once teams have their assignments they set up site visits to see first hand what each of their agencies do. Every year I hear how much people enjoy this part of the process. It is a time to meet staff, see facilities and in many cases talk to people who are receiving vital services.
Once site visits are completed, volunteers pour over the applications which includes an agency profile, application, copy of mid-year reports from previous year funding, agency budget, program budget, list of board of directors, and any supplemental items the agencies want to include.
Then the teams come together for four nights in March to conduct interviews with representatives of the agencies. Questions are asked and answered, and valuable conversation takes place. The team members fill out a detailed review sheet that scores the agencies on a variety of things from having supplied all their documents to how effective the programs are. The teams then turn in their request suggestions.
Once I receive all the information it is compiled and put into a spread sheet which is given to members of the board who meet to designate allocations. This year that meeting is in mid-March. On April 1, agencies will begin receiving funding.
As you can see it isn't as simple as a yes or a no. The allocations process is an important piece of the UW puzzle which allows each agency's program to be evaluated to determine how much money they should receive - if any. This helps ensure your investment in UW is being used to its maximum potential.
Like you, we at UW want to ensure people receive the vital services they need to live their best lives. By having an intense and extensive allocations process we can ensure that we are good stewards of your donations and that the agencies receive the support they need in an effective and efficient manner.
Many hours are spent on this process and I thank the volunteers who give their time to helping United Way of Jasper County.
The office is decorated with a large Christmas tree,paper garland adorns the walls of the meeting room and colorful wrapping paper encases the doors to the offices here at United Way of Jasper County. The tables in the meeting room have been covered with donated toys. Hats, gloves and scarves decorate the tree. An abundance of personal care products nestled underneath the faux pine. It is truly Christmas time at United Way of Jasper County.
During the holidays the call for need increases at UWJC. To help combat the stress of the season United Way works closely with agencies and organizations that have holiday assistance programs. We actively help promote adoption of children from Salvation Army and St. Nick's Christmas Club. We help organize the Newton Police Association and Newton Police Department's Shop With Cops program that provides outreach and positive interactions with the police in the community. The United Way also does an annual drive for mittens, gloves, hats, scarves and for 2017 expanded the efforts to include personal items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, body wash, deodorant and more.
Yesterday evening I had a woman come to UWJC to get some help with Christmas. I loaded the woman up on rolls of donated wrapping paper, a football, used books, pencils, crayons, construction paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, Play Doh, hats, gloves, sweatshirts and Hot Wheels toys that had all been donated. The woman shared how she and her husband were raising their grandchildren following the death of her son, their father. Changes at her husband's job meant less money for the family and things were tight. The burden of presents for children was straining the family's finances. She was happy with anything and everything I put into sacks for her. "The pencils can be a stocking stuffer." "I can wrap up these books, the boys won't mind that they are used." She was appreciative of everything.
Life happens with uncertainty and knowing the United Way was able to help a family in need for the holidays just reminds me of why we do what we do. As we loaded up the back of her van the woman wiped away tears and asked if she could hug me. I accepted on behalf of each and every person who has donated to UWJC this year to help make life better for this family and thousands more in Jasper County.
I hope that this holiday season finds you with family and friends and enjoying the reason for the season. And if I should get pencils in my stocking this year I will be thankful knowing that sometimes the simplest of gifts are truly the greatest and most heartfelt.
Executive Director Jessica Lowe has been with United Way of Jasper County since 2014. Prior to her time with the UWJC, Lowe was an award-winning journalist and a marketing director for a non-profit.