Published on September 2, 2022 in Partners
As the sun rose over the Detroit skyline, United Way for Southeastern Michigan staff, supporters and cabinet members gathered at DTE’s Beacon Park to outline ambitious goals and celebrate exciting wins at the organization’s 2022-23 Community Campaign kickoff.
Each year, United Way rallies its corporate and labor partners and the community to raise funds. Last year’s efforts helped raise more than $43 million to provide essential support and services across Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties. This year, the team decided to stay the course and reset our goal of $40 million raised and 40,000 volunteer hours.
DTE and United Way for Southeastern Michigan have partnered for more than four decades to support local families with utility assistance. The team’s leadership, engagement and commitment to giving has made our community campaign a success year after year.
“When you do it once, there’s only one thing to do – do it again,” said Mark Stiers, president and COO of Power & Industrial at DTE Energy, Mark also chairs United Way’s board of directors.
The audience, celebrating the first in-person campaign event in three years, cheered as Mark announced that the “dynamic duo” of Jerry Norcia, president and CEO of DTE Energy and Bishop Edgar Vann, senior pastor at Second Ebenezer Church, will serve as campaign co-chairs for the second consecutive year.
“I have such a great relationship with United Way, and I work with Jerry on a lot of other things across the city, so this partnership is a natural fit,” Bishop Vann said. “I really am excited to do it again.”
The campaign is kicking off at a time of increased need across the region. By uniting the corporate sector, faith leaders and community-centered organizations, United Way is aiming not only to raise critical funds but to build unity toward a shared purpose of creating equitable communities where families can thrive.
“We’ve just experienced a historic global pandemic,” Bishop Vann said. “We’ve come from that into a time of even greater economic uncertainty for a large number of families. The cost of food and gas is rising, and heading into winter, things are going to get even tighter for families. Never has there been a better time for us to live united.”
Oakland County Executive David Coulter echoed feelings of optimism and excitement for the year ahead while highlighting an expansive list of shared successes.
“United Way programs make a real difference in Oakland County and across the region,” he said.
Prior to the pandemic, Oakland Schools, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and United Way expanded school breakfast to thousands more students in Oakland County – ensuring kids could focus on learning instead of the rumble of hungry tummies.
United Way has also partnered with the county to address childcare access, mental health care and other issues exacerbated by the pandemic. Through the Oakland Together partnership, United Way distributed $10.8 million to help families meet their basic needs. The program’s next iteration will expand out-of-school programs for youth – welcome news for many parents whose children will soon begin another school year.
Detroit’s Deputy Mayor, Todd Bettison, also attended the event. As a first responder who served 27 years with the Detroit Police Department, Todd said he often saw the impact of United Way’s work firsthand.
“United Way has been such a valuable partner in helping us meet the needs of our city and the need in the city is so great,” Todd said.
Todd thanked United Way for its work to close the digital divide – partnering with Connect 313 to distribute more than 75,000 devices to the city’s residents. Additional devices, donated by the city, will soon be refurbished and sent out, too.
Tonya Adair, chief people, equity and engagement officer at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, took the stage at Beacon Park and thanked the community for their role in making the previous year’s campaign a success.
Beacon Park, which serves as a gateway to downtown Detroit, provided a picturesque backdrop for the event and symbolized a feeling of hope for a brighter future. As attendees donated dozens of diverse books for United Way’s Little Free Libraries, we were reminded of the power of literacy to change the course of history and the course of an individual’s life.
When it comes to ensuring that children have the support they need to learn to read, United Way understands that one of the first, most critical steps is having access to books in their homes. But in our region, an average of 70 percent of households lack access to printed books.
Last year, through our literacy fairs, Scholastic book fairs and Little Free Libraries, we put more than 60,000 books into the hands of students in southeastern Michigan. Our work continues this year and next, with a goal of installing 50 Little Free Libraries in our region’s most book-deficient areas by the spring of 2023.
And to help students start the school year off strong and ease a bit of the financial strain that comes with acquiring a long list of school supplies, volunteers packed and delivered 9,000 backpacks to students in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and in Detroit.
Many students in our Community Schools will also receive backpacks in addition to the extra literacy help and wraparound support that made the first year of the initiative a triumph.
“Together, we are addressing some of our region’s greatest challenges — illiteracy, childhood hunger, homelessness and more,” Tonya said. “United toward a common cause, we can, and we will, Light the Way to a better future.” You can help us Light the Way during this year’s campaign! Find a volunteer opportunity aligned to your skills or interests or make a donation today.