Recently, the United Way’s team undertook a strategic visioning project. The aim was to make sure the organization invested resources in a mindful way while providing the highest possible impact. Their ongoing mission is simple: to mobilize the caring power of our community and improve the health, education, and financial stability of every person in Thurston County, especially local ALICE households. Thanks to this fresh mindset and partners like OlyFed, the next 100 years look bright.
Working Hard for Hardworking ALICE Families
ALICE families are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, and Employed. In 2019, there were 33,064 local ALICE households, which grew to 38,432 by 2021. These numbers, which are still rising, represent the working poor who struggle to meet basic needs of food, shelter and utilities.
When developing a plan, the United Way team looked upstream to find ways they could arrest the pipelines to poverty in our community. It’s long been documented that careers requiring a secondary credentialing like a two or four year degree or a technical certification mean up to a million dollars more in lifetime earnings than unskilled jobs. This is the difference between being able to buy a home, pay for childcare, set aside funds for emergencies or create generational wealth and security for the future.
To move forward, the United Way created the Education to Financial Stability Task Force. This is a blend of civic, educational and business leaders whose research determined that far too few high school students are not completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.
Skipping FAFSA Means Missing Out on Scholarships and Grants for College
FAFSA aid isn’t reserved for low-income families, as some may think. Scholarships, grants and programs administered through FAFSA can make the difference in the pursuit of postsecondary credentialing. With this in mind, the United Way is working to fund in-school Navigators who connect students and their families with FAFSA completion and realizing career opportunities. They currently have Navigators in North Thurston, Olympia and Yelm high schools that have seen positive results.
Chris Wells is United Way of Thurston County’s Executive Director. She says that the Task Force’s work and implementation of the Navigators “allows us to turn towards the root causes of students being cut off from post-high school education and technical training opportunities.”
“One-third of households in the county can’t make ends meet,” says Wells. “Housing affordability and homelessness are critical symptoms tied to education. Washington State is very willing to invest in people so everyone can thrive, but we rank very low in post-secondary school attainment. A high school-only household is ALICE in the making because many incomes are insufficient to meet basic needs.”
Building Thurston County’s Strong Economy for the Next 50 Years
“We can’t only invest in triage, we need to focus on a cure by mobilizing the community towards a vision of population-level outcomes,” said Wells about United Way. “And education is the key.” She explains that the Navigators work with high school students and are embedded in schools to help families develop a vision and find the resources to achieve it. “They use the FAFSA and WASFA (Washington State Application for Financial Aid) to plant the seeds and connect kids with resources as well as messaging about non-college options too.”
Wells calls this systematic and comprehensive work with measurable results. “Designing the economy of the next 50 years in Thurston County won’t happen by accident,” she stresses. “It requires the collective impact of this task force and others like it. Our name is United Way and that means we unite the whole community around common goals. There is a place for everyone, and we can work collaboratively to solve really complicated problems.”
United Way appreciates OlyFed’s community investments and culture of giving back. “They’re irreplaceable,” says Wells, “and with us all the way!” Ryan Betz, OlyFed’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, feels the same.
“We have long supported United Way of Thurston County because of their thoughtful and intentional approach to addressing some of the biggest needs and challenges in our community,” he says.
“For years we’ve had our employees volunteer as part of United Way’s Day of Caring,” says Betz. “We’ve also led as a Cornerstone Partner to help sponsor the organization’s many events and strategic initiatives and we’ve hosted an annual workplace campaign which allows our employees the opportunity to contribute to United Way’s efforts in the community.”
Read more about the Education to Financial Stability Task Force, sign up to volunteer with United Way, advocate for their cause or donate directly to their work. Sign up for United Way’s monthly newsletter or follow them on Facebook, X and YouTube. If you or someone you love falls into the definition of an ALICE family and needs help with financial education, banking services or other money-related wellness, OlyFed is happy to help. Working together is job one.