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Elizabeth Shelton
Due to health issues, Maya has struggled with educational success, which disrupts her attendance at school. Attendance affects performance and, not surprisingly, Maya's counselors reported she also lacked motivation to attend and do her best.
ABCToday, a program of BBBS that UWSEMO supports, measures Attendance, Behavior, and Coursework for all students in the Cape Girardeau Public Schools. ABCToday staff worked with Maya's school to design a support plan with the school and family to help Maya succeed.

ABCToday supports students in Cape Girardeau Public Schools.

ABCToday staff met regularly with Maya, providing help, encouragement, and motivation to turn in schoolwork. They also developed ways she could stay organized when unable to attend school. At the end of the school year, Maya was passing all her classes, and her attendance had improved by more than 50%!
Maya also has an older brother in high school. After seeing the support the ABCToday staff were able to give Maya, her mother asked that staff also work with her brother. ABCToday staff engaged the student and his counselor in developing a plan for her brother's success as well.  
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As our community adjusts daily, even hourly, to the effects of the Coronavirus, United Way of Southeast Missouri (UWSEMO), like many others in our community, has sprung into action to help, creating a COVID-19 fund.

While the hospitals and medical experts combat and prepare for illness, UWSEMO has established a COVID-19 fund specifically for our network partners and programs that directly help those in financial need. These include The Salvation Army, area food pantries, senior centers and programs, and Emergency Student Funds and backpack programs at area public schools. Although schools are closed, we believe the need will be great when classes resume and as working students and parents must remain at home. Funds also will be directed to the Family Transition Team consisting of social workers throughout the region who collectively respond to immediate need.

We have many hourly employees in this region who already live paycheck to paycheck. They will be hit especially hard by closings and social distancing as we all work together to stay healthy. With our existing network of donors and income-focused partners, United Way is the logical organization capable of bringing in funds to help them.

As most of our followers know, we receive the majority of our funding through annual workplace campaigns, which enable us to invest in 30 partners representing 40 programs throughout our four-county service area. Most of our stakeholders know we also have been preparing for Over the Edge scheduled for June 5th. Thus far 32 ‘Fearless Edgers’ have committed to raising $1,000 each for the thrill of rappelling 147 feet down Towers South on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University. Rather than asking donors to give both to Edgers and to the COVID-19 fund, Edger donations that are not for a specific UWSEMO partner can be earmarked to go to the COVID-19 fund. Currently, we are continuing as though Over the Edge will remain as scheduled, although this could change as the impact of the virus progresses.

Online donations can go to the Edger option or COVID-19 option. Donors also can give credit card donations over the phone at 573-334-9634 or by mailing a check to the UWSEMO office at 1417 D N. Mt. Auburn Road, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701. Donors should write the word COVID-19 and/or the name of the Edger the donor wants to support in the check memo. We encourage area businesses to support the COVID-19 fund. Hopefully, some of our corporate partners will want to match donations or create a solid foundation for the fund.

In addition to helping financially, we encourage the healthy members of our community to be of service to others. A page of current volunteer opportunities can be found on our website and a page of resources, such as food pantries, childcare information, and COVID-19 updates, all being maintained in real time as things change.

Every April during National Volunteer Month, United Way hosts a Community Celebration that is free to everyone. Like many other events, we anticipate this year’s Celebration scheduled for April 23rd at the VFW Hall in Cape probably will be canceled or postponed. We will continue to update our stakeholders on all of our community events, resources, and efforts to serve our friends and neighbors.

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Over the Edge is Back!

How much do you love your community? Are you willing to go Over the Edge for Southeast Missouri? If you missed this thrilling event in 2019, mark June 5 on your calendar! You will want to be a part of it, whether you watch from the safety of the Chartwells Chicken Coop or have the courage to rappell 147 feet down Towers South at Southeast Missouri State University.

Last year we raised $43,000 for our first OTE event. This year, as we celebrate 50 years of being a United Way, we hope to have 50 Edgers help raise $50,000. Will you Give or will you Go? Get all of your questions answered here

Over the Edge

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Touching an Elephant

By now most of us have heard the story based on a poem by John Godfrey Saxe of several blind men touching an elephant for the first time, each touching a different part. The man touching the tusk believes it is a spear; the man touching the leg calls it a tree, while the man holding the tail identifies it as a rope, etc. As I begin my fifth year with United Way of Southeast Missouri, I realize our organization is the elephant in the room. Most of our community sees United Way, yet each person identifies with us differently. Despite our best efforts, very few understand the full picture, which can seem vast and complex. 


On the surface, what we do is quite simple. We collect resources to share with other nonprofit agencies and programs in Southeast Missouri. Primarily, these are financial resources, and many people in our community still think of us as an organization that simply raises funds. Much of the general public remains unaware of all that we give to our partners, extending far beyond writing a quarterly check. Employees at businesses that do not run workplace campaigns are equally uninformed of our efforts to give back to our workplaces that invest in our organization and network.  


Partner Perspective  

Throughout the year UWSEMO works hard to: 

    • Recruit volunteers and even staff for our partners who need them
    •  Host and promote drives to provide food or hygiene products 
    •  Help our partners tell their stories through our marketing and advertising and when we speak to workplaces
    •  Bring people into their agencies with our Live United bus tours and via our monthly newsletter
    •  Promote partner events and fundraisers
    •  Offer training to help them grow, such as bringing a professional to a meeting last year to discuss board recruitment and responsibilities at no cost to our partners. 


Workplace Perspective 

Did you know that we also give back to our workplaces? Many area employers believe it is important to encourage philanthropy in their staff. This could be based on personal values, but it also influences the bottom line: 

    • A recent national survey showed when businesses give employees the opportunity to give of their time and treasure, 64% report their experience was “one of the most positive components” of their overall job satisfaction. 
    •  Additionally, 85% of Americans have a more positive image of a company that supports a cause they believe in, and
    •  79% would switch from one brand to another if the comparable brand were connected to a good cause. 

United Way delivers volunteer opportunities to our corporate partners for individuals, as well as entire workplaces. We always share them when we are invited to a workplace kickoff, and we update them in our monthly newsletter. We also will create customized opportunities based on the passion and interest of employees, and we are eager to provide a private Live United Tour for your team. Just say the word! 


The Complete Picture 

Our businesses depend on the programs and services delivered by the United Way network to build a capable workforce. And our funded partners depend on our workplaces to support their work. This year we offered Leadership United to our workplaces to nurture philanthropy in emerging leaders. The program teaches the unbreakable connection between a strong economy and a strong community through professional developmentLeadership United is free to participants, thanks to funding from Montgomery Bank. The first meeting was our Live United bus tour last month; the next meeting is October 17th. If you are an employee who wants to participate or a manager committed to developing employees who lead from the heart, contact Raechel ReinitzGet more information and the full schedule here. It is not too late to enroll, and it is never too late to kick off your workplace campaign and explore ways we can engage your employees in giving back. 

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For our 2019-2022 funding cycle, we have increased our number from previously supporting 24 partners and 34 programs to investing in 27 partners and 38 programs. These people and agencies provide services that join United Way’s fight for the health, education and financial stability of everyone in the communities we serve. United Way of Southeast Missouri serves the counties of Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Perry, and northern Scott.

These partners and programs and the amount of United Way funding they will receive are determined by volunteers who represent our 4 counties, our three focus areas, our workplaces, and our donors. About 60-70 volunteers helped review more than 50 applications, conducted site visits, and listened to presentations. Then our Community Investment Committee had passionate discussion to determine where our donors’ dollars will have the greatest impact and provide recommendations to our board of directors.  

We are grateful for the commitment of these volunteers, not only for the help they give to our community, but for the very fact they alleviate my team and me from having to make these very difficult decisions. We truly wish we could give every worthwhile program every dollar they need to help the people of Southeast Missouri. But the requests for funding were twice the amount of funding we have.

Although United Way is a global organization, these decisions and these programs are local. They are based on where our donors’ gifts can do the greatest good right here in Southeast Missouri. It is important to remember that thanks to corporate investors, including Procter & Gamble, Mondi, Ameren Missouri and many more, 99 cents of every dollar given by individuals to United Way of Southeast Missouri stays right here and goes directly to programs and services that strengthen our community. 

United Way has a long history of giving help and hope. Many of the programs we support help people in dire situations. But the real power of the United Way network occurs when this collective group of partners tackles the issues that create the need in the first place. Rarely does one problem put a family in need of help, and rarely can just one organization return that family to stability and self-sufficiency. The collective power of the United Way network is what changes lives.

An example of this is with our education initiative. Ten years ago United Way of Southeast Missouri led an education coalition to address the graduation rate at our largest public high school. Through collaborative efforts of many community partners, the graduation rate has moved more than 20% points in the last decade and is on par with the rest of the state nearing 90%.

We will continue our focus on education by investing in previous partners with after-school tutoring at Cape Girardeau Public Schools and early literacy through Read to Succeed in Cape and Scott City. We will welcome our new partner in education, Meadow Heights Elementary, where we will support a backpack program like the one we invest in at Perry County Public Schools. Last year United Way invested in Emergency Student Funds in 15 public schools across our region to help students with glasses, prescriptions, dental work, and other obstacles to learning.  

We bolster our education focus through mentoring programs with returning partners: the Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and 4H, while welcoming EPIC Pals, which uses puppy dogs to teach behavior modification, and Tiger Lilies, a program that helps young girls blossom into young ladies.

In this three-year cycle we have increased our commitment to health, continuing to invest in the Jackson Senior Center, where we help provide meals to help senior citizens remain independent. And we welcome new partner, the Oral Health Coalition that delivers critical dental care to all ages.

Our Income focus continues to support previous partners helping those who struggle to make ends meet, through First Call for Help, the Community Partnership, and The Salvation Army. But for the next 3 years our Community Investment Committee also allocated more dollars to help our neighbors become and remain financially independent by investing in the Semo Alliance for Disability Independence, SADI, and One City, which returns individuals to the work force who have been unemployed for periods ranging from 6 months to 10 years.

In Perryville we are proud to partner with the New Life Mission Inn Warming Center. Their approach really appealed to our Community Investment Committee, because the warming shelter they provide comes with counseling to address the factors that created the need for temporary shelter in the first place.

These are just a few of the many programs we are proud to partner with for the next three years, but ALL of them are required to return Outcomes. Each year our funded partners provide progress reports to our Community Investment Committee to ensure the money is going where it is intended and that it is making a difference. We just received outcomes for the past year, and we look forward to sharing data and success stories of the people our network has helped and the lives we have changed.

You can find a complete list of Returning and New Funded Partners here.

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United Way of Southeast Missouri is going “Over the Edge” on May 17 for the area’s first ever urban rappelling event. The local nonprofit has set an ambitious goal, hoping the event will raise $50,000 to help the citizens of Southeast Missouri, while challenging new volunteers and donors to give or go.

In partnership with Southeast Missouri State University, United Way invites the community to watch thrill-seeking “Edgers” rappel down Towers South, a 147-foot residence hall located on the university’s campus. While the Edgers chase the adrenaline rush, spectators on the ground below can enjoy yard games, refreshments and music during this all-day community event.

Anyone interested in descending Towers South is encouraged to go Over the Edge; no previous experience is necessary. Requirements include weighing between 100-300 pounds, and a minimum age of 14 is recommended with a parent or guardian present. Each Edger must raise $1,000 by May 17 to rappel.  

Daring participants can register individually or by forming teams of 6 and raising a collective $6,000. Edgers jump-start their fundraising when they register via the Over the Edge online platform, which requires $85. Once registered, Edgers can create personal pages on the fundraising platform to help them raise the money they need to rappel. Over the Edge and United Way are providing numerous webinars, tips, ideas, and resources to help every Edger reach or exceed the minimum goal.

Elizabeth Shelton, Executive Director of United Way of Southeast Missouri, explains, “We have been looking for new ways to engage our community, and this has been a very successful event in other areas. Instead of asking people to pay to attend a gala or auction, we are asking them to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, while raising funds for people in our community who literally are living on the edge, struggling every day not to fall under the weight of finances, health issues, unemployment, and many challenges the United Way network fights every day.”

Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of SEMO, plans to go Over the Edge, as will Shelton. ‘Celebrity’ Edgers and announcers from local media are being recruited to participate, including Kathy Sweeney from KFVS12. Special rigging can even accommodate Rowdy the Redhawk and other area mascots, as well as individuals with physical challenges.

The event offers area businesses and organizations a variety of ways to participate in this unique fundraiser. Drury Southwest and Procter & Gamble are sponsoring the Landing Zones, and sponsorships are still available for helmets and ropes. Chartwells is sponsoring the Chicken Coop, an observation area at the event that provides free food and beverages to anyone too chicken to go but willing to give $100 to a team or Edger.

One tactic generating a lot of buzz is the “Toss the Boss” event. Workplaces can raise $1,500 to toss their boss Over the Edge. Any reluctant boss can delegate going over to another employee by matching what the employees raise.

Those who would prefer to keep their feet on the ground are invited to help run the ground activities. Volunteers can operate refreshment tents, take photographs of Edgers, work logistics, or supervise lawn games.

A few brave volunteers need to be stationed on the rooftop of Towers South to assist Edgers and technicians. Ropes volunteers also are needed and will receive four hours of training before the event. All ropes volunteers get the opportunity to rappel without having to raise funds.

More than 56,000 people have safely gone Over the Edge of nearly 400 buildings during 800 events. Towers South had to pass a safety inspection before being approved for the event, and adherence to all OSHA laws and SPRAT procedures is enforced. Over the Edge provides professional rope handlers and technicians to safely see all rappellers Over the Edge.

More info here; Register here.

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We're Giving Away Money!

Thanks to generous donors and accountable partners, we had some extra funds to invest and had a great time surprising some of our partners with them. See for yourself!


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Nearly 33,000 children, students, senior citizens and adults of all ages received help through United Way of Southeast Missouri during the organization’s 2017 campaign year of July 2017 through June 2018. According to Elizabeth Shelton, Executive Director, “We are preparing a comprehensive annual report, but as we begin our 2018 campaign we felt it was important to share early results with our donors and the rest of the community.”

United Way of Southeast Missouri (UWSEMO) fights for the health, education, and financial stability of everyone in Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Scott City, and Bollinger and Perry Counties. While the organization helps with emergency needs, their goal is to support programs that move individuals and families away from need toward independence and success in life.

Community volunteers that comprise the Community Investment Committee determine the programs UWSEMO will support and the percentage of funds each will receive. Annually, the group evaluates required outcomes from each program to ensure donor dollars are being used as intended. Recently, the group met to review outcomes from the 24 partner organizations that represent 30 programs and 6 Student Emergency Funds at public schools throughout United Way’s four-county footprint. Some of the results include:

  • 7,036 senior citizens remained healthier and in their own homes through support of older-adult programs from A.P.P.L.E, Hoover Center, Lutheran Family/Children Services, and the Jackson Senior Center
  • 288 students in Cape Girardeau and Scott City received literacy tutoring through Read to Succeed/Excel with most gaining a minimum of one reading level
  • 17,474 people were fed through Salvation Army’s Meals with Friends, Jackson Senior Center Meals on Wheels, and food pantries in Jackson, Scott City, and Bollinger County
  • More than 1500 individuals in the counties of Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Scott and Perry received counseling from social workers helping to move them from poverty to financial stability.

Shelton explains that corporate sponsorships and a lean operating budget enable United Way of Southeast Missouri to invest $.99 of every $1.00 donated by individuals directly into the partners and programs working to change lives. Additionally, 99% of all funds collected remain in Southeast Missouri. The organization is required to send 1% to United Way Worldwide, which Shelton explains “provides global brand recognition, professional development, organizational training, and a peer network that is invaluable.”

United Way will submit a Request for Proposals (RFP) near the beginning of 2019 as the current three-year funding cycle will end next June. Organizations that desire funding and individuals interested in knowing more about United Way’s partners, programs, and results are encouraged to follow their social media and subscribe to the monthly newsletter via their website at to receive the most current information and updates.
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This year’s campaign theme ‘UNITED WE FIGHT, UNITED WE WIN,’ created a lot of fun at our 2018 Campaign Kickoff luncheon, especially with Darren Burgfeld as our ‘ring announcer.’
Thanks to our Kickoff sponsor, Home State Health, our corporate investors, our workplace and individual donors, our 24 partners, and numerous volunteers, we raised $3,000 for mini grants, premiered the moving video KFVS12 generously helps us with every year, closed with some exciting news about a one-of-a-kind event coming in May (details on that in next month’s issue) and shared some powerful data on the collective impact of the United Way network.
Each year our partner agencies and programs must provide an Outcomes report of how they invested United Way funds and the impact they made. Our Community Investment Committee of volunteers from the region reviews these Outcomes. This same group will review the requests for funding when we begin that process again in 2019 and determine which programs we will invest in that support our fight for health, education, and financial security for everyone in the four counties we serve for 2019-21.
Here are some of the impressive results from our 2017-18:
  • Collectively, the 24 partners and 30 programs that comprise the network of United Way of Southeast Missouri touched 32,964 lives: infants, children, students, working parents, senior citizens, and struggling individuals of all ages.
  • We helped 17,474 people in Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Scott City, and Bollinger County by supporting Meals with Friends at the Salvation Army and food pantries with the Jackson Ministerial Alliance, the Scott City Ministerial Alliance, and Little Whitewater Baptist Church.
  • Our support of APPLE, the Hoover Center, Lutheran Family & Children’s Services, and the Jackson Senior Center helped more than 7,000 senior citizens remain healthier and in their own homes. 
  • Our collaborative education initiative involving numerous partners, community organizations, and businesses helped to increase the graduation rate at Central High School from 68% to 88.9% in 9 years, impressively near our 10-year goal of 90% by 2019.
  • Emergency Student Funds in public schools in Cape, Jackson, Scott City, Scott County, Perryville, Woodland R-IV, even Southeast Missouri State University enabled students in need to stay in school when financial emergencies like eyeglasses, prescriptions, a winter coat or dental care could have kept them home or caused them to drop out altogether.
  • Generous volunteers tutored 288 students in Cape and Scott City through Read to Succeed, enabling 70% to gain a minimum of one reading level, some significantly more, and most importantly, moving some students from reading many grade levels behind to reading on level with their peers.
As you can see, it doesn’t take a village. It takes everyone who fights with United Way: businesses, schools, churches, community groups, funded partners, and you. For every person in our community to be healthy, educated, and financially secure, it takes everyone to LIVE UNITED.
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For many months we have been diligently (and somewhat desperately) exploring ways to fund Read to Excel after learning the DeltaCorps grant that launched it last year was being eliminated.

Enter the Kiwanis to the rescue!

After we shared program data and stories of the students’ success at a recent Kiwanis meeting, this kind-hearted group chose to fund Read to Excel in its entirety! We had pared it to the bare bones, cutting it from two site coordinators to one, and reducing the number of students and reading sessions. Now, with additional help from Zonta and Cape Girardeau Rotary we are able to move forward and add back more students and sessions!

Read to Succeed, which also began with a federal grant in 2012, is designed to encourage new readers as they learn this critical skill. Read to Succeed receives significant support from individual donors and the Cape Girardeau Public Schools. Read to Excel was created at the request of many teachers to target older, struggling readers. Although it is an extension of Read to Succeed, we had to create a new program with a new name to meet the grant requirements.

As we move forward, we will roll Read to Excel into Read to Succeed, sharing the name and new logo. Not only is this less confusing for our schools and volunteers, but both programs now include students in kindergarten through sixth grade who read below grade level. We also chose to update the logo to indicate the real beauty of this program: one-to-one tutoring for students from valuable volunteers.

Our donors fund many valuable programs, which we proudly share at every opportunity. We are ‘over the moon’ to welcome both financial and volunteer support from the Kiwanis. Truly, without you this program would not be possible. Schedules for 1:1 tutoring at elementary schools in Cape and Scott City still are being formed, along with the times for Tiger Book Club at Central Middle School. Interested volunteers can still register and provide their preferences for when the schools finalize the schedules. Email or call United Way at 573-334-9634.

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