United Way and Holt International are providing services to under-served populations within our community and abroad.
Article by Vanessa Salvia | Photos courtesy of United Way of Lane County and Holt International
Eugene is home to numerous businesses that are responsible global citizens and also have a deep impact in our local community. Two organizations, Holt International and United Way, have a long history of world—wide and local social impact. In fact, Holt International is among the largest nonprofit organizations in Oregon, with a strong local footprint of 100 staff members who manage programs in 17 countries. United Way of Lane County is part of United Way Worldwide, an organization that has coordinated local and international charitable work since 1887.
After 65 years in Eugene, Holt International has become primarily known for international adoptions, and in particular, Korean adoptions. But Susan Soonkeum Cox, Vice President for Policy and External Affairs, says that's not their largest program. There have been approximately 400,000 international adoptions worldwide and Holt has placed about 45,000 children with families from more than 20 countries since 1956. However, their programs primarily focus on keeping children together with their families.
"We have broadened much beyond what people know about us from the past," says Cox, who herself was adopted from Korea in 1956. "Keeping children with families that they are born into is most preferred, but often that's not possible. If not, we try to put them in an adoptive family in their birth country. And if that isn't a possibility, then we look at adoptions into another country."
Holt's primary programs are aimed at preventing child abandonment by addressing the primary issues that separate families: poverty, illness, war or political instability and the stigma of unwed motherhood. Holt has programs in 17countries, including the U.S., that offer micro-loans, job skills
training, safe housing, medical care and other special support. Holt has placed about 15,000 children with Oregon families and they are expanding their state-wide foster care and adoption program by hiring additional staff to provide more services.
Holt has hosted two international conferences on child welfare in Eugene, bringing participants from 24 different countries to enjoy activities such as "Celebrate Oregon," which highlights Oregon products, activities and abundance. Currently, she says, about 20 people are in the process of adopting from Oregon foster care. Holt also supports Lane County children’s services with holiday and other activities, directly reaching about 50 children and families annually.
Cox says Holt has a strong commitment to post-adoption services, as well. "It's not over once the child comes home," she says. "We consider that once you have been adopted you are part of our process forever." Locally, Holt runs camps and tours for adoptees and their families, and Cox spends much of her time in Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of adoption and child welfare.
Also child-centered, but with a different mission, United Way got its start in Denver in 1887 and has been in Lane County since 1946. Noreen Dunnells, United Way of Lane County's president and CEO, explains that United Way's programs are tailored for each local community, but are always addressing the umbrella issues of childhood success, including education, financial stability and health.
"For health in particular, we think about the social determinants," Dunnells explains. "Do children have a roof over their head, housing stability, basic things? In terms of education, we look at what are the important markers for success, such as third grade reading proficiency and what they need for social and emotional development."
Each branch of United Way has a local, autonomous board of directors looking at the needs in the community and identifying a focus and policy direction. For years, United Way of Lane County (UWLC) has invested in a kindergarten readiness program called KITS—Kids in Transition to School—designed and developed by the Oregon Social Learning Center. They're also investing in third-grade reading proficiency. Three local programs are receiving funding for this initiative. One of these is 15th Night, a community-wide partnership working to mitigate youth homelessness. "We provided a grant in July to expand those services to Springfield and Cottage Grove because they've been predominantly a Eugene based initiative," says Dunnells.
Healthy Homes strengthens subsidized housing programs across the county, helping about 2,000 families eventually move into stable, permanent housing. Finally, an investment of $150,000 per year for three years is going to the Latino and immigrant wellness program, Latino Wellness Hub. They will be providing services in the metro area initially with hope that they will eventually expand throughout Lane County. "It's a combination of three nonprofits that currently exist that are coming together under one roof, serving our Latinx communities across the county," says Dunnells,"providing deep and broad services and leadership
development training to provide voice on public school boards and city councils and that kind of thing."
In addition to the three major grants, UWLC is also funding 21 community support grants of $50,000 or less. UWLC accepts financial donations and has a number of volunteer programs for people who want to help in a variety of ways, either with individual organizations, particular issues or on committees. Dunnells emphasizes that local support always stays in the local community. UWLC receives about $3 million annually from donors as well as support from some national foundations.
"We're always open to connections and relationships with folks who want to engage in community discussions," says Dunnells.
“Do children have a roof over their head, housing, stability, basic things? In terms of education, we look at what at are the important markets for success, such as third grade reading proficiency and what they need for social and emotional development.” - Noreen Dunnells, CEO of United Way of Lane County.
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