Beyond our town’s palatial estates and lush lawns lies the working class of Greenwich, 7 percent of whom fall below the poverty line, and another 21 percent are one paycheck away from financial catastrophe. A fifth of the public-school population is eligible for free or reduced lunch. It’s to this demographic that the Greenwich United Way (GUW) dedicates a good portion of its resources, firmly believing that every Greenwich resident should have the opportunity to be healthy, educated and self-sufficient.
Formed in 1933 by Helen Wilshire Walsh as the Greenwich Community Chest and Council, this year marks GUW’s ninetieth year. The fact that Helen was able to raise $192,000 during the Great Depression makes this founding, and the needs it set out to fulfill even more compelling. Today, that seed money would be equivalent to $4.5 million.
“What Helen Wilshire Walsh did was incredible,” says David Rabin, GUW CEO. “She felt something had to be done for Greenwich’s most vulnerable, providing them with a safety net and lifting them up. This is what makes Greenwich so special. People care about other people.”
Although the name was changed to the Greenwich United Way in 1975, and the programs have evolved, the mission remains constant: identify unmet local health, educational and self-sufficiency needs; raise awareness and support; and collaborate with community partners to initiate solutions and implement programs that have a lasting and positive impact.
“We are the one organization in town that supports all of Greenwich,” says Rabin. “Every other organization does a fantastic job. But no one knows the landscape of our town or understands the pulse of our community better than we do.”
Rabin explains that every five years the United Way conducts an extensive Needs Assessment, a statistical portrait of the town’s human service needs, which is the basis that identifies initiatives that should to be created.
“Everyone in town uses our findings,” Rabin adds. The latest report, released in 2020, was a research partnership among GUW, Fairfield University’s Center for Social Impact, community members and a multitude of town agencies that shared documentation, statistics, opinions and perspectives.
The study explored the state of the town, focusing on demographics, basic human needs, physical and mental health, and community resources, as well as crisis and disaster resources.
As former board chair Karen Keegan says: “The motto of the Greenwich United Way is ‘Find it, fund it, fix it.’ The Needs Assessment shows the organization where to raise money and build awareness with programs that address unmet needs.”
PROOF OF DIRECT IMPACT
The 2016 Needs Assessment uncovered the disparity in achievement gaps in the town. The data showed that children from low-income families and those in homes where English is the second language had achievement levels 28 to 36 percent lower than the town average. This gave birth to GUW’s Early Childhood Achievement Gap Solutions program in 2018. It was executed with assorted partners, including the Greenwich Public Schools and Grace Daycare & Learning Center. It includes a two-pronged approach:
One is an evidence-based home visitation program—called Greenwich Parents as Teachers (GPAT)—with Family Centers that targets children through three years of age from low-income families. “We can see how things are going on in the family and help the parents succeed and get their children prepared for school,” Rabin says.
The children then continue through age five at a pre-school coaching program at Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon schools. “The children who are going through these programs are scoring higher on kindergarten assessments than their not-at-risk peers,” he adds. “We are making children’s lives better.
Once the children are in school, GUW’s focus is on strengthening student skills in reading and math with its “Champions” programs, a one-on-one volunteer tutoring program to build success and motivate the young.
“Our most recent Needs Assessment identified the mental- health crisis we are facing, specifically among the young, which is impacting everyone either directly or indirectly,” Rabin says. As a result, in February, the Adolescent Behavioral Health Outpatient Program will open—a partnership between GUW and Greenwich Hospital. It will be co-located with Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Specialty Center at 500 W. Putnam Ave.
“It’s an intensive program in a soothing, relaxing, state-of-the-art atmosphere that will help children who need the help,” Rabin says, estimating that between 400 and 500 children will receive services annually.
“We uncovered the need, and now we are raising awareness and support,” he adds. To date, GUW has raised $1.3 million of the $1.6 million for this project and are looking for final donors to hit the goal.
“Nothing in life happens because we want it to happen,” says Rabin. “Success requires a lot of hard work and data, and, of course, the generosity of Greenwich families. If someone gives to Greenwich United Way, they can be assured that 81 percent of every dollar raised is used for program expenses. It is also important that our donors understand that we are data-driven and that we measure everything in all our programs. Their money helps those who need help.”
Eleven years ago the GUW underwent a critical transformation that meant the difference between dissolution and prosperity
KEN MIFFLIN remembers 2013 well, an anxiety-ridden time for the Greenwich United Way. Then, he was a member of the board and of its just-formed strategic planning committee. “Of the five companies who contributed the most to GUW through payroll deductions [a model that relied on employees making incremental donations to United Way from each paycheck], four had moved out of town,” he says. “Times were changing quickly, and we were concerned we would not be able to cover our grant commitments. We were all asking ourselves whether this great organization could even survive.”
Former board chair Karen Keegan remembers this time, too. United Ways across the country were closing because of lack of payroll deductions. “We knew that we lived in a community that wanted to give back and help those who need the help, but it is sometimes easier for people to look to national or international organizations to donate. Our responsibility as a board was to help our community become aware of the needs right here in Greenwich.”
A robust strategic plan was needed in order to transform GUW into a thriving organization. So began a collaborative effort among the board, volunteers, staff, consultants and town agencies. The strategy was centered on direct-impact initiatives, with the directive to consider other nonprofits and agencies in town as partners, not competitors. Today, GUW works in unison with its partners, including Family Centers, the Greenwich Public School System and Greenwich Hospital, to close the achievement gap and help adolescents’ mental health.
The second important prong for lasting success was to figure out how to connect with donors. “We needed to understand how to refocus our energies and get the organization growing again,” Mifflin says. They identified three major categories of donors: Those who want to know exactly where their money is going, those who give to the organization as a whole, and those who favor a combination of the two.
Today, GUW enjoys strong financial health, with only 3 percent of donations coming from payroll deductions. In the past two decades, GUW has awarded $40 million in grants, with 81 percent of money raised going directly toward program expenses. On average, GUW funds between thirty to thirty-five grants annually.
“We have to fundraise for everything we do,” he continues. “We rely on the generosity of Greenwich families to make this all happen. We are truly fortunate, but none of this would happen without the commitment of the board and the hundreds of volunteers. They all work together to help the staff realize our goals.
“Right now, the GUW is positioned to make a lasting impact in town. It all starts at home. And Greenwich is our home,” says Rabin.
Currently, GUW invests in more than twenty community initiatives and organizations, granting approximately one million dollars to its partners within the last year.
A snapshot of how some of those funds were used this past year include:
Providing food and clothing to more than 1,500 town residents
Enhancing the quality of life and peace and respite to the families of 86 frail and elderly Greenwich residents
Granting pre-school scholarships to more than 600 children from low- or moderate-income Greenwich homes
Giving 57,000 rides to elderly or disabled Greenwich residents
Supplying housing to 100 town residents with developmental disabilities
THE IMPACT OF GREENWICH UNITED WAY
A personal look at the very real impact of the GUW
Imagine this: You are newly divorced, pregnant and living alone in upstate Connecticut, when the world shuts down for Covid. You decide to go home to Greenwich to live with your mother and grandmother for support and familiarity, because you grew up there. Or you moved to Greenwich from South America with your partner and infant with no knowledge of the language or customs. You feel alone, in an unfamiliar culture, with no support system or firm grasp of English.
Both of these scenarios are the lives of two young mothers—we will call them Maria and Julia to preserve their anonymity—who come from divergent backgrounds but share the desire to be the best mothers they can be. Both also found the services they needed then—and still use today—through the Greenwich United Way.
“I had postpartum depression after my daughter was born,” Maria remembers. “It was the pandemic. I was newly divorced. My salary [as an administrative assistant] wasn’t covering the bills. I knew I wasn’t coping well, but I also knew I needed help.”
Since both women had infants, GUW stepped in with the GPAT program that it supports with its partner, Family Centers. It began with home visits and assessments of what was needed by each family—supplies for the children, scholarships for daycare, gift cards for the holidays, turkeys at Christmas. Referrals connected the women to programs including Neighbor to Neighbor, Mothers for Others, La Leche League and Family Centers Health Care, among others.
But for a woman like Julia, without friends or a support system, Jesica Alarcon, her family support provider at GPAT, became her confidant in this strange new world. When Julia’s partner relapsed into alcoholism, Jesica stepped in to find him support through Alcoholics Anonymous and the St. Joseph Parenting Center, where Julia was attending English-as-a-second language classes.
Today, both women are working, their children are in daycare, and they are moving forward. Their lives have been transformed.
Maria offers advice for anyone in a comparable situation: “Who’s going to know you have problems if you don’t reach out and say you need help? Sometimes you must swallow your pride. If a baby doesn’t cry, it might not be fed. It’s the baby’s way of asking for help. Same for adults. You need to ask. There are resources and people to help.”
This is exactly what Julia continued to do. As her partner’s alcoholism got worse, her determination to provide a good life for herself and her son deepened. Her English improved, and she is now on her way to earning a GED. And like Maria, she is now a single mom with hope for her—and her son’s—future.
Maria says she is a spiritual person and believes it is time for her to pay it forward to others in need. “I don’t have much, but I can donate my daughter’s clothes. If I find out about a family in need, I can fill a basket.
“I also want to tell anyone who needs help that the people at United Way and all the other agencies that have helped me are all loving and understanding. They never look down on anyone. They understand that people would not be asking for help if they didn’t need it. United Way is a nonjudgmental place, and I am blessed to have found my way there.”
GREENWICH UNITED WAY PARTNERS
(support for people with intellectual disabilities)
BOYS & GIRLS CLUB OF GREENWICH
(after-school and summer educational programs)
CHILD GUIDANCE CENTER
(crisis and mental health services)
(family and children’s programs)
(childcare, pre-school, Head Start, mental health counseling, tutoring in English and reading)
Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County
(food distribution for those in need)
GREENWICH FAMILY YMCA
(childcare and pre-school services)
HORIZONS AT BRUNSWICK SCHOOL
(student enrichment program)
JEWISH FAMILY SERVICES
(grocery shopping for seniors)
KIDS IN CRISIS
(children’s shelter, support for youth and families)
(substance abuse prevention and treatment)
MOTHERS FOR OTHERS
NEIGHBOR TO NEIGHBOR
(food and clothing for those in need)
(housing and support for people with mental illness)
PACIFIC HOUSE/SHELTER FOR THE HOMELESS
(shelter & transitional support for the homeless)
RIVER HOUSE ADULT DAY CENTER
(support for seniors, care givers & families)
THE ROWAN CENTER
(counseling and education)
TRANSPORTATION ASSOCIATION OF GREENWICH (TAG)
(transportation for seniors and people with special needs)
YWCA OF GREENWICH
(domestic abuse services)
Two women share their pride in being a part of the solution
Nicole Kwasniewski started volunteering at Greenwich United Way through a friend who recruited her to join the committee for the organization’s annual Brew Ha-Ha fundraiser. “I had no idea what the organization did,” she remembers, “but I thought it could be fun.”
The timing was perfect. Her three children were young, and she was looking for a way to meet people and get involved with an organization whose mission she could support. Brew Ha-Ha, a comedy night complete with food trucks, was the perfect first step for her, a casual way to get acquainted.
“I met the staff, learned about all the work the GUW does for the people in our town, and I quickly became passionate about helping.” Fast-forward a decade and Nicole is now board chair.
Karen Keegan, honored at GUW’s October gala, had a similar volunteer experience when she joined GUW’s fundraising group, Sole Sisters, working her way up to board chair and her current position on the advisory board.
Both women are proud of GUW’s accomplishments over the years and credit the Needs Assessments—completed every five years—as the basis for success. “The Needs Assessments identify unmet local health, educational and self-sufficiency needs and subsequently give birth to programs that help meet the identified needs,” Karen explains.
“Greenwich is like any other town,” says Nicole. “People just assume that everyone in Greenwich lives in $10 million-dollar homes. They think there cannot be any need in Greenwich. But our figures prove this is not the case. People in need are our neighbors, and our children are probably going to school with many kids from these families.”
“Approximately 28 to 29 percent of the town’s population is a flat tire or missed paycheck away from financial disaster,” says Rabin. “When people hear those statistics, the usual reaction is, ‘I had no idea.’ ”
For Karen, these statistics were reason enough to give her time and support to help GUW. “My husband and I feel strongly that a community must care for its own,” she says. “GUW brings our community together to help our people who need the help.”
Adds Nicole: “I am so grateful to be living in this amazing town, in a community where people go out of their way to help others. This is why I encourage everyone to get involved with GUW on some level. There are so many volunteer opportunities available that they will find something to do that inspires them.”
“David wants to talk to everyone and anyone about GUW. There is no gatekeeping. He is that passionate about GUW. People can also contact any board member. We are all ambassadors in the community, happy and willing to talk and inspire them to join,” says Nicole.
As for Nicole’s friend, Clarena McBeth, who originally persuaded her to join the Brew Ha-Ha committee: “We are really lucky to have her with us now, in her second year on the board,” Nicole says. It is a notable example of friends helping friends get—and stay—involved helping those in need in Greenwich.
SOME SOBERING FACTS
The federal poverty level for a family of four is currently $37,500 In Greenwich, a family of four living in town needs an annual income of $151,000 to survive. Factor in rent, childcare and food, and there is not much left for the bare necessities.
About 7% of our residents fall below the federal poverty level.
Approximately 23% are part of the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population that needs help with services.
HOW TO VOLUNTEER WITH GREENWICH UNITED WAY
Looking to volunteer? The GUW will welcome you with open arms
Greenwich United Way has an impressive roster of 650 volunteers, who CEO David Rabin calls: “The driving force behind the success of us achieving our mission.” Here are some ways you could help.
Campaign Fundraising Committee: Volunteers review contact lists, add prospects, write personal notes to the individuals they know, and participate in a phonathon to prior donors.
Community Investment Committee: This group meets to review applications and make visits to the organizations seeking program funding from Greenwich United Way. Members learn about the needs of the Greenwich community and the organizations, programs and services that address them.
Reading Champions: The program’s focus is to build students’ fluency skills. Close to 150 specially trained volunteers tutor several hundred children in all the Greenwich elementary schools and three after-school programs. Volunteers are recruited in early summer and serve on a regularly scheduled basis from mid-October through May. Training, materials and support are provided. Two offshoots have also been created: Math Champions and Finance Champions.
The Greenwich Junior United Way: This group is led by and for young people, under the guidance of adults, to enable them to get involved in solving community problems. Teens choose focus areas, develop their own ideas and make a measurable difference.
Community Planning Council: Members are nominated for this committee, but once selected, they have a list of available opportunities, including focus groups; researching specific areas of need through online research or conversations with local experts; and helping with Council outreach by sharing information and preparing presentations.
Sole Sisters: Committee members learn about the needs facing the town through visits to local nonprofits and agencies. They meet those needs by raising money through GUW events.
There truly is something for anyone who wishes to give their time and talent. If after reading the list you would like more information, contact David Rabin at 203-612-9593 or email@example.com.