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Valley of the Sun United Way targets hunger, homelessness, kids, families

Volunteers along with students in the Roosevelt School District work together with United Way on school beautification projects such as playground repainting, creating U.S. maps on the playground and school murals.

Volunteers along with students in the Roosevelt School District work together with United Way on school beautification projects such as playground repainting, creating U.S. maps on the playground and school murals.

Valley of the Sun United Way has been investing in local communities for nearly a century with a unique model of bringing together public services, businesses, other nonprofits, and faith-based organizations.

With more than 90,000 donors, 700 business supporters, and 5,000 volunteers, United Way is the largest nonprofit in Maricopa County.

“A lot of organizations provide services on a day-to-day basis,” said Penny Allee Taylor, the chief public policy officer at Valley of the Sun United Way. “(United Way) also does the long-term systems planning.”

The main objectives of the organization are ending hunger and homelessness, ensuring kids succeed in school, and increasing financial stability for families and individuals. To achieve these goals, United Way supports, organizes, and funds programs that include permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless; VELLO, a virtual tutoring program, and school readiness kits for students ages 3-5; and the Helping the Working Poor Fund, which invests in local programs that provide job-skills training, education, affordable child care, and other services to the working poor.

“What we do is connect all of the resources together … to help our community and help everyone lift themselves a little bit higher,” said Taylor.

United Way is devoting the largest portion of its resources to providing housing to the homeless, but education will be the nonprofit’s biggest investment in the long-term, Taylor said.

Volunteers from USAA build Weekend Hunger Backpacks at VSUW Community Impact Center in Phoenix. Five hundred and twenty students receive the weekly food supply each Friday. Volunteers deliver the bags each Friday to 11 schools in Maricopa County.

Volunteers from USAA build Weekend Hunger Backpacks at VSUW Community Impact Center in Phoenix. Five hundred and twenty students receive the weekly food supply each Friday. Volunteers deliver the bags each Friday to 11 schools in Maricopa County.

Valley of the Sun United Way also takes part in advocacy. In 2016, United Way successfully led a coalition to pass SB1216, which doubled the maximum Charitable Tax Credit taxpayers can receive. The Charitable Tax Credit provides a tax refund of up to $400 for individuals and up to $800 for families for donations made to qualifying nonprofits, including United Way. While donations can be designated for one of the three objectives or for a partner organization, United Way says that direct, undesignated donations are better able to make a collective impact through United Way’s long-term plan for systematic change.

Valley of the Sun United Way is one of more than 1,200 United Way organizations across the country. While it receives staff training and consultation from United Way Worldwide, the local organization is an autonomous nonprofit organization. Approximately 90 percent of donations to the organization are used to fund local service programs, and all funds stay within Maricopa County.

“We’re a trusted member of the community,” said Taylor. “People will reach out to us when they won’t reach out to others.”

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