A sense of loss has often followed Ann Arbor resident Mary Ryal throughout her years-long battle against Lyme disease.
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Ryal contracted the disease in 1995 in Florida during the Fourth of July. Although she has significantly made progress through treatments, she said Lyme disease profoundly impacts her daily life. Through the years, Ryal said she “lost everything,” from her job to her marriage and house. She says she nearly died four or five times.
But with the help of Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels, Ryal has been able to get back something precious: her sense of independence.
Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels, a community-supported program of the University of Michigan Health System, provides meals for adults whose health or age affects their ability to shop for groceries and make nutritious meals.
For Ryal, the program allows her to live on her own and stay independent as she continues her journey to get better. Ryal, who uses a wheelchair, said because she has systemic weaknesses, tasks like bringing groceries in and putting them away, or loading and unloading the dishwasher, are big challenges.
“It was a godsend that they would come and bring me food,” she said.
Meals on Wheels is one of several service organizations to which U-M employees can donate through the 2016 United Way employee giving campaign.
The goal of this year’s campaign is to raise $1.5 million by Dec. 31.
Employees who want to make a pledge can choose to “designate” or allocate their donation to a specific nonprofit of their choice.
Contributions that aren’t designated to a specific 501(c)(3) can be directed to United Way’s Community Investment Fund, which works with the Ann Arbor Community Foundation, the RNR Foundation, Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital and the Office of Community and Economic Development to identify and coordinate funding to meet the most urgent health and human service needs in the area. The OCED represents Washtenaw County and the city of Ann Arbor in the partnership.
“What we’re trying to also convey is if you’d like to have the biggest impact on the breadth of health and human service needs in our area, this is the way that you can do it,” U-M Director of Community Relations Jim Kosteva said of the Community Investment Fund.
Pledges can be made through the ePledge system on Wolverine Access or through a pledge form available at uway.umich.edu.
For local nonprofits, United Way funds help ensure residents get the resources and services they need.
Meals on Wheels Director Beth Adams said last year, her organization provided more than 133,000 meals to locals. More than 70 percent of their clients live at 200 percent or lower than federal poverty levels.
Adams said they have received funding from the United Way for several years. Last year, those funds made up around 5 percent of the agency’s annual budget.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the support of the United Way,” Adams said.
Historically, United Way funding has even played a role in helping create new pathways for families to improve their lives, like the Family Empowerment Program at Hamilton Crossing in Ypsilanti.
The program aims to help families become self-sufficient and offers several services like child care, transportation, education, job training, counseling and financial fitness.
Families get accounts where if they deposit a dollar, the agency matches their contribution with $8, Director Marquan Jackson said. Residents can use these funds to pay for education, start a business or even move toward home ownership.
Resident Kristen Banks lives with her three kids at Hamilton Crossing. Since joining the program, she’s received her associate’s degree and is working toward getting a bachelor’s degree. She hopes to become a juvenile attorney.
Essentially, she said, she got her life back on track.
“I had three kids and I was doing it on my own, and school to me was just not an option,” Banks said. “I felt like I had to work and that was it. Coming here and actually speaking to (Jackson) and understanding that I can still have a life as well, it helped, and as soon as I went home and thought about it I enrolled in school.”
Community Action Network Deputy Director Derrick Miller also emphasizes the role of United Way in keeping his organization’s programming afloat.
Community Action Network serves families from underresourced Washtenaw County neighborhoods in three core areas: education, housing stabilization and community building.
Their offerings include after-school programs for local students, summer camps, a youth employment readiness program, eviction and utility shutoff prevention assistance, food distribution and community events like back-to-school supply giveaways and holiday parties.
Like Meals on Wheels, Community Action Network also receives funding through the local coordinated funding collaborative and Miller said the organization has gotten United Way funds for at least eight years. Right now, those funds make up a little less than a sixth of its budget.
This funding is crucial, Miller said, in order to pay for operating expenses like staff and supplies.
“You have to have paid staff that are there helping coordinate it or else the quality of service just plummets and the reliability of it also tends to plummet along with it,” he said. “We’re talking about a sixth of our funding right now so if you were to eliminate that, we’re talking about a huge chunk of services that just flat out would not be possible.”
Fayiza Nabilsi has seen Community Action Network programs firsthand as both a client and a volunteer. She uses the food pantry for her own family and her youngest child attends the after-school programs.
But years ago, after she first started using Community Action Network services, she decided to be a volunteer to give back. She now helps with distributing food at the pantry and cooking for community events.
“After I became a client here, I saw how it’s very beneficial, how it’s very helpful when people come in and find a friendly face and a helping hand,” Nabilsi said. “I decided to apply to become a volunteer because I wanted to give back to the community because they’d been so good to me and they can always use the help here.”