Men's Breakfast Report, July 2009

The Men’s Breakfast group met Saturday, July 11 with Gloria Luna, director of Community Outreach for the United Way.  Gloria is herself a product of the United Way system.  Her parents were involved in self-destructive activities and she was placed in the Brazoria County Youth Home (a United Way Agency) at age 16.  She remained there until her graduation from Brazosport High School at age 18.  She was determined to not follow in her parents’ path and needed help in starting a normal life.  Fortunately, she found a mentor, Lilian Travis, who provided her with room and board, and especially guidance, for a year.  Gloria left, got a job, took classes at the college and got an apartment.  She became pregnant with her daughter, now age 16, but decided not to marry the father. 

Gloria has worked for the United Way for several years.  Since she was a product of the same type of environment as many of the people requesting assistance, she is sympathetic but also recognizes attempts to con the system.  It also helps that she is the only bilingual employee of the agency. 

Although most of the funds that United Way raises are distributed through other agencies, some is given directly to clients.  One example of a United Way program is the Fan Distribution.  Many people have no way of cooling themselves during the present record high temperatures, so the United Way gives them fans for cooling.  They will occasionally provide air conditioning in cases of medical necessity.   Everyone wants air conditioning, but very few are approved.  Another direct program is a Life Skills course.  Many clients repeatedly ask for assistance primarily because of bad choices that they have made.  This course tries to teach clients skills such as budgeting so that they can become productive upstanding members of society and no longer need assistance.  Gloria believes that since she could get off the assistance dependency, most of the clients can also. 

The Federal government has provided funds for Hurricane Ike recovery.  These can be used to repair roofs.  There are still a surprising number of blue tarps in the county.  One program administered by the United Way completely rebuilds houses for eligible families.  This is done by contractors since the houses are built to specifications close to the original.   In many cases where relatively minor repairs are needed they work with the Carpenters Hands or the United Methodist Army.  They also work with Habitat for Humanity, but Habitat uses a few standardized plans and has its own qualification program. 

One of Gloria’s responsibilities is to carefully check on the use of funds by the various agencies.  She is interested in outcome measures to see if the agency is actually making good use of funds in terms of who is being helped and how efficiently they are serving the clients.  Many agencies are finding themselves under tighter scrutiny.  The Salvation Army is being reviewed because of the recent rapid turnover in leadership, although since there is a new Captain that may straighten things out.  The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have traditionally been big recipients of United Way Money.  However, there has been a decline in the number of scout troops in low income areas so this is becoming more a subsidy for the well-off.  The Boys and Girls Club are also recipients and the question is do they provide enough mentoring and academic assistance to their clients.  Some members of the Men’s Breakfast group praised the function that the Club does perform in that it gives children a safe place to meet without the dangers of bad peer pressure or exposure to drugs. 

Gloria would like to partner with churches in various programs such adopting a needy family.  She also says that if a church sends someone her way she will do her best to provide appropriate assistance. 

As usual, the men had and interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be August 8.