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The Extraordinary Impact You Made in 2021

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John Wilgers


As 2021 draws to a close, I want to thank you for your ongoing support of our community. Together, we have faced unimaginable crises with resilience and determination.

After the turmoil of 2020, many of us were looking forward to a return to ordinary in 2021. However, with the ongoing pandemic continuing to worsen racial disparities and disrupt our daily lives, this year has been anything but ordinary. And yet, when reflecting on everything we have done this year, it’s your support that has helped us move from “unimaginable” to “extraordinary.”

Connecting Neighbors to Resources 24/7

In January, we began offering suicide prevention support and mental health crisis intervention for Minnesotans as part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Our highly trained, empathetic specialists answer about 90 calls per day. Many callers suffer from substance abuse, mental health diagnoses, domestic violence and economic challenges — all of which have been amplified by the pandemic.

We’ve seen an increase in calls related to housing needs through our 211 resource helpline. This past spring, 211 partnered with the State’s RentHelpMN program to provide applicant information and support services. RentHelpMN provides financial assistance for people who have been economically impacted by the pandemic to help pay past due rent and prevent evictions. Since the program launched, our 211 RentHelpMN team has fielded more than 195,000 calls and facilitated access to over $285 million in rent assistance payments.

Driving Systems Change through Advocacy

We urged legislators to act quickly on housing stability and homelessness prevention, invest in early childhood education and access to quality child care, and create a nonprofit recovery fund to direct relief funds into communities. Our leadership on these issues resulted in several critical legislative wins, including:

  • $101.8 million over three years to increase child care subsidies for low-income families.
  • $300+ million in monthly grants to help stabilize child care providers and their programs.
  • $518 million for emergency rent assistance via RentHelpMN, benefitting 50,000 families.
  • A fair and thoughtful off-ramp from the eviction moratorium, during which landlords were prevented from evicting their tenants, including a 15-day pre-eviction notice and a provision forbidding the eviction of any eligible tenant who has applied for COVID-19 rental assistance through June 1, 2022.

Amplifying the Nonprofit Sector

We support and strengthen our nonprofit partners by connecting leaders, training teams and providing technical assistance as well as funding. With equity and inclusion at the center of our work, we offer multi-year grants to organizations working to fill gaps in community needs and impact critical issues in our community.

This fall we announced the 2022-2025 Community Investments funding opportunity for nonprofits providing direct services for individuals in the nine-county metro area. Funding will be prioritized for organizations serving Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and/or Communities of Color and that have executive leadership who identify as People of Color. Funding will also be prioritized for organizations and that are pursuing responsive, community-driven work and hold a clear vision for a more equitable and just future for those they support. We will announce final grant decisions in May 2022.

Innovating for Impact

Building on our previous success in the areas of education, housing stability and food security, we continue to make progress on new and existing innovation initiatives as we work to solve persistent challenges in our community.

Through Career Academies, we are closing opportunity gaps by building on our career pathways model to help students transition from high school to wealth-building careers with zero college debt. We are also looking to expand Full Lives, a place-based initiative that supports local entrepreneurs, develops community resources and collectively builds a local food economy to solve food insecurity throughout our region.

I’m excited to announce we are in the process of launching two new innovations. 80x3: Resilient from the Start is a region-wide initiative to increase capacity to deepen parenting skills and provide child care in a safe, stable environment that supports child resiliency. Pathways Home aims to prevent homelessness in youth (young people up to age 24) moving out of foster care and adults exiting corrections by providing wraparound support services like job training, mental health support, case management and rent assistance.

Partnering with Businesses to Meet Community Needs

For the second year in a row, we’ve had to rethink how we engage volunteers with hybrid models that offered both in-person and at-home volunteering options. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, we were able to increase our efforts.

In August, volunteers packed 50,000 backpacks full of school supplies for local students through our Action Day initiative. Our Home For Good volunteer event provided Welcome Home Kits filled with essential household items to 850 local families and individuals transitioning from homelessness to stable housing.

Our fundraising team also had to get creative around our Workplace Campaigns to meet the needs of our business partners. They’ve done a fantastic job pivoting between in-person, virtual and hybrid campaign events as needed.

There’s still time to support this important work, so please consider donating, either through your Greater Twin Cities United Way relationship officer or online.

Thank you for being a changemaker and supporting our community. Without you, we could not have made this extraordinary impact in our community. Together, we’re creating a more just Greater Twin Cities where all people thrive, regardless of income, race or place.

About the Author

John Wilgers is the President and CEO of Greater Twin Cities United Way. A passionate community advocate for more than 10 years, John has served in several United Way roles, including board chair, member of the executive committee of the board, volunteer, fundraiser and donor. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from the University of Kansas.

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