United Community saves lives, fueled by technology and passion

Addressing the community’s most basic needs is an ongoing, monumental task. Metro United Way has powerful ways to help – our 2-1-1 helpline, and United Community.

While 2-1-1 is used by more people, United Community is a newer platform that many don’t know much about. But it has incredible potential to save lives and transform the social safety net in the Greater Louisville region.

United Community offers a “no wrong door” approach. No matter where someone seeks help in the Greater Louisville area, if their need cannot be met where they are, they can get an instant referral to a place where they can get help. This is driven by technology that makes the referral process much more efficient.

The network helps people with a variety of needs – food and housing insecurity, education help, mental health supports, job services, addiction recovery – anything that impacts a person’s wellbeing. These services help us support thriving kids, strong households, and an equitable community – the three main priorities of Metro United Way.

Since its inception, United Community has served more than 13,000 people, averaging about three referrals per person, since many face more than one need.

Currently, there are 526 providers who are part of the United Community platform across Metro United Way’s service area in the Greater Louisville region – Jefferson, Shelby, Bullitt, and Oldham counties in Kentucky and Clark, Floyd, and Harrison counties in Indiana. There is no cost to use the platform for community-based organizations who provide services.

Metro United Way’s Director of United Community, DeWana Hadder, is driven to improve social safety nets to better serve everyone. That’s because she’s experienced the system from several sides.

“I’ve needed social services as a child and as an adult,” she said. “There’s no reason why that carried over into my adult life. I really have the aspiration to disrupt multigenerational need.”

Growing up in a single-parent household in west Louisville, DeWana and her five younger siblings had to rely on social services to meet their needs. They lived in subsidized housing and even though her mother worked several jobs at a time, it was impossible for the family to make ends meet.

DeWana was identified as a gifted student and went to affluent middle and high schools in east Louisville, where she learned about systemic racism by experience. It was all around her.

“Why do houses look different? Why do the apartments look different? Why do they have such nicely paved streets and we have potholes? Why is there a difference?” she remembered thinking. “And so I was learning about structural and institutional racism before I ever understood what those terms actually meant, because I was literally seeing it with my own eyes.”

Watching her mother struggle to bring in enough money led DeWana, the oldest child, to become gang involved as a teenager.

“Not because I wanted to be or because I thought it was cool – it was literally a fast track to money,” she said. “I was just really tired of watching my mom break her back and work two to three jobs to try to take care of us, to still have to rely on all these services.”

It wasn’t until DeWana connected with organizations like No More Red Dots and the Baxter Community Center that she learned about college and what opportunities were available to her.

“I did what I knew was wrong until I was able to do what I knew was right,” she explained.

Her first college visit shifted the trajectory of her future, but being accepted and going to Spalding University didn’t end her need.

“It wasn’t until I graduated from college and started making some decent money that I was able to pull myself and lift myself out of poverty,” she explained.

DeWana works in social services now because she is driven to be the person that she needed in her life as a teen. She wants to set an example for kids who grow up in poverty and have limited access to opportunities to find a way out of the system.

“I feel incredible to know that my past didn’t determine my future,” she reflected after recently passing a milestone on her journey to a Doctorate degree. “I cannot wait to use my voice and research to disrupt the system I survived.”

Before joining Metro United Way, DeWana worked in direct services for more than a decade. She worked at one of the first organizations to use United Community, handling referrals and more for people in need.

While she was hesitant of the new technology at first, she soon realized United Community completely changed the game. Before the platform existed, it might take someone several months to get the services they needed. With the platform, referrals took hours.

“I’ll never forget, I was working with a young person who had just experienced a family trauma,” she recalled. “They suddenly had to care for younger siblings. So trying to help them navigate this phase, I made referrals for multiple services all within the platform. They needed health, financial, and legal assistance.

“To see those referrals be accepted and served within a 24-hour time frame, it literally blew my mind!”

When the chance arrived, she joined Metro United Way’s team as the Director of United Community so she could improve the platform.

“All of the things that I felt could have been more user friendly, including processes, workflows, etc… I’ve been able to implement in the three years that I’ve been in the role,” DeWana said. “It’s just a complete full circle for me…I get to wake up every day and use everything that has happened to me to save lives.”

Now, she’s making major plans, with the backing of Metro United Way, for the platform’s growth – expanding the network, filling gaps, and drawing in new partners.

She wants to double the number of providers on the platform. Beyond that, she hopes for-profit businesses sign on to create a robust ecosystem of social care. It’s a big, innovative idea.

“For example, if a woman is experiencing domestic violence and the Center for Women and Families, or any of our other organizations that serve this specific need, happen to be full – what would a world look like where that mom could essentially pack up and go to a participating hotel where she’s able to get a room for a week?” DeWana said. “And because of the evolution of the technology, not only could the hotel accept her and serve her, but they could essentially bill either Metro United Way, or whatever organization referred her, to get reimbursed for her stay at a discounted rate because of the partnership.”

It’s ideas such as this that are needed to build a more equitable community. People should not be stigmatized or made to jump through numerous hoops to get the help they need. Streamlining these processes is a start to disrupting systemic racism and multi-generational need.

Learn More

Want to get involved? Learn how to join United Community as a care provider or business, or make a donation, by clicking or tapping here.

Metro United Way is grateful for United Community’s sponsors and partners, especially the LG&E and KU Foundation, James Graham Brown Foundation, Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, Kindred Healthcare, Passport Health, the Community Foundation of Louisville, the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, and the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.


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