Kishwaukee United Way highlights area nonprofits to help ‘support the vision’

Kishwaukee United Way gave $168,000 to community organizations in 2023

Michele Vaughn, the executive director of Kishwaukee United Way, ushers the recipient of the 2024 Leo Olson Award, Shannon Alamia, to meet with the Kishwaukee United Way board of directors on Feb. 27, 2024.

SYCAMORE – Dozens of partners and collaborators gathered Tuesday to celebrate another year of community support with Kishwaukee United Way, which in 2023 distributed $168,000 to community organizations aiding area residents.

Michele Vaughn, executive director and president of the DeKalb County chapter of the national charity organization, has held her job for just more than a year. She said she’s proud of what the nonprofit has done in her first 12 months in DeKalb County.

In fiscal 2023, Kishwaukee United Way increased its total assets by 30.5%, and gave $168,000 to local, community-focused organizations, Vaughn said. She also said she aims to balloon that figure to over a $1 million.

“I’m a million dollar leader, meaning that my vision for Kishwaukee [United Way] and the community is rich resources,” Vaughn said. “Why? Because people are struggling, that’s why, and everyone has a need. We can talk about surviving to thriving. No one rises to low expectations, no one wants to live paycheck to paycheck when we have so many families struggling to make ends meet. I didn’t come to Kishwaukee and DeKalb to brag and lope, I came to ask big, but I need the community to support the vision.”

Tuesday morning Vaughn said the local United Way received a $10,000 grant to supplement the costs of the organization’s 2-1-1 program, an initiative that offers help to individuals struggling to meet a variety of personal needs.

Anyone in DeKalb County can call 211, or 888-865-9903, to be connected to someone who can will direct them to community resources for shelter, food, rent and utility assistance and other needs.

Vaughn said the grant will be used to create a 211 kiosk at Greater Family Health, 2550 N. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb. That kiosk, and possibly others placed in the offices of select Kishwaukee United Way partners, will direct individuals to community resources in DeKalb County.

Michele Vaughn, executive director of Kishwaukee United Way, talks with Jared Chimil, from Greater Family Health in DeKalb, before the start of the 2024 Kishwaukee United Way annual meeting on Feb. 27, 2024.

During the annual meeting held for the second year in a row at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, Shannon Alamia, executive director of Children’s Learning Center in DeKalb, was announced as the winner of the 2024 Leo Olson Award.

Alamia was surprised by the news, even though she said she didn’t think twice when she was asked to clarify how to say her name ahead of the meeting.

“I’m beyond words. I’m speechless. It’s such an honor. Thank you so much,” Alamia said.

Vaughn unveiled Kishwaukee United Way’s new, $1,000 scholarship. Individuals who would be the first generation in their family to graduate college, or receive a professional certification, can apply for the scholarship between April 1 and May 1, according the agency’s website.

More than 20 agencies partner with Kishwaukee United Way. That total grew by two in the past year with the addition of Habitat for Humanity and Building Leaders Advocating for Change, a non-profit organization seeking to empower youth in DeKalb.

One of the creators of Creating Blessings – a charity organization that started by giving free clothes and items to individuals at a home garage sale – spoke to dozens from various DeKalb County organizations at the United Way’s annual meeting.

Edgar Arias, who attended alongside his wife, said they’ve given clothes and other items people in need in the community. He said supporting individuals no matter how they’re dressed has been the key to their success.

“At Creating Blessings we don’t judge. We don’t pretend to know who needs help and doesn’t need help,” Arias said. “We give, we love and and we serve out of pure love, and nothing more – no judgement. And if you take that with you and you apply that into your organization, I’m sure you’re going to make a greater impact.”

Edgar Alias, one of the creators of Creating Blessings, gave his keys to success at the 2024 Kishwaukee United Way annual meeting on Feb. 27, 2024.
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