To honor the many frontline workers who have worked diligently [...]
By Ashley Kring|2021-01-20T12:05:05-05:00January 20th, 2021|Categories: COVID-19, News|Comments Off on United Way of Midland County and The Charles J. Strosacker Foundation Partner to Thank Frontline Workers While Supporting Local Businesses: “It’s a Win-Win”
After Sharon Cheney and her husband Gaylord sold their Midland home in August of 2019, they were happy to settle into their new house on Sanford Lake.
But Mother Nature had other plans.
“My husband and I bought the home in Sanford in August of 2019, and the flood happened in May of 2020,” she said. “This was our retirement plan. We went in that fall and did a bunch of work. We were content with where we were at…and then the flood hit.”
Five feet of water destroyed the home.
“Our mobile home was strapped down with hurricane straps, but it still moved 20 feet off the foundation and twisted the frame,” she said. “There was a pontoon leaning against our house. It wasn’t our pontoon…it had washed up on our property. All I can say is it was heart-wrenching. We were in pure shock.”
Mother Nature held her own type of garage sale, using her might to move items from one yard into the next.
“We found the owners of the pontoon,” she said. “There was part of a boat shed that had washed up here. There were other people searching, hoping to find things.”
Items once deemed insignificant suddenly became symbols of their lives before the flood. Sharon carried that emotional weight.
“After things settled down, there was a site online called Lost and Found and I had posted a picture of a couple of wooden chairs missing that used to be out by our fire pit,” Sharon said. “I put them on the site hoping they’d show up. Someone had found one of them four miles down the river. We went down there and sure enough, it was our chair. It still had the cushion on it. When they brought the chair up, I remember crying about it. I felt so stupid, but that chair is part of us. There was no monetary value. It was just ours.”
With their home destroyed, Sharon and Gaylord knew they had to decide: stay on the property and rebuild, or go. Either way, it meant starting over.
They chose to stay.
“Our son and his family live over west of Midland, so we stayed with them for a good month, and then we purchased a fifth wheel trailer that we brought out here on the site,” Sharon said. “We were living in that, and then a group of friends and family got together to help us rebuild.”
A crew came in and demolished the trailer and hauled the remnants of the home that once was their retirement sanctuary, marking the end of one chapter and the start of another.
“It was hard to see the house demolished,” she said. “As long as it was sitting on that lot, we still had it. But when we demolished it, it was really gone. But I think that’s what pushed us forward. We knew it was gone and we had to make up our mind that either we were going to stay, or find something else.”
It was during the rebuilding process that Sharon and her husband tried to get assistance from FEMA, SBA and the VA. The process was not the easiest to navigate, Sharon said.
The Cheney’s New Home on Sanford Lake
Then United Way of Midland County called. Because of the hurdles and hoops she had already faced, Sharon was a little leery.
“United Way had reached out to us and asked if we would be interested in working with a Disaster Case Manager and of course I said yes, not knowing what was down the road,” she said. “At the time of the flood—I, like many others—were disappointed in the help we were getting. As we cleaned up our neighborhood, we wondered, ‘Where’s our help with this?’ We are cleaning up stuff that floated in from the north and kept thinking, ‘Where’s our help?’”
But as part of the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group, United Way helped to connect Sharon with Becca Marcott, a Disaster Case Manager. Still, Sharon remained more cautious than optimistic. The process of getting help from the government had been a challenge.
“I remember setting up an appointment with Becca and I told my husband, ‘I don’t know if they will be able to help’.” We were working with FEMA and the VA –my husband’s a veteran—trying to help us with some funding. So when we went to that meeting with Becca, I didn’t have any high hopes of Becca helping. It wasn’t anything against Becca or the organization…we were just used to another ending. We were in turmoil with the paperwork. But with Becca’s understanding and nudging, she didn’t give up on us, which helped us to get through what we needed to do to get assistance.”
Becca became the sounding board and listening ear that Sharon and her husband needed.
“Without Becca and the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group, we wouldn’t have had the help from FEMA,” she said. “She kept us on the right path and didn’t give up. It felt so nice to have someone in our corner… to have someone that understood what was going on instead of just another name or a phone call. We had someone that we could talk to.”
Sharon said that first call from United Way was a life saver.
“If they hadn’t called us, I don’t think we would have gotten the financial help that we did or the moral support from Becca.”
Nowadays, Sharon and her husband are back on Sanford Lake in their new home that their family and friends helped them rebuild. She said she’s looking forward to the future.
“We love it out here,” she said. “We are feeling good now. We’ve got the new home almost done and we’re even doing research for what the landscape will look like. We have the wildlife, and we enjoy watching them. This has always felt like home. We are comfortable here.”
United Way of Midland County brings our community together to improve lives. Be a part of the impact.
We are seeking a Data Processing Assistant to work collaboratively in a cross-functional team to enter and manage data using multiple digital tools. The ideal candidate thrives in a flexible environment, has excellent attention to detail, and enjoys a task-driven work process.
Salary: $13.00 to $15.00 /hour
Data entry, including, but not limited to:
Processing financial transactions
Creating accounts for donors and organizations
Updating information when changes occur
Assisting with data cleanup and maintenance
Providing quality control over data and processes
Overseeing physical mailings of checks, statements, tax receipts, thank you letters, and solicitation letters
Troubleshooting online portal issues
Monitoring local obituaries, updating donor accounts as needed
Assisting with other tasks, as required
Strong organizational skills, attention to detail and accuracy
Excellent typing skills and proficiency in Microsoft Office programs
Good interpersonal, communication, and customer service skills
Quick learner, self-starter and enjoys working independently
1 year of data entry experience preferred but not required
That’s what Alanna Lee and her husband Ryan found in the basement when the flood waters hit their tri-level home in Bullock Creek in May.
The scent wasn’t exactly pleasant.
“The catfish and bullfrogs and crawfish were just sitting on our couch,” Alanna Lee said. “The level of muck was indescribable. It stunk like sewer mixed with swamp.”
The flood destroyed three of the four levels of the Lee home. They lost 85% of their belongings.
“People say to us, ‘It’s just stuff,’ and that’s true and I’m grateful for what we have,” Lee said. “But we had to spend two weeks throwing our lives away. We lost irreplaceable items like diplomas and baby items. I’m a big book collector and spent years and years amassing books that are now destroyed. These are things we collected and built our lives together. My husband built me a farmhouse kitchen table, and just like that…it was gone.”
The Broken Home
Alanna and Ryan’s 3-year-old son Logan lost most of his playroom items because of its basement location.
The flood was hard for the toddler to understand. This house was the only home he had ever known.
“Our son had a hard time expressing his emotions,” Lee said. “I tried to show him the house, and he would cling to me. He’d sit out in the car and cry. If he did walk in, he’d really struggle. We call it ‘The Broken Home’ because he understands what ‘broken’ and ‘fixed’ means. I would tell him, ‘Yep, it’s broken, but we are going to fix it’.”
The Lee family were grateful to relocate to an aunt and uncle’s local condo as they worked to piece their lives together. They had no flood insurance on their house. Despite taking inventory of what they lost—Lee took over 1,000 photos of ruined belongings—the insurance company could not help them.
“Our house sat there for months,” Lee explained. “We were paying a mortgage on a house that was just sitting there, destroyed, looking like a broken shell of our house….and in the middle of a pandemic. We felt hopeless.”
“Look for the Helpers”
Lee said the Midland County community stepped up in huge ways to help their family.
“Volunteers came by like guardian angels to help us get the muck out of the basement,” she said. “They’d drop off food. They weren’t asking for anything. We had no shortage of cleaning supplies. There were meal trains, gift cards, water. You hear about support when really bad things happen, but to live it…” she paused with tears in her eyes. “It’s like the Mr. Rogers quote, when he says ‘Look for the helpers’ and you realize it’s real.”
They are grateful for the efforts of the disaster case managers, an integral part of the Long-Term Disaster Recovery efforts. They guide homeowners through the many layers of recovery, including connecting them to resources, advocating and providing emotional support.
The LTDRG is working collaboratively to lead recovery and rebuild efforts. Made up of a broad representation of philanthropy organizations, nonprofits, businesses, government, faith community, civic groups and schools, they are working together to chart a path forward. This includes funding, coordination of in-kind materials, construction, case management and volunteer support.
Spearheaded by the LTDRG, local organizations worked together to show support. The Midland Area Community Foundation purchased a bed for the Lee family’s son, while United Way of Midland County provided two twin mattresses.
During the holiday season, the LTDRG disaster case managers contacted the Lee family. They invited Alanna to come to United Way’s office to pick up new toys donated by the Bottomless Toy Chest organization.
“It is generosity I’ve never experienced,” Lee said. “We don’t become numb to it. I was like, ‘Wait…toys for Christmas? This is unbelievable’.”
Through the coordination of 211, Toys for Tots was also able to provide holiday gifts for the family.
Lee said the community were the true difference makers from where they were to where they are now: back in their home in Bullock Creek.
“Without our community, the disaster case managers and the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group, I don’t know where we’d be,” she said. “We would have to walk away from our home. We’d be many steps back from where we are at now. The community is 100% making a difference. It’s recognized and appreciated through little and big deeds. I can’t stress enough how they have helped us get through.”
In honor of Black History Month, United Way of Midland County is hosting a 10-Day Virtual Equity Challenge running February 1 – 12.
This free, virtual challenge is open to all. It offers a powerful opportunity to develop a deeper understanding and awareness about how inequity and racism affects our lives and community.
These topics are not only relevant across the country, but within our own backyard. During the recovery from the Great Recession, the number of Black households under the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained) Threshold in Michigan increased by 11% from 2010 to 2018. The number of white households struggling to make ends meet increased by only 1% statewide during that time frame.
The Equity Challenge aligns with United Way of Midland County’s mission to unite to improve lives by bridging awareness with action.
“This challenge is a step we can all take together to widen our lens in which we see our world,” said Holly Miller, president and CEO of United Way of Midland County. “Together, we can continue building a community that is committed to improving equity and inclusion. It starts with educating ourselves, being curious and committed to listening, learning and challenging our biases.”
Here’s how the equity challenge will work:
The challenge will begin with a 30-minute virtual kick-off this upcoming Monday, February 1. Participants will then receive an email each weekday for two weeks (10 days) that focuses on a specific topic about diversity, equity and inclusion. The email includes background information and a challenge section with engaging prompts to encourage participants to read, watch, listen, or learn.
Examples of daily topics include: personal racial identity, understanding privilege, race in the workplace and more.
United Ways across Michigan are reinforcing their commitment to race and equity, both in policy and in action. This Challenge was originally developed by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., Dr. Marguerite Penick-Parks and Debby Irving and has been adapted by Food Solutions New England. United Ways in Michigan have committed to adapt the challenge with the support of leaders across the Michigan United Way network.
The challenge led by United Way of Midland County concludes with a virtual summit on February 12. Community experts and leaders will join facilitators Kathy Snyder—who serves as the Midland Area Wellbeing Coalition Coordinator—and Kimberly Houston—who retired as Dow Corning Corporation’s Diversity Officer, Global Community Relations Leader, and President of the Dow Corning Foundation—to explore and discuss what was discovered through the challenge.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with United Way, Kimberly Houston and such an insightful group of panelists for this 10-Day Equity Challenge,” Snyder said. “Midland’s aspirational vision is ‘Together. Forward. Bold. An exceptional place where everyone thrives.’ This is more than just a slogan to me. This takes work in many different ways in many different areas, and the Equity Challenge is a very important step in the right direction.”
The Equity Challenge and the Summit brings leaders from numerous community groups committed to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion together, demonstrating collaboration at its finest.
The esteemed panelists include:
Amy Beasley: Dow (on loan to MPS), Midland County Inclusion Alliance
Jimmy Greene: Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan
De’Ondre Hogan: Midland Public Schools Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Diane Brown Wilhelm: Midland City Council , We Hear You Coalition
Gina Wilson: Central Michigan University, Cultural Awareness Coalition