FORT WORTH — The United Way of Tarrant County has budgeted $32.1 million to assist its clients, including programs that will prepare at-risk students for graduation and help low-income families achieve financial stability.“We feel real good about the budget,” said Tim McKinney, president and CEO of United Way of Tarrant County. “I think it is going to adequately fund our initiatives in the community.”The United Way of Tarrant County board of directors recently approved the 2014-2015 budget, which represents a 7.4 percent increase over last year’s funding amount of $29.9 million.“We are budgeting an adequate amount to carry on our work,” McKinney said.Of the $32.1 million budgeted for assistance, $20 million was raised during the 2013-14 fundraising campaign, officials said. The rest of the money comes from grants.The campaign for 2014-15 officially starts in September, said Daryl Wagoner, spokesman for the United Way of Tarrant County. A fundraising goal has not been set, he said.The organization will devote about $5 million to its Learn Well, Earn Well and Live Well initiatives that are aimed at improving the education, financial stability and independent living of Tarrant County residents. The program begins its fifth year and includes various social service agencies, school districts, universities, government entities and businesses.McKinney said these areas of focus are key to building healthy lives in the community and are considered building blocks to successful lives.“They are really important to leading successful lives,” McKinney said. “You need a good education to succeed — to have a stable income. A stable income provides for the health and well-being of families.”Other funding highlights include:• $3.2 million in contributions designated to organizations by donors;• $2.9 million for 58 community programs that reinforce the health and human service system in Tarrant County;• $2.6 million for services for older adults, people with disabilities and their caregivers;• $2.5 million for community services provide by the United Way, including 211 information and referral service;• and $423,384 for the United Way Veterans Fund for services for returning veterans;‘Cradle to career continuum’As part of the Learn Well program, 8,000 at-risk students will be placed on the path to graduation. The 10-year project links United Way with the Fort Worth, Arlington, Birdville and Crowley school districts to help students from preschool to high school. The program will feature a new component this year: It will focus on freshmen, making sure they stay on track for graduation. That program will be implemented at a ninth-grade center in the Crowley school district and at a high school in the Fort Worth school district.McKinney said this new component ties into House Bill 5, which created a new set of guidelines for high school graduation. The new rules call for entering ninth-grade students to have a plan in place for graduation.McKinney said their program builds on efforts to focus on pre-kindergarten, early learning and middle school.“This completes the cradle to career continuum,” he said.New ‘lending circles’Under the Earn Well program, low-income working families are assisted so they can gain financial stability and better manage their money. This year, Fort Worth is a new partner in the program, according to the United Way. The city will operate VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) centers in Fort Worth and Northeast Tarrant County. This program has been offering free tax preparation for low-income and working-class families.The program will also feature “lending circles” that will allow families to pool money to provide small, interest-free loans. Catholic Charities Fort Worth and the YMCA of Fort Worth &Tarrant County will receive funding to operate eight lending circles.United Way programs will continue to help people manage disabling health conditions through training under the Live Well initiative. People receive training to become family caregivers of loved ones.McKinney said the goal of the Learn Well, Earn Well and Live Well initiatives is to make an impact by 2020.“We feel we are on track to achieve those goals,” he said.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1