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2021 UW Speaker Series Recap


Every October, we come together as a company to learn more about the United Way, a national organization dedicated to helping improve lives through local communities. We recently hosted video presentations from several speakers from local [to our offices] organizations that are bettering their communities with help from the United Way. The organizations include Duo Dogs, Operation Food Search, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and 360 Youth Services.

Speakers shared more about their organizations including how to become involved as volunteers. We’ve recapped their inspirational presentations below.

Duo Dogs

On October 16, Dawn Van Houten, Chief Executive Officer of Duo Dogs, told us more about her St. Louis, MO-based organization. Duo Dogs, which started about 40 years ago, breeds and trains assistance dogs, or animals who help people with mobility issues, hearing issues, or issues arising from PTSD. The dogs provide critical “stability, support, and independence” for individuals who need them, Van Houten said.

Duo was especially grateful for its partnership with the United Way during COVID-19, when it, like many other organizations, was negatively impacted. “The support United Way gave us helped us run activities that we otherwise could not have because of the pandemic,” Van Houten said.

There are many ways to get involved with Duo, including helping with the organization’s Kennel Enrichment program. Volunteers in this program provide exercise and play for Duo’s kennel dogs that are in their final stages of assistance dog training.

Learn more about Duo on its website.

Operation Food Search

On October 13, we hosted Judy Coyman, Director of Annual Giving at Operation Food Search in St. Louis. Operation Food Search is a hunger relief organization that helps more than 200,000 people across the bi-state area every month and distributes $31 million worth of food and necessities each year, Coyman said. It started working with the United Way in 2021.

Operation Food Search’s vision is to end childhood hunger and family food insecurity in our region and in Missouri by addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty. “Hunger is just the tip of the iceberg. There are usually other things at play. For example, you might need help with mental health or housing,” Coyman said.

During COVID-19, there was nearly a 50% spike in food insecurity in the St. Louis region. Operation Food Search was especially grateful for United Way support during this time, Coyman said.

Operation Food Search is always looking for volunteers to help in areas including food distribution, nutrition education, and special events.

Learn more about Operation Food Search on its website.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

On October 20, we hosted Jessie Brown, Program Coordinator for Ending the Silence at the National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI] St Louis. The national organization 700 local affiliates including one that serves the St. Louis region with help from the United Way.

NAMI is dedicated to improving the lives of children and adults with mental illness. All its programs and support groups are peer led by individuals either living with mental illness or with a friend or family member who is. NAMI provides its programs completely free of charge, and funding from the United Way helps offset its costs, Brown said.

There are several ways to get involved with NAMI. You can become an office or outreach volunteer or program leader, join a committee or the board, or join an event committee to plan special events.

Learn more NAMI on its website.

360 Youth Services

On October 27, we hosted Julie Ryan, Chief Philanthropy Officer, and Stefin Steberl, Marketing and Events Manager at 360 Youth Services in Chicago. The organization, which started in 1971, offers substance use prevention education, counseling, and housing to youth and families in Naperville, IL, and the surrounding areas. “We are all about empowering individuals and helping to equip youth and their families as they navigate and overcome challenges, and thrive,” Ryan said.

In the fiscal year 2020-2021, 360 Youth Services provided 15,493 nights of safe housing for youth, opened a new emergency shelter with a local hotel, and provided 5,805 counseling sessions for youth ages 10-25. It accomplished these milestones despite challenges presented by the pandemic, including an increase in youth homelessness and housing shortages.

If you’re interested in volunteering, you can join 360 Youth Services as a mentor, help the organization put on its events, host a collection drive for items needed by the youth and families it serves, and sign up as a volunteer for other opportunities.

Learn more about 360 Youth Services on its website.

At KM we look forward to this mini speaker series each year! It serves as a great reminder of how closely our mission at KellyMitchell aligns with United Way’s mission.

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