United Way Executive Director Naomi Asher is passionate about helping vulnerable people in Anderson County.
She came by for The Courier News’ SideNotes video series recently to talk about programs United Way offers, emphasizing the work done in North Anderson County.
The Briceville community, for example, has a thriving program sponsored by Girls Inc at Briceville Elementary. It’s a program that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math and encourages girls to choose one of those paths as a career.
“The program teaches them that if they want to be a nurse, that’s great, but you could be a doctor,” Asher explained.
United Way serves as a funding source for other organizations that need it. They offer large community grants, grants for youth development, self sufficiency, and senior citizen-specific grants. The nonprofit has also funded Second Harvest in Briceville, which allowed them to bring a food pantry to the community. They have a “great partnership” with the Boys and Girls Club of North Anderson County in Rocky Top, according to Asher. She said that she is continually impressed with what that organization does.
The Boys and Girls Club has a community garden that students built last year, which was partially sponsored by United Way. United Way also funded a community garden in the Scarboro community of Oak Ridge. It’s at an apartment complex for low income senior citizens.
“They really wanted to do it,” Asher said. “They’re gardening and having the best time.”
A lot of them haven’t grown anything before, according to Asher, and so volunteers also go out and teach them different ways to cook the vegetables they grow.
Asher worked for CASA, a child advocacy center, prior to joining United Way a few years ago.
“I got to see a side of our community that, growing up, I didn’t have exposure to,” she said.
She has lived in Anderson County for most of her life, but did not have a lot of experiencing working with vulnerable populations. She realized that many, many organizations were involved when it came to helping families that dealt with abuse.
“That gave me a huge passion for that network of support,” she said, “because never were we the only organization helping a family.”
The families would often need drug rehabilitation, workforce development, housing support, furniture, medical support, psychological support and therapy.
A support system.
So when the job with United Way came open, it was a natural step for Asher.
United Way helps direct people to the right organizations for support when they need it. According to Asher, 26-percent of children in Anderson County have food insecurity and around 20-percent of the adult population lives with a disability. Knowing statistics like that helps them determine which organizations need funding the most.
“We don’t give money if we can’t back it up with the data,” she said.
United Way is working on a project that will drill down to some very specific data in Anderson County, including determining what it costs to live here.
To find out more about United Way and the programs it supports, visit uwayac.org. For the full video interview, visit vimeo.com/mycouriernews.