“The role of the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula is to be the connector, to bring people and organizations and the communities together to solve issues and challenges. We work with nonprofits, governments and corporate sectors to help people experiencing poverty,” says Charvālla West, chief operating officer and director of community impact for United Way of the Virginia Peninsula. “We are a non-profit organization on the Virginia Peninsula, founded in 1939. We are an independent United Way location, but we are connected to others, as well. Our footprint comprises Gloucester, Hampton, James City County, Mathews, New Kent, Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg and York County.”
United Way helps mobilize and brings together resources in the community as it strives to assist those who may be working multiple jobs, those who are struggling to make ends meet, those with little to no savings or who may need help getting certifications or training for jobs. The non-profit also helps those in the Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) category, which includes first responders, early childhood educators, bus drivers and others on whom the community relies, aiding with unexpected payments every month or connecting them to resources.
West says, “Because of the work we do to connect people, most people are familiar with who we are, but don’t know exactly what we do. We have a community assistance network to help with advocacy and referrals, and anyone who has a need with paying rent or paying childcare or folks wondering where they can find transportation, they can call the assistance network and speak to one of our advocates.”
With more than 150 partners, the role of the advocate is “to determine what services a family needs,” West says. “The advocate provides referrals. For example, if someone needs help paying an electric bill, we seek information for our partners to decide eligibility. Many of our partners help with workforce elements and assist people requiring immediate financial support.”
United Way has been West’s full-time job since 2015. She came to United Way as a volunteer. “Volunteerism is one of our most valuable resources. We are always looking for volunteers. We can also help people connect with other volunteer services and find a good fit for them,” the COO says. “We have a Day of Giving every year with more than 600 volunteers, and we complete more than 60 projects across the community. We can help people on the Peninsula find opportunities to work in the community and determine what is most meaningful to them.”
For those who may be a little unsure if volunteering is right for them, West had an inspirational story to share. “I remember one day I was working with a family, and the mom was working hard so they could have their own housing again. The volunteers and the staff helped put together everything needed to move this family into their new house, including bowls and pillows. The mom had been working to get the basics together financially, but with help from United Way she quickly became more self-sufficient,” West says. “That’s what we stand for. We believe in the idea that not one organization can do everything, but we all have something to offer, and coming together, we can really move mountains and bring resources together.”
The connection aspect and being able to help others is what keeps West motivated. “Connecting — that’s who I am as a human,” West says. “I love making connections and getting to be a part of something bigger. It gives me the opportunity to work in different sectors with people of different backgrounds, helping to solve problems. And on the heels of the pandemic and a cost of living crisis, we want people to know who we are and what participating with us means. We want to continue to grow awareness and connect people to the resources and answers they need.”
West has also formed a meaningful connection with her colleague, United Way president and CEO, Steve Kast. “Our United Way wouldn’t be where we are today if not for the credibility and experience Steve brought to us. His reputation is built on decades of community service and partnership. Because of his belief in doing the right thing, our United Way has been able to ensure that 100 percent of contributions from our donors return to the community. His ability to think big picture and his belief in the kindness of our community have been at the forefront of the impact we’ve seen in moving people out of poverty.”
While United Way has worked hard to continually give to others, there are times where it also has to be the receiver. “For so long we have asked for assistance; we want people to know their time and dollars help nearly 40 nonprofits provide resources, making it possible to solve complicated problems and help those who qualify for ALICE. These solutions last beyond today.”
When West isn’t busy working or giving back to the community, she enjoys going on adventures, trying new food, seeing new places. She recently discovered she loves building Lego sets.
West invites volunteers to donate time or contribute to further the mission and vision of United Way. The nonprofit has open arms and is ready to connect the community and help people find solutions.
TO THE POINT:
Address: 101 York Cross Rd., Yorktown, VA 23692