United Way Bus Tour

Narumi Hishinuma Contributor

United Way had a bus tour to help students and faculty gain experience with an interactive discussion about poverty in Topeka. The tour started at the United Way office and ended at 1527 SW Fairlawn Rd with 25 total spots. 

United Way strives to achieve positive sustainable change through education, financial stability and health for everyone in our community by connecting individuals and families to maximize their potential. 

Brett Martin, vice president of Community Impact, and Angel Romero, vice president of Resource Development, were the bus tour hosts.

United Way bus tour visited several United Way partner agencies, including the CRC Care Center and the Pine Ridge public housing neighborhood. Pine Ridge features several one-of-a-kind partnerships, including the Family Health Center that serves as a clinical site for Washburn nursing students and faculty.

“We started the tours about four years ago, and really the bus tours were about helping the people who give money to United Way, [and] see how those dollars were working,” said Martin. “And, people from companies who run campaigns, like Washburn University or Blue Cross Shield or any number of companies, we want them to have the opportunities to see the dollars in action.” 

United Way’s handout showed the city of Topeka neighborhood composite health map. After people who attended the bus tour left United Way, a bus passed through Fairlawn, 21st street, Gage, 10th street and the area of Washburn University.

“What we do is we raised the money here through work place campaign, and then we have volunteers who set on panels and they make decisions about where the dollars are going to be invested,” said Martin. “So, I think in many ways it’s hard, because we have really great programs in the community and the volunteers have tough decisions to make about where they are going to invest those dollars.”

The map showed the area of Washburn University which has a risk for health index, intensive care and financial stability impact work, including where Jackson, Jefferson and Shawnee counties need food, rent and utilities as well as healthcare and protection from domestic violence.

“When working an intensive care neighborhood, I think one of the things that’s most crucial is to recognize that no one group can do the work alone so there needs to be very strong partnerships and collaboration,” said Martin.

Once the bus got around the area needing health care, Romero mentioned there is only one grocery store within four miles with many walking pedestrians in the districts.

Following this, the bus stopped at CRC Care Center which has safe home program, city and county partnership, research, education and more. 

“Community Resources Council links with other collaborative groups to address specific needs in the community. This is accomplished through the development of community-wide initiatives that avoid duplication of services, maximize available resources, implement community plans designed to meet a specific outcome and monitor progress,” according to CRC website.

Later, the bus stopped at one of the Topeka Public Schools for Pine Ridge parents for teachers programs. Attendees looked inside to see what they do for children.

Martin discussed how he likes working with United Way, including meeting and taking care of people.

“This will be a little over three years working here, United Way. I think one of the most memorable times I had is that I work in Pine Ridge and I was able to volunteer that first year being a mentor for one of the students,” said Martin. “I’ve actually been able to mentor him for coming on three years. I wouldn’t have known him otherwise.”

On the other hand, Martin mentioned how important to build relationships between United Ways and some organizations.

“The other thing that is needed is the residence themselves have to be engaged to the works so the residents have to be engaged really from the beginning,” said Martin. “It’s important to talk with them about what they think they need so it doesn’t feel like people are coming and doing work to them. Support for them is to see their own work for them to have ownership of it.” 

Moreover, Patrick Early, director of Public Relations at Washburn, participated at the event and said how meaningful the bus tour is for Public Relations and Washburn University. 

“Our department actually runs the United campaign for the University. It was a chance for all of us to just get a whole better idea about what’s going on with United Way in these days, and in particular to look at some of the things we are partnered with as a university with United Way and other organizations in town,” said Early. “Deep community engagement is one of the things that makes the university special, and also makes your education special, because our nursing students go to another school for clinical experiences, but not to have the deep level of the engagement in the community clinic in the sources you might deal with in the real world setting.”

In addition, Early specified why he liked the bus tour.

“All these entities working together really make Topeka improvement, and we are very much engaged in the community. We do so many different things that is easy to forget what we do, and we run campaigns for ourselves as well,” said Early. “I am amazed at the number of things that have been done, and at the same time, a little overwhelmed at the things still need to be done.”