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Celebrate Black History MonthBlack history and culture is major a part of the American fabric -- and the school curriculum -- that it's difficult to imagine a time when that wasn't so. Established as Negro History Week in the 1920s by Carter G. Woodson, February was chosen for the celebration because Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were born in this month. Black History month was extended to a month-long celebration in 1976. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history. During the month of February, 89.1 WEMU will feature programs and activities to commemorate, celebrate, and take opportunity to emphasize the history and achievements of African Americans.

Washtenaw United: UWWC geared up for 2022 with lessons learned from pandemic

Pam Smith
United Way of Washtenaw County

A lot has happened in the three months that David Fair has been away on medical leave. On this week's "Washtenaw United," David checks in with Pam Smith, president and CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County, to find out what we've missed and what's coming up in the first half of the year. 

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area.  And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services.  It is a community voice.  It is 'Washtenaw United.'




Pam Smith has been the President/CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County since 2012. As a nonprofit executive, she is dedicated to strengthening the community through philanthropy, collaboration, and community engagement. Her vision and leadership guides the Equity, Diversity, and Justice work of the United Way of Washtenaw County. She has more than 25 years of experience in Management, Communications,  and Nonprofit administration. She has served on local nonprofit boards, as an UM guest lecturer, and on local advisory teams. Ms. Smith has extensive experience in management, marketing, communications, training, and workforce development. Her development and fundraising skills have made her keenly aware of the intricate balance of the diverse needs within the Southeastern Michigan community. 


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the first new edition of Washtenaw United for 2022. I'm David Fair, and I had to spend some time away on medical leave. But I'm back and looking forward to exploring issues of equity and equality with you throughout the rest of the year. Being away for over three months, I feel a bit removed and disconnected, so we thought the best way to get up to speed was to take a look at what has been going on and what is coming up by checking in with our Washtenaw United content partner, Pam Smith. She is the president and CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County, and it's so nice to talk with you again. 

Pam Smith: Good morning, David. I'm so glad to hear your voice on the radio again. I'm glad that you're back. 

David Fair: I know that with today's show, we're wrapping up the first month of 2022 already, but I I do want to glance back in time for a moment. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and the state shut down in March of that year, the United Way had to quickly pivot on its immediate priorities. As we approach the two-year mark, what are some of the ways the Washtenaw County chapter has changed? 

Pam Smith: So much has happened over the past two years, and while I want to make sure that we are mindful and intentional to acknowledge all of the families that have suffered through this pandemic and acknowledge all of the great work that has been done by so many community partners in the health system and churches coming together to make sure people have what they need. I also think that COVID and the pandemic showed that there is a new way to do some things. And I think, for the most part, if you look at it and see where we are now, I call it B.C., like before COVID. And then- 

David Fair: Right. 

Pam Smith: We don't have after COVID yet, but we have, you know, we're still dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic. It's made United Way of Washtenaw County not only a more resilient agency, but a much deeper connected agency. So, you know and the listeners of this series know all of the work that we've done around equity in our communities, starting with the equity challenge and moving through all of the different community conversations that we've had. And we had a much-- because of that work--we had a much deeper connection with the neighborhoods of the community. So when the pandemic first hit, we already had the connections established and we were able in focus on making sure that personal protective equipment, PPE, and medical access and information was getting to those communities that are historically have been marginalized in our community--typically, in our county, 48197 and 48198, as well as some of the rural areas. And so, those partnerships really helped us get resources to where they were needed the most and affected.

David Fair: And through those neighborhood connections and these growing relationships in the pandemic era, is there now a greater understanding of the depths to which inequity impacts life in Washtenaw County? 

Pam Smith: I would hope so. But I think we need to be tenacious and persistent in our pursuit of equity. I think that, for me personally, it's lifelong learning that I'll be doing. And I think that we'll always be focused on this as an agency in our community. You know, when we raised over a million dollars to help with COVID, and I appreciate the community's support in that, we were very, very determined and focused on how that was distributed. And it went to BIPOC-led organizations, and it went to grants, went to the communities that were most impacted. And our work brings enough notice or enough recognition that the Racial Disparity Taskforce granted us a $500,000 grant to continue the work. And I thought that spoke volumes, you know, to the intentional work that we're doing in community and how funds are being distributed. And another thing that happened during COVID is we changed how we distributed those grants. You know, typically, it was a very long, arduous process. You know, we had a lot of volunteers involved in reviewing grants, and we streamlined the process. And we took, you know, what would have been considered two years ago, risk of a community group wasn't a 501(e)3. We found a fiduciary agent for them. We had 19 new partners in our COVID work in the community, which I thought spoke volumes, you know, to how we were changing and how we were adapting in communities. And I thank my team for that, having the foresight and the determination to do that.

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with the president and CEO of the United Way, Pam Smith. As we consider building a greater community equity, I'd also like to briefly touch on something I missed while I was away and that was back in November. You named Washtenaw County Health Officer Jimena Loveluck the 2022 Woman of the Year and she'll be so honored in a ceremony in March. Why was she your choice? 

Pam Smith: So, we have a great Power of the Purse committee, and we talk about all of the different women that have impacted the community, and I think, more than anything throughout the pandemic, Jimena led with courage. She had not been in the role very long before the pandemic started. She never faltered. You know, she made sure that the information, as they had it and as it became available, was getting out to the public. And she made sure that every time PPE was available on all the new information was there. And she showed up in community again and again and again. 

David Fair: I'm glad to say that, just prior to the ceremony in March, Jimena Loveluck will be our Washtenaw United guest on WEMU, and we will address public health and the ongoing work towards greater public health equity and outcomes in our community. And, of course, when February starts tomorrow, it kicks off Black History Month, and we're going to dedicate all four of the Washtenaw United programs next month to highlighting the people and organizations working to create a new, better, and more equitable and equal community. We'll explore the history being written in our time. I know in your history with the United Way, Pam, I know there has been progress, but do you sometimes find yourselves getting frustrated with the pace of change? 

Pam Smith: My mom said patience is a virtue, and I didn't have that my whole life. 

David Fair: I'm right with you. I am right with you. So yeah, and the work will continue as it needs to. Once again, this is WEMU and Washtenaw United continues with Pam Smith, the president and CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County. We are also heading into tax season, Pam. It's a hardship for all too many as we look ahead for the next few months. What's going to be available to help towards finding the best refunds and credits and the financial planning tools to build better personal futures? 

Pam Smith: Yeah, great question. So, the United Way of Washtenaw County provides free financial coaching and free tax preparation, and the reason free tax preparation is so important is because it puts it's a socioeconomic driver. We brought over $2 million annually. We've been building towards that over the course of the history of the program back into this community. So. It puts real assets into the hands of individuals, and then, those dollars get reinvested in local business as those people spend those dollars. So, it's a benefit for all involved. It also helps people avoid predatory fees. You don't have to pay for tax preparation. We're here to help you. Our volunteers are really skilled with earned income tax credits, child care tax credits. They want to make sure, and they take a very point of pride to see how many different credits they can find for you, so that those refunds come to you. Scheduling just opened on. People just seem to call 2-1-1 and tell him you like the tax appointment, and we get you all set up. And then the other thing that you mentioned, David, is providing financial stability for people. 

David Fair: Mm hmm. 

Pam Smith: We do a free financial coaching program. It's totally free. There's no hidden fees. It's totally private. It's just the individual and their coaching client. It's done virtually or by phone. And the reason for that is because of COVID. 

David Fair: Right.

Pam Smith: It's because it's convenient. There's multiple languages available. So if you're English as a second language speaker, we are able to help you there as well. And the cool thing about it is people come with all different kinds of questions. And you need to just bring your questions. Some people are like, "Hey, I really need to tap on my my credit score. I'd really like to increase it. You know, I want to be able to rent an apartment or buy a car." Some people are like, "Can you help me understand my student loan debt?" or "I have medical bills. I need to know how to manage those." Or some people just want to know how to set up a family budget and start a savings account. So, whatever the individual needs, that coach is going to help them with it. And the cool thing about working with Trust Plus is once your client, you're a client for life. So, in two or three years, if your financial situation has changed and maybe you want to learn how to buy a house, you can call them up and ask them. 

David Fair: We are going to cover all of these things as we progress through 2022, and you'll hear it on Washtenaw United every single Monday through the rest of the year. Pam, I'd like to thank you for the time today and kind of catching me up and helping me look forward as well. 

Pam Smith: Absolutely, David, we appreciate your support and WEMU listeners' support as well. We can't do it without you. We're here to provide a community safety net of support. So, thanks. 

David Fair: That is Pam Smith, the president and CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County. That's the organization that serves as our content partner for this weekly feature that, again, you hear every Monday. For more information on today's discussion, check out our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU one Ypsilanti. 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him atdfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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