United Way Panel

Gary Henderson, president and CEO, speaks to guests during the United Way Kickoff Breakfast at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in Denton. The event featured county leaders from government, education and nonprofits for a candid discussion that covered topics including the needs of the community, how public-private sector partnerships work together for solutions and how the public can help improve lives in Denton County.

United Way kick-off

A panel of local business, nonprofit and government officials talk about how public-private sector partnerships work together for solutions, and how the public can help improve lives in Denton County.

United Way of Denton County officials were as clear as the sky Friday morning: If the nonprofit is ever going to truly serve all of Denton County, it needs more money and participation from businesses and other donors in the southern cities of the county.

And for those in the northern part of the county, such as Denton, the nonprofit said it needs more out of them, too.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” United Way board chairman Brandon McCleskey said. “There’s still a gap in funding.”

Business and government leaders huddled Friday morning inside the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center for a fundraising campaign kickoff breakfast, signaling what the public should expect from the United Way of Denton County in the months ahead.

“You guys are going to hear more and more about what United Way is doing in southern Denton County,” McCleskey said.

United Way Gary Henderson

Gary Henderson, president and CEO, speaks to guests during the United Way Kickoff Breakfast at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center on Friday.

Moderated by United Way CEO Gary Henderson, a panel discussion involving people in government, nonprofits and education touched on several hurdles faced within the community. They talked about ways to identify and help the 29% of families in the county who are living paycheck to paycheck — those just one step away from being homeless.

“They probably don’t have any savings account, but they’re employed, trying to make ends meet,” said Roxanne Del Rio, the dean of student affairs and outreach at North Central Texas College. “And many of them are probably in this room. They probably cooked your meal. They probably waited on us this morning.”

Donna Barron, the city manager of Lewisville, said her city’s contribution to the United Way of a little more than $60,000 makes up more than half of all contributions from southern Denton County cities.

“That needs to change, big time,” she said.

For those who have already become homeless and are looking for a way to bounce back and land a place to rent, Denton Mayor Chris Watts called on the city’s landlords to offer up property to be converted into affordable housing units.

“In the end, if we don’t have a place where these people can go, where they can also receive support and care from people around them, it’s going to be difficult to continue to make headway,” Watts said. “Unless we have that, we are going to continue to slog along.”

The mayor pledged $2,500 of his own money to the nonprofit’s Barriers Fund. Danielle Shaw, the community development manager for the city of Denton, said the fund has allowed the nonprofit to house about 44 people who were at risk or who were living homeless.

United Way Andy Eads

Denton County Judge Andy Eads participates in an open panel discussion during the United Way Kickoff Breakfast at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in Denton.

County Judge Andy Eads said governments and businesses here need to prioritize building a strong framework to welcome immigrant populations to Denton County. After the panel, he said further that the powers that be need to provide these people with workplaces that need diverse skill sets and a wide range of wages; he said housing solutions need to be identified with immigrant communities in mind.

He said earlier in the panel that government and private organizations need to be thinking about the upcoming 2020 census and how they will participate in getting an accurate count of the county’s population.

“So many of the population the United Way and other agencies serve will likely be undercounted and under-reported,” Eads warned. “Put the census on the forefront of your mind. It’s critical for … everything we are doing to build a healthy, happy, sustainable Denton County.”

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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