By John McLoone
The United Way of Hastings is a positive force behind many things happening in the community, and perhaps that’s most evident in the work they do to help Hastings School District students.
United Way Executive Director Mari Mallick and Helping Kids Succeed Manager Jane Neumiller-Bustad reported to the Hastings School Board at its meeting Wednesday, May 25 about the many programs that bene昀t students.
Through community donations, the United Way of Hastings can make allocations to the Hastings School District that helps fund intervention programs and Hastings Community Education initiatives, such as its After School Program, disabilities program, youth enrichment and recreation. It also helps fund Canvas Health, which is mental health services for students and staff.
Another successful partnership has been the Communities in Schools program, where a position is funded with the school district to help provide support services for students at the high school.
“We started the program at the cusp of COVID hitting,” said Malec. “It’s just done an amazing job connecting with students who need a little bit of extra help. The stories we’ve heard are just fabulous.”
Through the program, Kel O’Leary works with students and families “to put goals and a plan and place, helping these kids graduate so they can be successful.”
Planning is underway to branch the program out to Hastings MiddleSchoolandforasecondpersontohelpatthehighschool.
“ ‘We’re here to support you as much as we can,” said Malec.
One program that has been vital in the community is the Food for Kids program, where a gallon-sized bag of food and snacks is sent home for kids on the weekends.
“It’s helping these kiddos so they can come to school nourished on Monday morning,” said Malec. “They may have some challenges at home, so we’re giving them a bag of food to cover Saturdays and Sundays and give them a little boost to help those families.”
Malec said that one of the most vital roles the United Way provides everywhere is help in time of crisis, whether it’s in communities hit by tragedy like Uvalde, Texas was last week or because of another tragedy. In Hastings, the United Way stepped up to help when the pandemic hit.
“That’s what we do, help those in need,” said Malec. “Sometimes that comes out of crisis. More than like the local United Way (in Uvalde) is on base with families and they’re providing crisis services. We’ve done that in Hastings as well.”
“Sometimes out of crisis, there are initiatives that get born,” said Malec.
One of those programs was Helping Kids Succeed, which was started about a decade ago. Neumiller- Bustad oversees Helping Kids Succeed, The Helping Kids Succeed partners students with adults in the community with a mission to “Ensure every student in Hastings has a strong web of support.
The United Way of Hastings websites dates, “Decades of research have validated what seems like common sense – young people with 昀ve or more trusted, caring adults (‘anchors’) in their personal web of support do better on every measure of success, take less risks. Bully less and go on to become more involved in the civic life of their community as an adult (through jobs, volunteering, parenting, etc.). When adults are connected to young people, they are much more likely to go on to live healthy, productive, positive lives. They make few harmful decisions compared to teens who don’t have caring adults in their lives.” Through the program, students are encouraged to “connect to anchors.”
Neumiller-Bustad said that 30-35 adults and community leaders attend the Helping Kids Succeed meetings.
“It’s a great group. Out of that emerged our mental health webinar series, and then just recent we 昀nished our three-part series on opioid and fentanyl awareness. We reached over 300 people at those events and thousands more online. We’re looking at whether we’re going to do that again this fall,” she said.
The United Way also works with school counselors on the Youth Empowerment & Support (YES) Team. Emerging student leaders are identi昀ed who get together and work on projects and make presentation to other students and adults.
“They quite often are the ones that will go in and teach. The students love it,” said Neumiller-Bustad, noting that the program has over 55 alumni, some of whom have their own children now. “It’s just been a terri昀c partnership.”
With the success of every United Way program, the Hastings community is 昀rmly behind the organization.
“We couldn’t do this without the generosity of the Hastings community,” said Malec. “We just are very thankful and blessed for the donations that come into United Way of Hastings, and we want those to keep coming. We’re making huge changes and huge positive outcomes, and it’s all from working together. We could not do this alone.”