Maria's Blog - Unite to Help

News and thoughts from Maria Heege, President & CEO of United Way of Greater Stark County      

January 6, 2015, 2:15 p.m.

Preparing Taxes. Providing HOPE.

On the heels of finishing our annual campaign, we are preparing for a busy tax season. United Way of Greater Stark County’s Free Tax Preparation program is a great asset for the community. Our IRS-certified staff and volunteers process and submit returns for low- to moderate-income taxpayers.

Last year, 2,352 returns were submitted through the program generating close to $1.8 million in tax returns. More importantly, we identified nearly $800,000 in tax credits for last year’s participants.

There were many great stories from last year. One that really represents the work that we do was a family who was forced to rent out their home because the father had lost his job. They moved to a small apartment in another school district.

The couple attended one of our clinics with cautious optimism for a large tax return.  Our Director of Financial Stability Initiatives, Robin Seemann, entered their information and uncovered credits that produced more than $15,000. The return was enough for the family to move back into their home and return their kids to their original schools with their friends – providing HOPE that the family had better times ahead.   

Residents who earn a household income of $65,000 or less may qualify to have their taxes filed for FREE through United Way's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

United Way's Free Tax Preparation has 41 tax clinics scheduled in many convenient places across Stark County, including United Way of Greater Stark County, Stark State College, Rodman Library, Carrollton Library, Ohio Means Jobs, Massillon Salvation Army, Massillon Public Library, Oakwood Middle School SARTA and Walsh University. To ensure a tax preparer is available, participants are encouraged to make an appointment.

Appointments can be scheduled online at or by phone at 330-994-VITA (8482).

For married taxpayers, filing jointly, earning more than $65,000, software is accessible to determine whether they might qualify to prepare their own taxes and E-File both federal and state returns for free, courtesy of the Ohio Benefit Bank. Find the link at

Wishing you all, many happy returns in 2015. 


From our family to yours, Happy New Year!


December 30, 3:18 p.m.

During this season of HOPE and renewal, let me share with you a story about Natalie, a fifth-grader at a local school and her mom, Celia.

Natalie had always been a good student. However, during her fourth grade school year, a staff member noticed that she and her mom had been taking public transit to and from school. Her mom, Celia, waited for her each day after school and they would board the bus and be on their way. The staff member mentioned this to someone on the school’s CARE Team and they followed up with Celia.

Because of constant and escalating abuse, they had to move out of their home and into a domestic violence shelter that was located out of the district. During those many months, Celia had taken approximately five hours out of her day to ensure Natalie could remain at the same school. She would wake up early every morning to make sure they would get to school on time. After Natalie made it through the school doors, she would return to the shelter on the bus, waiting a few hours to make the same journey and return to the shelter with Natalie.

Even with this turmoil, Natalie’s grades were still excellent. CARE Team was concerned about her mother. Spending five-six hours per day on a bus, she wasn’t able to work and she couldn’t continue to stay in the shelter and with friends. CARE Team worked with local service providers to supply food and clothing. By Christmas, they helped her secure housing. Like many who leave domestic violence, they had nothing to furnish a new home. School staff chipped in and showed up at the apartment with couches, beds and plenty of furniture to make a new home for Celia and Natalie.

They also freed up some of Celia’s time, because the school was also able to send a van to transport Natalie each day. Through the process, CARE Team members and school staff noticed that Natalie was a hard worker and she was great with kids. Soon, she had a job, or a few jobs for that matter. Natalie became the school’s crossing guard and recess and detention monitor during school.

Now, almost a year later, Natalie is still an excellent student and Celia graciously ended her employment at the school and is putting her true passion to work as a massotherapist.


From our family to yours, Happy New Year!

December 12, 2014, 2:56 p.m.

Friends, volunteers, and caring community members, THANK YOU! With your generosity, we were able to raise millions of dollars to distribute back into the community. We at United Way are so proud to be part of this community that cares for one another. What a wonderful year 2014 has been, thanks to your involvement and support. 

Together, we help improve life for the family next door, the kid in the corner and the grandmother at the pharmacy. It’s thanks to you that United Way advances the common good by creating opportunities for a better life for all. At United Way, we help people, and it’s only possible because of people like you.

So as 2014 comes to an end, from all of us at your local United Way, we wish you the happiest of holidays! 

November 26, 2014, 2:40 p.m.

As we enter the final few weeks of our campaign season, we are constantly reminded of the generosity and thoughtfulness of wonderful people like you in our community. 

THANK YOU. We can't say it enough. So far this year, more than 9,000 people have made a commitment to helping our neighbors right here in Stark County. We appreciate every single donor and every single dollar. And we are committed to being a transparent agency that prides itself on being the best possible steward of your investment in our community.


THANKS TO YOU, the hundreds of volunteers from caring workplaces who made a significant impact for nonprofits/agencies on Sept. 12 for 21st Annual Day of Caring. Thanks to you, United Way's 2-1-1 help line answers an average of 4,000 calls each month. Thanks to you, women and children who are victims of domestic violence have a chance to rebuild their lives.  And thanks to you, students are given support so they could focus their attention in school and not on grown up problems.

The campaign isn't over yet. We still need your help. The 2014 goal is $6.75 million, and after some of our last workplace campaigns wrap up, we project a $100,000 deficit. And unfortunately, the number of those who need help right here in our community has increased.

THANK YOU for your support. Last year, 1 in 3 Stark County residents were helped by United Way. So this Thanksgiving weekend, from one neighbor to another, we say THANK YOU. Thanks for giving, advocating and volunteering. When we LIVE UNITED, we are all WINNERS!   

November 24, 2014, 2:55 p.m.

In October, JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics released a study, “Children and US Federal Policy on Health and Health Care: Seen but Not Heard”

It really puts some things in perspective. Here are some of the more disturbing findings:

  • Children account for 73.5 million Americans (24%), but 8% of federal expenditures.
  • Childhood poverty has reached its highest level in 20 years
  • 1 in 4 children lives in a food-insecure household
  • 7 million children lack health insurance
  • A child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds
  • 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese
  • Five children are killed daily by firearms
  • 1 in 5 experiences a mental disorder
  • Racial/ethnic disparities continue to be extensive and pervasive

Like many, I hate to think about children having to face grown-up problems. United Way of Greater Stark County works with many agencies and organizations across Stark County to combat many of these issues. The SPARK program, CARE Teams, Get Connected, Teen Court, and after-school funded programs are just some of the ways we affect change and inspire hope for the children who need it most.

The statistics are discouraging, but it also gives us reason to continue to look at new ways to help children and families. It’s our ability to examine the issues, bring experts to the table and create solutions, which makes the United Way unique. As we ride out the last few weeks of our annual campaign, THANK YOU to those who have given and those who plan to give. We are all winners when we LIVE UNITED!

JAMA Pediatrics. Published online October 20, 2014

November 20, 2014, 9:50 a.m.

The National Education Association recently released an infographic, “What’s It Like to Be a Student Today?”

This really made me think. According to the graphic, our teens are assigned an average of 3.5 hours of homework per week. Nearly 83 percent of these students are involved in a club or sport. They are also missing nearly three hours of sleep per night because of their biological clocks.

If your son or daughter is active, it is difficult to change any of these obstacles. But when I consider some of the other hurdles that some students face such as poverty and/or family violence, it has to be very difficult to concentrate in the classroom. They are under a great deal of pressure.

In collaboration with teachers, administrators and staff from multiple community agencies including law enforcement, mental health, alcohol and drugs, and other social service agencies located throughout the county, United Way of Greater Stark County funds CARE Team with support from Aultman Health Foundation and Key Bank. Last year through 54 schools in 11 districts, the program assisted 2,641 students, enabling them to focus their attention in the classroom and not on problems that are beyond their control.

The team works together in a school-based environment to address challenges facing the at-risk student population and their families. Each CARE Team works with student, families and the community to decrease risk factors and increase protective factors. 

I just want to take a moment and thank the CARE Teams, family support specialists and CARE Team director, Kay Port for UNITING TO HELP. They are tremendous assets in our community. Find out more about CARE Team at

September 4, 2014, 11:50 a.m.

The United Way of Greater Stark County has a rich history and roots in this community dating back to 1922. We are a non-profit organization. However, we are also investors. We invest in people and in our communities. 

I am Maria Heege, President & CEO of the United Way of Greater Stark County. I began my career with the United Way 33 years ago. We take very seriously our responsibility to operate with full transparency. This considered, we sometimes hear that people do not know what we do. I want to share our story. 

This blog will take you behind-the-scenes of the United Way of Greater Stark County, giving you a first-hand account of our annual campaign, allocation process and the programs and services that support our building blocks: Education, Family & Financial Stability, and Health & Basic Needs. 

This blog is a vehicle to present current and futures issues that impact our community. I look forward to your feedback. We will examine issues, collect data and with your help, create solutions. 

Thank you to the Repository for hosting this blog and for its continued support over the years.



Subscribe to What's New