Three sides to the story

A focus on Charlotte County children

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

The building blocks for a healthy diet used to be defined in the shape of a pyramid, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our understanding of nutrition, and particularly the needs of growing children, has evolved over the years and we now have MyPlate. MyPlate has five food groups that children and adults alike are encouraged to use as a guide for balanced meals.

There is no pyramid or plate that guides educational success in the same way that nutrition has been defined. But at United Way of Charlotte County (UWCC), our current focus is on providing grant funding for programs that have one of the following three components:  navigation, mobilization or incorporation of a trauma-informed approach.

Unfortunately, many times the programs that can provide for community needs are housed at different agencies and require different forms to be filled out with different information. It can be overwhelming, time-consuming and sometimes downright impossible to figure it all out. A skilled navigator can make all the difference in connecting families to just the right resources.

UWCC has successfully supported navigation through the Kids Thrive program for several years. Young families are guided to the help they need by a Navigator Advocate. Think of it as intensive case management for at-risk families.

I am pleased to share that we will continue to fund Kids Thrive’s Navigator Advocate work in Charlotte County as a tool to get children on the right track beginning before they are even born. The work of Kids Thrive is done through a prevention lens that includes a strong focus on increasing parent engagement, one of UWCC’s strategic priorities that is sure to have long-term impact in our community.

Navigation efforts for young families will be enhanced by the Charlotte County Imagination Library’s revamped website, full of resource listings, as well as increased partnerships with local pediatrician’s offices. This program, aimed at children birth to age 5, uses home libraries and parent engagement activities to improve school readiness for Charlotte County children.

UWCC prides itself on our mobilization efforts, and I am thrilled to expand our support of mobilization through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte County and the YMCA of Southwest Florida as they each develop volunteer coordination programs to increase the resources for the children they serve.

Volunteer coordinators will manage volunteer navigation and data collection for the Charlotte County Reads initiative, which supports Charlotte County's vision to increase the percentage of students who are reading on grade-level by third grade. Our community has had great success with the Charlotte County Reads program, and UWCC is excited to take this program to the next level.

The Boys & Girls Clubs will also recruit, engage and retain volunteers for Lizzy the Literacy Bus as it travels to various communities across the county spreading the joy of reading through home libraries.

And lastly, UWCC is providing grants to two programs that bring a trauma-informed approach to their work with children.

Valerie’s House serves grieving children and their families with peer support and group activities across Southwest Florida. UWCC is providing funding for individual counseling sessions for bereaved children of all ages and their families to address their unique trauma and grief situations.

Younger children in Charlotte County can benefit from the coaching being funded through the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland at early childhood provider sites. Specialists will provide training to teachers on how to teach Social-Emotional Development skills to their young students. These skills are invaluable for all children but will give the most benefit to children who have experienced trauma and/or have behavioral difficulties.

By hitting these three sides to the story of struggling young families in Charlotte County, UWCC and our funded partners will collectively make an impact on the future of our community.  

Won’t you partner with us to ensure these programs are sustainable for the weeks and months ahead? Visit to learn more, make a donation or sign up to volunteer. Share in the story, no matter which side of the story resonates most with you.

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at