Ingevity process engineers Kaylee York and Travis Miller had a learning experience this week as they toured United Way of Paducah-McCracken County partner agencies for a closer look at nonprofits benefited by the organization.

The co-workers joined a small group of local professionals who went to Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club and Paducah Cooperative Ministry's Fresh Start Village on Thursday, accompanied by United Way officials. A two-hour tour featured lunch, information from nonprofit representatives and a short United Way presentation. The three agencies highlighted for the tour also included Made to Stay, a nonprofit that helps enable seniors to stay in their homes.

"I didn't realize what kind of work was taking place here and just being able to see what kind of impact these companies - agencies - have on the people in this community is extremely empowering," York said.

Both York and Miller described it as "eye-opening."

"I really didn't know a lot of these agencies that United Way was partnering with," Miller said. "Of course, I've heard of the United Way, but I just didn't know that they partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, Made to Stay, etc."

At Oscar Cross, executive director Neal Clark guided group members through different areas of the building, while employee Samuel Hawkins discussed club programs, such as "SMART Moves," which gives youth the tools to combat peer pressure and "Power Hour," where they do homework and get assistance.

"Make no mistake about it," Clark said. "The boys club wouldn't be in existence without the many partnerships that we have to establish in the community."

He said one thing he's learned about Paducah is it's an area that loves to give.

"We're very honored and excited about the many opportunities that all of you all provide for us," he added.

The second stop of the day was Fresh Start Village, a homeless shelter for women and women with children, where PCM executive director Heidi Suhrheinrich, shelter director Sheila Forrest, and homeless and housing case manager Gina Stafford spoke about their work and various programs.

"Our mission is to do God's work with human hands by responding to basic human needs and conditions in McCracken County, so we've got to start with an emergency food pantry and that's really what keeps us - across town - very, very busy every day," Suhrheinrich said. "We do a lot of things with food."

Among its services, PCM provides emergency groceries to low-income residents up to five times in a calendar year and administers a federal nutrition program for low-income seniors.

"We have 400 low-income seniors on that program, so every month USDA provides food for that and we distribute it," she said.

Carol Wright, executive director for Made to Stay, also visited Fresh Start Village to give information about the nonprofit and its different services for seniors. It's a new United Way partner agency that's open to seniors 55 or older, along with disabled adults in McCracken County.

"We provide what we call 'escorted transportation,'" Wright said. "It's not the same as taking a taxi someplace or taking the PATS bus. When we take someone somewhere, we go in with them. We wait with them."

She clarified that Made to Stay does not provide any kind of personal care. It does other things, such as small home repairs and social events, but primarily focuses on transportation.

"Basically, we try to help people who otherwise would have no way of getting anywhere," she said. "For one thing, it helps to keep them out of assisted living or nursing home."

United Way has an in-depth application process for its partner agencies. The criteria requires 501c3 nonprofit status. An agency must be board controlled, and undergo an annual audit with funds allocated in Paducah-McCracken County, according to executive director Betsy Burkeen.

"We saw three amazing partners, but I can show you 14 more," Burkeen said, to the group. "Every single one is so more important to the other. These women can't get out and get a job and rise above homelessness if they don't have someone to take care of their child during the day. Or it really doesn't matter what we do for the kids over at Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club, if that same child is going home to a house with no heat, no food or even worse - sexual abuse."

Burkeen said United Way doesn't just look at one piece of the puzzle, but rather the whole picture, so it can help families in a way that makes "true, positive change."

The organization's other partner agencies are American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center, Kentucky Legal Aid, Salvation Army, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, Child Watch, Lotus, Paducah Lifeline Ministries, Family Service Society, Hope Unlimited Family Care Center, Ladies Living Free, Paducah Day Nursery and Paducah-McCracken County Senior Center.

Visit unitedwaypaducah.org for more information.

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