At this year's LIVE UNITED celebration luncheon, United Way of Central Iowa unveiled its 2023 Community Report and recognized four organizations and three individuals with its annual LIVE UNITED Awards. Athene was awarded the 2023 Spirit of Central Iowa Award for the third consecutive year and fifth time overall. 

During the event, United Way of Central Iowa's president, Mary Sellers, called attention to the critical issues our community is currently experiencing, and reminded attendees of how, in partnership with many in the community, United Way is navigating through these issues.

“We focus on not only the Five Elements of a Thriving Community with Equity at the center, but on how, like a puzzle, each piece is interconnected,” said Sellers. “If we can allow a working parent access to quality, affordable childcare, it influences their ability to have a job where they can earn a living wage, which in turn impacts their families access to quality healthcare, their ability to attain safe, affordable housing, and impacts their children’s success in school. It is all connected, and when we come together, in a UNITED WAY, we can make real, measurable impact throughout central Iowa.” 

The Evolution of United Way of Central Iowa: UNITED to THRIVE
UNITED to THRIVE, United Way of Central Iowa’s strategic imperative unveiled in 2021, lays the path forward as the organization strives to help every central Iowan not only survive, but thrive. 

UNITED to THRIVE evolves the work of United Way of Central Iowa in the following ways: 

•    Strategies to address challenges within the 5 Elements of a Thriving Community – Essential Needs, Early Childhood Success, Education Success, Economic Opportunity, and Health & Well-Being – are focused on growth and progress, building upon the work of the past decade which was more focused on central Iowans’ foundational needs. 

•    Progress and impact of inter-dependent strategies will be measured and tracked through multiple community metrics versus the three independent goals from the previous decade. 

•    All strategies and initiatives place specific emphasis on equity and reducing or eliminating barriers to ensure every central Iowan has the opportunity to thrive long term. 

2023 Community Report Highlights 
The 2023 Community Report, which can be found at, highlights some of the community’s challenges in each of the 5 Elements of a Thriving Community and how United Way of Central Iowa will continue to hold their unique position in central Iowa – bringing every sector together to identify gaps and leverage investments and partnerships to address them at their roots.

•    In the area of Essential Needs –  
o    Evictions in central Iowa increased by 35% from 2021 to 2022 which equates to nearly 20 evictions a day. 
o    United Way’s OpportUNITY initiative convenes expert work groups to identify and enact solutions in Housing, Food Insecurity, Re-Entry, and other poverty-related issues. The organization also funds programs such as food pantries, homeless shelters for adults/families, and those providing legal representation involving evictions, landlord/tenant counseling, and case management, along with funding to support building and rehabilitating affordable housing units, all to assist families in breaking the cycle of poverty and unstable housing.

•    In the area of Early Childhood Success –  
o    Polk County has lost more than 1,000 licensed childcare openings since mid-2022. 
o    United Way supports childcare initiatives by working with partners to provide high-quality, affordable childcare for families living in low-income, and advocates for policies to increase the availability of childcare and compensation for childcare providers. works with partners to provide high-quality, affordable childcare to families living in low-income households. 

•    In Education Success –  
o    26% of central Iowa high school graduates do not have a plan for the future. 
o    United Way helps students look ahead and works with schools and partners to support many initiatives and programs focused on helping students graduate and understand their options after high school.
o    The recently launched United Way initiative, United Wayfinders, offers middle school and high school students in-person introductions to many employment options in skilled labor and other areas.  

•    In Economic Opportunity –  
o    20% of central Iowa households could not survive a short-term loss of income. 
o    United Way focuses on financial stability by supporting may initiatives across the community to help central Iowans gain the skills and training they need to increase income, improve liquidity, and build wealth.
o    The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides free tax return preparation for thousands of households, resulting in millions of dollars in tax refunds.

•    In Health & Well-Being –  
o    33% of Iowa adults were not able to receive the mental health treatment they needed.
o    United Way promotes Health & Well-Being by providing funding to multiple partners offering mental healthcare services to individuals and families of low-income.
o    United Way has been a leader in The Well Kids Coalition and others dedicated to children’s physical and mental well-being with a focus on creating access to resources that support healthy lifestyles where people live, work, and play.   

2023 LIVE UNITED Award Recipients 
At the LIVE UNITED Celebration Luncheon, the following individuals and organizations were honored and recognized as LIVE UNITED Leaders and Champions who are making a huge impact, improving lives through their exceptional efforts giving, advocating, and volunteering for those in our community who need help. This year’s recipients are:   

•    Spirit of Central Iowa Award – Athene
Recognized as this year’s Spirit of Central Iowa Award winner, Athene’s corporate and employee giving increased 24.7% from prior year to $1,948,833. Participated in United Way’s Day of Action volunteering event with 363 volunteers working 920 hours of volunteerism. In addition, Athene’s longstanding focus on advocating for education helps equip students located in the Des Moines metro with their basic needs to succeed in school.

•    Individuals recognized as LIVE UNITED Leaders:
o    Christine Bruner, for exceptional work in Early Childhood Success – assuring our youngest central Iowans start out healthy and ready to learn.
o    Breanne Ward, for her work in connecting central Iowans to programs and mentors necessary for them to have a thriving life. 
o    Connie Wimer, for dedicated efforts in mentoring young students to have a plan beyond high school graduation. 

•    Additional organizations recognized as LIVE UNITED Champions: 
o    Bankers Trust
o    Ruan
o    SHAZAM!

“It was such a great experience to be a part of LIVE UNITED again this year,” said Sean Vicente, Managing Partner with KPMG Des Moines, and United Way of Central Iowa Board Chair. “Being together with the companies and organizations that bring this work to life is such an honor. Our community is navigating some very critical issues right now, but I know that with this community behind us, United Way is going to make great strides to improve central Iowa.” 


Paige Weinschenk

Written by Paige Weinschenk

Paige Weinschenk is the Content & Media Manager at United Way of Central Iowa.