At this year's LIVE UNITED celebration luncheon, United Way of Central Iowa unveiled its 2024 Community Report and recognized five organizations and three individuals with its annual LIVE UNITED Awards. Athene was awarded the 2024 Spirit of Central Iowa Award for the fourth consecutive year and sixth time overall. 

During the event, the organization’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 these issues.

"We focus on the Five Elements of a Thriving Community with equity at the core, recognizing the interconnectedness of each piece, much like a puzzle,” said Sellers. “Addressing critical community issues requires a holistic approach as they impact every aspect of peoples’ lives. By providing access to quality, affordable childcare, we give working parents the opportunity to remain in the workforce, leading to better access to healthcare, housing, and improved educational outcomes for their children. Together, in a UNITED WAY, we achieve real, lasting impact across central Iowa."

UNITED to THRIVE: Blueprint for a Thriving Community
Unveiled in 2021, UNITED to THRIVE serves as United Way of Central Iowa’s strategic priority. Laying the path forward as the organization strives to help every central Iowan not only survive but thrive.

UNITED to THRIVE shapes 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. 

2024 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 –  
    • Nearly 15,000 central Iowa children are food insecure. 27% of these children are not eligible for nutrition assistance because their families don’t meet the income threshold.
    • Food insecurity is a symptom of a broader systemic issue – poverty. The lack of affordable housing, transportation, and access to other basic needs are all compounding factors for central Iowans. 
    • United Way's OpportUNITY initiative convene expert work groups to identify and implement solutions for poverty-related issues such as: food insecurity, housing, re-entry, and transportation. The organization also helps break the cycle of poverty by providing resources to programs that ensure our community is able to support our most vulnerable central Iowans.
  • In Economic Opportunity –
    • Nearly HALF of central Iowans are not financial stable.
    • ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) is a concept that represents the growing number of families who are unable to afford the basics of housing, childcare, food, transportation, healthcare, and technology. As members of our essential workforce, ALICE earns just above the federal poverty level but less than what it costs to make ends meet. 
    • United Way leverages ALICE data to contextualize and guide its efforts in promoting financial stability. Through collaboration with various partners and initiatives, United Way assists central Iowans in acquiring the necessary skills and training to boost income and build wealth.
  • In the area of Early Childhood Success –
    • Kindergarten readiness dropped 14% among central Iowa children over the last 6 years.
    • Iowa ranks number one in the nation for the percentage of households in which all parents or caregivers of young children are in the workforce. Because of this, access to safe, affordable childcare and other workforce supports are critical to a thriving, robust economy.
    • United Way supports childcare initiatives by forming coalitions and working with partners to provide high-quality, affordable childcare to low-income families and advocating for policies to increase the availability of childcare and compensation for childcare providers.  

  • In Education Success –
    • More than 25% of central Iowa graduates do not have a plan beyond high school. For students from lower-income backgrounds, the number increases to nearly 40%.
    • Recent school shootings and other instances of youth violence have drawn attention to the growing issue in central Iowa. Youth disengagement, such as when young people are not enrolled in school or involved in any activities, can be a contributing factor for violence. 
    • United Way helps students find their way by supporting many initiatives and programs and being a proud partner with our school systems to help students learn about engagement opportunities. Ultimately connecting students with positive mentors to lead them on the right path and engage students to get involved in their community.
  • In Health & Well-Being –
    • Iowa is ranked LAST in the nation for the percent of adults with access to the mental healthcare they need – 59% of Iowa youth do not receive the mental health services they need. 
    • United Way promotes promotes Health & Well-Being by providing funding to partners that reduce barriers to accessing physical and mental healthcare and support central Iowans’ sense of purpose, belonging, and connectedness.
    • United Way has been a leader in CAMHI4Kids (Coalition to Advance Mental Health in Iowa for Kids) by advocating for adequate, predictable, and sustainable funding for the children’s mental health system in Iowa.  

2024 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 30% over what had been a massive record-breaking year in 2022, with an incredible 90% of employees participating. This team also played an important role during United Way’s Day of Action volunteering event with 374 volunteers working 895 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:
    • Carol Bodensteiner, for her exceptional volunteer work at Oakridge Neighborhood Services by serving on several key committees, teaching English to improve the lives of refugees and immigrants, and championing others to join her in supporting local nonprofits. 
    • Renee Raap, for her lifelong commitment to giving back and our community through her extensive volunteer service and encouraging an environment where everyone feels valued and respected. 
    • Kim Willis, for her dedicated efforts in ensuring central Iowans have access to vital healthcare and education and being a strong community leader and advocate.

  • Additional organizations recognized as LIVE UNITED Champions:
    • Delta Dental of Iowa
    • Farm Bureau Financial Services
    • Holmes Murphy 
    • LCS

View Photos from LIVE UNITED


Paige Weinschenk

Written by Paige Weinschenk

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