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United Way of Lancaster County


Level Up & Launch grantees describe implementation so far (video)

Kate Zimmerman, president and CEO of United Way of Lancaster County, makes opening remarks at the Level Up & Launch midpoint update at the S. Dale High Leadership Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. (Photo: Tyler Wegert)

United Way of Lancaster County recently heard progress updates from its 2023-24 “Level Up & Launch” cohort.

The 11 grantees that made presentations constitute the initiative’s second cohort. On Feb. 28 at the S. Dale High Leadership Center in Greenfield, each delivered a roughly 10-minute presentation providing key milestones achieved, challenges encountered and future goals; followed by a 5-minute Q&A.

Proposals invited for Level Up & Launch 2024-25

United Way of Lancaster County is currently accepting applications for the third cohort of Level Up & Launch. For details and application materials, click here; the deadline is 8 a.m. April 1.

Created in 2022, Level Up & Launch is designed to encourage the development of innovative, scalable programs that address United Way’s three main focus areas: Health, education and economic mobility.

The grant period runs June-to-June, making the event, hosted by United Way President and CEO Kate Zimmerman and Director of Equity & Community Impact Aiza Ashraf, essentially a midpoint check-in.

Here are key takeaways from each presentation:

The Common Wheel

Executive Director Adriana Atencio said she is excited about transforming the former Lazy K Lounge in Columbia into the Common Wheel’s third location.
Substantial progress has been made, thanks to overcoming challenges during demolition and bringing in diverse volunteers, including apprentices gaining valuable skills.

The build-out phase, operating on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, incorporates apprenticeship programs and collaboration with local schools. Opening is anticipated in May.

The Level Up and Launch funding has been crucial, Atencio said, attracting additional grants and community support.

The Edible Classroom

Partnering with schools in Lancaster County, The Edible Classroom focuses on creating sustainable learning gardens to promote academic achievement, healthy lifestyles, and environmental stewardship.

The Level Up & Launch grant has enabled the establishment of two school-based community gardens, fostering community engagement and partnerships. The initiative involves students in the entire gardening process, from planting to harvesting, offering valuable educational experiences.

Challenges, such as the need for nitrogen-rich greens, were addressed through community involvement. The organization’s goals include education, upward mobility for high school students, and promoting health and well-being through fresh produce. Future plans include community outreach events and workshops.

Mike Lewis, left, and Adam Nagle of Factory Ministries. (Photo: Tyler Wegert)

The Factory Ministries

Executive Director Adam Nagle said the Level Up & Launch grant enabled the scaling up of the nonprofit’s Workforce Advocacy Program. It addresses workforce challenges such as transportation and “soft skills,” helping frontline workers settle into stable jobs and achieve long-term success.

A successful pilot at Kitchen Kettle Village led to expansion, supported by the grant. Mike Lewis, the program director, shared success stories from PCI Auctions and the Best Western hotel in Intercourse, showcasing the program’s adaptability. Nagle and Lewis are looking to bring in another staff member on board to continue the program’s expansion and outreach.

Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition

Executive director K Foley expressed gratitude for the Level Up & Launch grant. It provided a lifeline during a time of challenges, which included the impacts of the pandemic and an increase in anti-LGBT sentiment that scared off some potential funders.

The coalition used the funds to expand mental health services, doubling weekly therapy hours and introducing a therapist who is able to charge on a sliding scale. It tackled housing issues with a successful emergency shelter and initiated a name-change clinic in collaboration with the Lancaster Bar Association.

A health and wellness clinic, created in partnership with local providers, and a thriving queer-friendly thrift store were also established, providing crucial support to the LGBTQ+ community.

Lancaster County Food Hub

The Food Hub has used its Level Up & Launch grant to support expansion of a reentry/reintegration program for clients of its overnight and day shelter programs who are exiting mental health treatment, addiction recovery or incarceration.

The Literary Council of Lancaster Lebanon

The Literacy Council used its Level Up & Launch grant to create informational videos in multiple languages, fostering a welcoming and supportive environment. The videos cover aspects such as program introduction, technology for remote learning, enrollment procedures, advising services, and a comprehensive overview of student expectations.

The Council experienced some challenges in finding a videographer but is progressing towards its goal of empowering adult learners.

Loft Community Partnership

Executive Director Jenna Graeff said Loft Community Partnership has thrived over the past two years, addressing food insecurity through its pop-up food bank in a church lobby.

Jenna Graeff, left, and Jennifer Frank of Loft Community Partnership. (Photo: Tyler Wegert)

The Level Up & Launch grant supported initiatives like paying interns and expanding organizational capacity. The organization serves 362 households weekly, emphasizing sustainability through food recovery from local farms.

Looking ahead, Loft Community Partnership aims to increase accessibility by opening multiple days a week and is exploring options for shared ownership or partnership to establish a more permanent community center.

Brooklyn Smith-Jones of Milagro House. (Photo: Tyler Wegert)

Milagro House

Brooklyn Smith Jones, the Director of Education at Milagro House, oversees the education-based residential facility for homeless women and children. In line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the nonprofit prioritizes meeting basic needs to facilitate academic and professional growth.

Thanks to the Level Up & Launch grant, its Education Center is now equipped with Google classrooms. The technology update empowers residents, while the new space encourages emotional sharing, personalized tutoring, and hands-on learning.

The Mix

The Mix provides after-school and summer enrichment programming for school-age young people. Through mentorship initiatives like Mixtape and H2O Club, it breaks barriers for older youth, offering professional development and leadership prospects.

Thanks to the Level Up & Launch Grant, the organization has achieved increased enrollment, reduced its waitlist and expanded staff. Collaborative partnerships have grown, and additional funding has been secured, enabling an enhanced holistic approach to impact the community positively.

Parish Resource Center

The Center is using its Level Up & Launch grant to provide affordable legal services to immigrants, helping alleviate the financial burdens associated with applying for resident status, work permits and citizenship.

Collaborating with Villanova University and leveraging an accreditation program provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, it is training volunteers to address routine immigration needs.

Amanda Reilly-Sokoli of Pennsylvania Furniture Mission.

Pennsylvania Furniture Mission

Co-founder Amanda Reilly-Sokoli said the Level Up & Launch grant has enabled the startup furniture bank to achieve significant milestones, including expanding services, hiring staff, and establishing valuable partnerships.

Its three-pronged approach focuses on providing furniture for those facing hardships, creating job opportunities, and promoting environmental sustainability. Despite challenges in capacity and financial growth, the Pennsylvania Furniture Mission served over 100 households in six months and diverted 150 tons of furniture from landfills in 2023.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2024, goals include serving 500 households, diverting at least 300 tons of furniture from landfills.