Voices (Re) United take stage to end generational poverty.

There was magic in the air as five area musicians, all with their own demanding schedules, came together for a marathon rehearsal – the first of several planned -- for the upcoming Voices (Re) United concert in downtown Muncie.

Voices United DeVoe.jpg

It’s been 11 years but it felt like just yesterday, they said. Musicians picked up where they left off in 2007, which was the last time Cook and Belle, Jennie DeVoe, Keith O’Neal, Jennifer Stanley, and Carl Storie performed together for a cause they all believe in – helping battle generational poverty by supporting United Way’s focused plan to have all third-graders reading at grade level by 2024.

“United Way is a champion for struggling children and families. To be part of Delaware County’s most important fundraising effort is not only a gift to others, but to all of us who get to share our talent for such an important cause,” said DeVoe, a Muncie-native and Voices United artist. “We hope everyone wants to be part of the United Way solution. We want to inspire others to lend a hand, their voice, and their money to those who fall on hard times and struggle,” she said.

Storie, who is battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, wanted to be back for the concert because he knows, more than ever, the importance of lifting up those who can't do it on their own. Even though chemo treatments take a toll, Carl is determined to be standing alongside the other artists in support of the community.

Voices United, established in 2004, ran for five consecutive years, played to sold-out houses at Emens Auditorium, and raised more than $250,000. But even more important, the performances raised awareness for the cause.

“At the time, we thought five years was enough,” said Casey Stanley, the Voices United mastermind and husband to artist Jennifer Stanley. “It’s a lot of work for all of them, including nights, weekends, and many hours of preparation. But we think the cause is important. Each genuinely believes in the cause.”

On the second Thursday in September (Sept. 13th) in downtown Muncie, there is no cover charge to come watch Voices (Re) United kick off the annual fundraising campaign for United Way. In fact, the artists hope what you might have paid to get into a concert could be the inspiration for an annual payroll deduction or one-time contribution to United Way.

The concert will include two sets – the first an opportunity to feature each artist more individually and the second which includes classic tunes by your favorite artists, performed together as the Voices United team. The musicians are singularly talented, but it is their combined performance that makes the magic, that makes great things happen.

“It’s like United Way itself,” Casey Stanley said. “United Way, by purposefully working with 28 nonprofit programs to address early childhood education, are able to move the needle for a single, great cause: end generational poverty by addressing third-grade reading level attainment. Our community, rallying together through United Way, can accomplish big, bold things.”

Today, nearly half of Delaware County households live in poverty or are one crisis away from it. In Muncie, the numbers are 6 in 10. A new statewide report shows Delaware County is home to more children living in poverty than any other county in the state.

It’s often a vicious generational cycle. These working families face obstacles in reaching health, education, and financial stability.

“The community’s future is at stake,” said Jenni Marsh, president and CEO of United Way of Delaware County. “But we have a plan toward a prosperous future for Delaware County. With a bold goal of having all third graders reading at grade level by 2024, we are already making great strides.”

Since 1925, the Delaware County community has given more than $275 million (in today’s dollars) to the United Way to provide a lifeline to its neighbors in need.

“Voices United is not only an opportunity to sing and play some great music, reunite with great friends, and allow us to help raise money for educating our young people, but it brings our community together to focus and celebrate the bright future that’s in store for all of us as we unite our hearts, resources, and efforts to live united,” said Bishop Keith Oneal, the lead pastor at Destiny Christian Church and a new member of the Muncie Community Schools Board.

The concert, sponsored by Ball State University, Magna, Old National Bank and Ontario Systems, is from 6:30 to 9 p.m. with brief remarks from Jenni Marsh, United Way president and chief executive officer, 2018 Campaign Chair Jeff Lang and other community leaders.

Last year’s event drew more than 2,000 to the downtown. Once again, Local brewers, The Heorot, Elm Street, and The Guardian Brewing Company will be on hand.

This is the only kind of event like this they ever play. But they do it because the work is transformative.

Organizers say be prepared for something even more at the Sept. 13 concert. They’ll only say, it’s “a surprise,” or expect a “memorable musical experience.”

“We loved the first five Voices United concerts, but we feel like this will be even more fun,” said Michelle Cook, half of the Cook and Belle duo who is performing. “On Walnut Street, we will be so close to the people, it will be a serious party!”


New breed of company executives takes on United Way cause

Loaned Executives Photo.jpg

A growing group of young, ambitious early-career professionals are among today’s foot soldiers of the Loaned Executives program, a longtime component of the annual fundraising campaign for United Way of Delaware County but one that had waned over the years.

These are the men and women whose job is to make the ask.

Once the domain of community stalwarts, the last two years has birthed a new generation of United Way pitch men and women – many of whom are new to United Way. They meet with company CEOs and small business owners to tell the United Way story.

In Delaware County, nearly half live in poverty; in the city, it’s six in 10 families whose low income fits the federal guidelines for poor. A recently released report shows more children in Delaware County live in poverty than any other county in the state.

It’s a generational problem that United Way has taken aim at through its support of early childhood education, specifically programs that increase third-grade level reading attainment, a key benchmark for success later in life.

As grim as those statistics may sound, the money raised for United Way supports 28 programs raise money for 26 nonprofits throughout the county that have a tie to the central goal of ending generational poverty.

Ball State University Associate Professor Kristen McCauliff and Muncie native, Voices United performer and entrepreneur Jennifer Stanley are the first lieutenants of the Loaned Executives, and they’ve developed programming fit for a world class sales operation.

“Fundraising is a huge part of every occupational landscape,” said McCauliff. “The loaned executives program is a great place to explore and stretch. It’s awesome to just bring so many creative professionals together.”

The skills the “LEs,” as they are called, learn in a series of workshops not only will benefit the United Way fundraising campaign but the loaned executives will return to their employers with sharpened skills and more focus about who they are and what they can achieve when they have a purpose in mind.

It is that “power of purpose” that one presenter, Wil Davis, co-founder of Ontario Systems and now President of Ball State’s Innovation Corp., used to inspire the loaned executives.

Davis, who also is founder and principal for his consultant company, Noble Why, helps organizations foster passionate, purposeful, and productive cultures – a Cultures of Excellence – where there is both an individual and collective pride in the work being accomplished.

“It is about living intentionally,” said Stanley, Davis’ daughter. “Are you doing things on purpose and finding those things you are passionate about, then aligning your life around those things.”

Such intention is what ultimately will bring positive change to the community, she said.

“Our two major goals this year,” says Stanley, “is to take the momentum from last year and keep it moving forward. We want to build on what’s been done.”

United Way surpassed its goal by nearly 20 percent, raising $1.4 million last year. This year’s goal is expected to be announced in September. “Our second goal is a new element. We want the loaned executives to network with each other, build relationships and work collaboratively.”

That’s why after every training session, there’s a happy hour in a local pub or brewery.

Jeff Lang, the 2018 campaign chair, says his first foray into community life in Muncie when he moved here in the ‘90s was as a loaned executive.

The connections made then paid off later. His networking benefited the community but it also benefited himself, personally.

“United Way is solving problems with a depth and breadth that not everyone knows about,” Stanley said.

The men and women from companies all over the community are telling the United Way story, and they’re engaging with others like themselves, who have ambitions like themselves, who want to live a life of purpose, like they do.


Jeff Lang Named as 2018 Campaign Chair

Jeff Lang Named as 2018 Campaign Chair

Jeff Lang remembers sitting in the audience at Cornerstone Center for the Arts for last year’s wrap-up rally of the 2017 fundraising campaign for United Way of Delaware County.

Casey Stanley, known for the production value he brings to any stage, used a drum roll to announce that the campaign had exceeded the goal but not his expectations. Lang remembers thinking to himself, “Boy, I wouldn’t want to be the campaign chair that follows that guy.”

But life has a way of putting you where you need to be when you’re needed most.