The University Record, October 31, 1994

Former VISTA volunteer promotes United Way at Rackham

By Mary Jo Frank

As a Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) volunteer at the SOS Community Crisis Center, Sandy Haas distributed food to the hungry, found shelter for the homeless, did crisis counseling and even hung gutters.

Seven years later, Haas, academic secretary in the Fellowships Office of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, shares highlights of her VISTA experience as she solicits United Way pledges from her Rackham colleagues.

Haas’ enthusiasm for SOS and United Way is paying off. As of Oct. 28, Haas had collected 86 of the 91 pledge cards she distributed and Rackham had raised $4,262, or 115 percent of its United Way goal.

“I tell people that everyone is touched by United Way, not just the homeless,” explains Haas, who hand-delivered almost all of her pledge cards.

She has been tenacious about getting those pledge cards back, with or without a donation or pledge.

The ability to designate their gift for a particular cause or to a specific organization is an option many of her Rackham colleagues appreciate, Haas adds.

The SOS Community Crisis Center in Ypsilanti receives designated and undesignated United Way funds.

Charles H. Kieffer, executive director of SOS for the last 12 years, says about 10 percent of the SOS budget is United Way money.

United Way dollars provide most of the agency’s general operating revenues, providing the infrastructure to maintain the organization that develops and delivers a variety of services to Washtenaw County residents in crisis situations.

SOS is the county’s only all-purpose, 24-hour crisis assistance program, Kieffer notes.

Staffed by community volunteers, SOS provides phone or walk-in assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. SOS logs 1,800–2,000 contacts each month. Crises range from requests for help to meet basic needs—food, health problems and housing—to an array of emotional needs, including substance abuse prevention, workplace and family conflicts, suicide, rape and assault.

SOS operates Prospect Place Family Shelter, a crisis shelter for eight to 10 families at a time that was started in 1990. Prospect Place is a child- and family-oriented environment where families are able to maintain dignity and privacy, Kieffer says.

Prospect Place staff work with families on educational and employment issues, child care, and health and medical concerns to help them establish a firm footing from which they can continue to grow and develop.

SOS also has developed an array of support services under an umbrella it calls the Families Forward Program. Families Forward deals with employment issues, substance abuse recovery and relapse prevention, mental health concerns and children’s needs.

SOS has eight VISTA volunteers on its staff. In addition, SOS is a field site for training U-M social work students. Two nursing students and a number of undergraduate students volunteer at SOS, Kieffer says.

Working at SOS was an eye-opener, recalls Haas, who grew up in Manchester and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University. She remembers the woman who came to SOS because she had no diapers for her baby. Haas found a church to donate the needed diapers.

One Friday evening, Haas says, SOS received requests for help from 20 families who were evicted from an apartment complex that was being converted to condominiums. Those families had to be put up in hotels for the weekend, and on Monday SOS staff started finding places for them to live.

Haas and her husband, Martin, hung gutters as part of an SOS work team helping a single mother with two children who couldn’t afford to hire a handyman.

Because of the SOS experience and personal knowledge of how United Way has helped her family, friends and neighbors, Haas says she has little difficulty asking her colleagues to give to United Way.

“I just want to make people stop and think about the possibility of giving,” Haas says.

The University’s United Way fund drive, which began Sept. 26, has reached $745,024—75 percent of the $1 million goal.