Human Services

Submitted by the United Way of the Mid-South

“Health and Human Services” is an intentionally-broad category which focuses on addressing a community’s most pressing issues to improve its overall quality of life. There is an incredibly large number of factors which contribute to an individual’s and a region’s well-being. Community needs and challenges are extremely diverse, but most civic health and human service matters fall into the categories of education, income, and/or health.

Addressing present needs - and future needs - simultaneously 

The health and human services sector addresses people’s current challenges and focuses on the root causes of these issues in an effort to reduce future incidents. To put a twist on a popular expression, health and human service agencies provide a fish to a hungry man today, and they teach him how to fish so he can secure his own meal tomorrow, and they make sure his daughter is in a position to learn how to fish in the future.

The Mid-South’s critical issues 

It cannot be overstated - the Mid-South faces alarming challenges to its quality of life. While there is evidence of some improvements, there is a tremendous amount of work still to be done.

In 2014, the greater Memphis metro region was named the nation’s poorest large metro area. More than half of Memphis’s children are growing up in poverty, and over 27% of Shelby County families live at or below the poverty rate.

The FBI reports Memphis ranks among the top large cities in the nation for crime, with high incidents of theft and violence, especially domestic violence.

Our education system is also struggling, with over 60% of our children in public schools unable to read at proper levels by the end of third grade. This leads to problems with learning through the rest of their schooling. Currently, only 11% of our teens in public schools are considered college or career ready when they leave high school.

Also in 2014, it was announced that Memphis is the least healthy of the 50 largest U.S. cities, with disproportionate incidents of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other negative health outcomes.

Our critical issues are interconnected

These issues are not isolated. Poor education outcomes can lead to lifetimes of economic struggles for individuals and families, and both feed into fewer resources for good health practices and regular checkups. This fosters a culture of uncertainty, fear, and desperation which can lead to increased violent and/or criminal activity. The Mid-South battles generational cycles of lack of education, high poverty, domestic violence, and poor health.

It is not enough to simply focus on one area at a time. A holistic approach is necessary, bringing numerous sectors together with a united approach to our problems. We must examine available services and how they are delivered, identify possible gaps in services, align work around measurable results with meaningful metrics, and make sure clients can get the help they need in an effective manner.

Negative growth in any of these areas creates negative ripple effects. Likewise, however, improvements made in one area can have positive ripple effects in other areas. More young children reading at proper grade level means fewer high school dropouts in the future, which leads to more people with skills for employment having greater resources for making healthier life choices.

Our top local priorities

United Way of the Mid-South and numerous partners are aligning the work of individuals, philanthropic groups, nonprofits, government, organizations, sectors and other key stakeholders to best address our most critical issues. Moving the needle on these issues will produce positive impacts on other areas as well. These top local priorities are:

  • Education

    • Kindergarten Readiness

    • Third Grade Reading Proficiency

    • College / Career Readiness

  • Income

    • Greater financial stability for individuals and families

    • Transitioning individuals and families from poverty to economic self-sufficiency

  • Health & Community Safety

    • Healthy Eating and Active Living

    • Domestic Violence Prevention

Making it easier to get help

It is important that health and human service agencies and programs continue to adopt a “no wrong door” approach in helping people. A person receiving job skills training, for example, should also be able to easily access information on local programs that help with repairing poor credit scores. Bureaucracy and specialization have their places, but not when connecting people with needs to vital programs and services. Our health and human service sector is working to increase cooperation and communications so it can more effectively distribute resources and information when it is needed, and where it is needed, to create the most meaningful and timely impacts.

You can make a difference by giving

Our area’s health and human service sector faces tremendous challenges, while currently there are not enough resources to address the depth of local problems. The sector is working to become even more effective and efficient. Stretching already-existing dollars only goes so far, however. We are blessed to live in one of the most generous areas of the nation, yet much of our philanthropy is not distributed in a focused, holistic manner that addresses the complex matrix of needs in our community.

You can make a difference by volunteering

Please consider serving as a community volunteer with a health and human service agency. Volunteers help nonprofits keep cost low, which means more dollars are available for programs and initiatives addressing local needs. We also need more people with strong hearts, ideas and determination to help the sector in this work. Visit Volunteer Memphis for places where you can serve as a volunteer.