On a crisp fall day this year, the United Way of Northwest Michigan received a phone call from a woman in bit of a panic, asking for any programs that could help her. Her elderly dad was about to be released from Munson Medical Center, but he couldn’t come home—his house just wasn’t set up to be safe for him in his new restricted capacity.

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The repairs his home needed would have been more than $500, and he was on a fixed income. The only alternative: He would have to enter into long-term care.

But not on the United Way’s watch. The office staff summoned one of their volunteer groups called the Tuesday Toolmen, a posse of handy folk who donate their skills, tools and time to making minor repairs that help people with restricted mobility stay in their homes safely. On a Thursday morning they put their tool belts and boots on; by Friday, the work was done. “We are so grateful he could wheel up the ramp to his home instead of through doors to strangers,” says Executive Director Ranae McCauley.

Many people think of the United Way as the head of an octopus with kindly arms, a sort of clearinghouse for soliciting and distributing funds to organizations in need. It’s also a mighty force for connection that works under three tenets: giving, volunteering and advocacy—in particular to keep kids healthy, fight substance abuse and to provide a safety net for vulnerable populations. “We advocate a lot for populations living in poverty,” McCauley explains. “Most of our population here are working, but not making enough to get by.”

Even modest donations to the United Way can make a life-changing difference for a member of our community. And more volunteers are always needed. “We are so proud of volunteers here at United Way of Northwest Michigan,” says McCauley. “We have 717 in our five-county area. The beauty of United Way is it’s community responsive—what the community needs in Emmet County may be different from what they want in Leelanau County—and we can make that happen.”

Visit unitedwaynwmi.org.