For United Way, teamwork makes the dream work for St. Joseph County

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The saying goes “many hands make light work,” and that’s the idea behind United Way’s Day of Caring, a service day at nonprofits throughout St. Joseph County. The event kicks off United Way’s annual fundraising campaign at workplaces like Notre Dame.

On an October afternoon, three teams of University staff members were dispatched to one of three local nonprofits — the Center for the Homeless, Cultivate Food Rescue and El Campito Child Development Center — to do anything a nonprofit needed done.

At the Center for the Homeless, members of the Finance Division team were asked to set up an adult education classroom after a construction project.

“We had some renovations done recently and, through the funding we got for that project, we were able to get some new furniture. So we are putting together furniture and moving out boxes,” said Rachel Woods, director of programs and volunteer experiences at the Center for the Homeless.

The center is one of about two dozen local nonprofits that receive funding from United Way of St. Joseph County (UWSJC).

2023 Unitedway Campaign for Faculty and Staff
The United Way campaign at the University of Notre Dame is open until Friday, Dec. 1. For more information about United Way and how to donate, please visit

How United Way works

UWSJC, itself, is a nonprofit dedicated to reducing poverty by taking a whole-community, or united, approach. While one agency cannot address all aspects of poverty, the work of many nonprofits can. So, each year United Way raises money through its campaign, and those funds go to local nonprofit programs that address these focus areas: education, health, economic mobility and safety net services.

Steve Camilleri, executive director of the Center for the Homeless and a member of the UWSJC board, said the united approach reminds him of his high school motto. “It was a Latin term that meant there’s strength in unity, and that’s exactly what the United Way is like. We are all stronger agencies because of what the United Way does, and the United Way couldn’t do what it does without the support of Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame faculty and staff are extraordinarily generous. In fact, 15 percent of all the funds the UWSJC raises through its workplace campaigns comes from University employees.

“That is significant,” Camilleri said of the figure. “What’s really powerful about it is they are supporting people they don’t even know.”

Teamwork makes nonprofits work

A couple of miles away at Cultivate Food Rescue — another agency that receives United Way funds — staff from Mendoza and Notre Dame Research worked side-by-side with a team from Lippert packaging meals for families in need.

UWSJC funding helps Cultivate rescue unserved food from regional venues, including Notre Dame, and transport the food to its kitchen. The effort not only keeps good food from being wasted — the process also gets the food to hungry people.

“Our model is based on almost 7,800 volunteers a year coming in to assemble meals,” Jim Conklin, co-founder and executive director of Cultivate, said.

“The hours of labor are donated and the food is donated. … We have a united community. People are used to working together to solve problems, and that could easily be taken for granted. United Way’s approach really speaks to how this community operates. We pitch in.”

Not far away, at El Campito Child Development Center, the third Notre Dame team helped pack up classrooms for El Campito’s big move from a 98-year-old school building to a one-year-old building. The child development center is moving into the One Roof Southeast Community Center, operated by United Way.

Aleyna Mitchell, director of development and community outreach at El Campito, could not contain her excitement for what’s ahead.

“We love this old building, which has housed us for over 20 years, but we are struggling to maintain the temperatures that we need as a licensed child care facility. That’s what’s great about the One Roof building — everything is brand-new and the temperatures are maintained at the room level,” Mitchell said.

While United Way operates One Roof, it does so independently of its annual campaign. El Campito, like other occupants of the building, pays a reduced-rate rent. Notre Dame faculty and staff members who invest in the annual United Way campaign may help agencies like El Campito in other ways.

Mitchell added, “You might think that your dollar doesn’t count, but if 300 people give a dollar to the United Way, $300 could buy a music class for one of my toddler classes, and maybe one of those kids someday decides to be a musician! When you invest in places that impact small children, you are making an investment in the future.”

Originally published by Gwen O'Brien, Office of Public Affairs at on October 26, 2023.