Every week, families in Victoria each take home a free book from the Victoria Adult Literacy Council.

The nonprofit provides a range of education services, including a program where parents and their kids can get together take classes to improve their literacy.

One family attended weekly over several years and amassed a home library of more than 100 books, said Stacey Milberger, the literacy council’s executive director.

This and countless other forms of support in Victoria are made possible by the Victoria County United Way. The United Way gave $605,000 to 17 nonprofits this year, paying for things like backpacks full of food for kids in need at the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent and screenings for children with special health needs at the STARS clinic.

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Now, more than two years after Hurricane Harvey and with a new executive director, the United Way is preparing for its next chapter to continue supporting nonprofits in the Crossroads.

Brooke Garcia, who took over as executive director in June, has big plans for the organization. Garcia, 45, has decades of experience in the nonprofit world, including 17 years at a nonprofit in San Antonio that was a United Way grant recipient, giving her a view of both sides of the relationship between the United Way and partner agencies.

One of Garcia’s main goals is expanding the United Way’s reach to the outlying counties it serves – Goliad, DeWitt and Lavaca counties – and increasing the number of nonprofits the United Way can support.

To fund this expansion, Garcia said she’s hoping to build on the United Way’s bread-and-butter fundraising format: the employee campaign, in which employees at local companies can decide to give a portion of their paychecks to support the United Way’s work.

Garcia plans to seek out other types of support, like individual donations and planned giving. But she also wants to reach out to smaller businesses and find ways that their employees can contribute as well.

“I think sometimes the smaller companies feel like, ‘Oh we’re not going to be able to give on the Caterpillar level; we’re not even going to try,’” she said. “We want them to recognize what it means to give into a collective and how every dollar goes so much further when it’s all put together.”

Garcia said the goal for the United Way’s 2019-20 fiscal year is to raise $900,000, about $25,000 more than the previous year.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the United Way helped lead recovery efforts along with Victoria County. Now, more than two years after the storm, the community is still rebuilding from the storm’s impact. Of the challenges the United Way’s partner agencies face, Garcia sees housing as the most pressing issue.

“There’s (almost) no low-income housing anymore; it got wiped out during the hurricane and it’s not coming back,” Garcia said. “How are we going to, as a group, face that – as a community, face that?”

Hurricane Harvey damaged hundreds of homes and apartments in the Crossroads area, exacerbating an already-expensive housing market.

The expense of housing adds extra pressure to people’s other daily needs.

“If you can’t afford your house, can you afford your health care?” Garcia said. “How is a kid going to get to school? How is the kid going to function if they’re hungry or homeless or don’t have clean clothes?”

Ciara McCarthy covers local health issues for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. She reports on insurance, the cost of health care, local hospitals, and more. Questions, tips, or ideas? Contact: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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