Jena Gullo Missouri Slope Areawide (MSA) United Way’s executive director starts off the conversation by saying, “United Way is a problem solver.” She isn’t wrong.
After the only emergency homeless shelter closed their doors in the winter of 2017, Gullo remembers, “People were coming to us with black fingers from frostbite. We had families, single moms, sleeping in their cars. When we saw these things and heard these stories, we knew we had to do something and do it right away. It was a life or death situation.” On March 1, 2018 United Way started the community’s only emergency homeless shelter providing 15,716 nights of shelter to 762 men, women, and children just through October of 2017 until December of 2018.
Gullo’s personal passion for United Way and the work they do doesn’t go unnoticed. Somberly Gullo says, “When we first started sheltering the homeless, we had a woman come to us who was in a really bad abusive relationship but she had nowhere else to go. We were able to get her into a transition housing program but her drug test came back and she tested positive for meth and she was kicked out. So she came back to us and she waited until the end of the night until we were done with intake. She didn’t leave. And I was looking at her across the room, and her eyes… she had bruises all across her face… and it was snowing. It was snowing so badly that night. And freezing cold. And I remember something coming over me – I really think it was God telling me “Jena, where is your compassion?” I went up to her and she agreed to get into treatment. So she went through treatment and we got her into a shelter. We helped her get enrolled in GED courses. She got a job… she actually got two jobs. Then, we ended up hiring her. She now works for United Way… and is doing phenomenal.” She goes on to say that change is possible. That it is not easy, but it is possible. That we cannot give up on our community. She continues, “We as a community need to be there for other people. And that is what Dakota Community Bank & Trust is all about at every level.”
Gullo boasts that MSA United Way’s successes are because of all of their various community partnerships whether it is business partnerships or individuals that contribute to their mission. “It is not just the people we serve and the small team at our office. It is the community.” United Way aspires to be a reflection of the communities they serve. Their goal is to drive change in a proactive way within the community. United Way capitalizes in wise investments to drive their impactful results.
They are working to end childhood hunger through their backpack program and Summer Hunger Program. They know it is about the future of our community’s children. They support our community’s seniors. They manage 31 nonprofit agencies. United Way has stepped up to take on our community’s tough problems by tackling those problems themselves or through their partnerships within the community.
United Way’s mission to unite people and build a better community mirrors Dakota Community Bank & Trust. “If it wasn’t for Dale (Pahlke) and Cindy (Schaaf) and Dakota Community Bank & Trust, I am not sure we would still be able to continue our work,” states Gullo. She continues by stating that the staff from Dakota Community Bank & Trust have volunteered their time and resources to provide and serve the homeless evening meal. Dakota Community Bank & Trust had provided Christmas gifts for the homeless shelter residents in December of 2018 to not only equip them with basic necessities, such as hats and mittens, but to “make our homeless clients feel special and remembered during the holidays,” recalls Gullo. “That people in the community care about them. And that frankly, there is a little bit of hope.”
The same year, 2018, the United Way opened up the emergency homeless shelter out of necessity, Dale Pahlke, Dakota Community Bank & Trust President and CEO, and Cindy Schaaf, Senior Vice President chaired the 2018 United Way Campaign. With their assistance, United Way not only reached their fundraising goal of 2.8 million, but they surpassed it by reaching over 3 million dollars raised.
“You know, that’s just it with Dakota Community Bank & Trust. It’s not just a name on a billboard. It’s not just a name at a ballpark. They stand behind their name. They stand behind all the good that they do. They don’t just talk the talk. To them it’s about “Let’s make this community as great as possible.” And it’s awesome.”
With the future in mind, MSA United Way recently purchased a 3,200 square foot building that they moved their shelter into with hopes of further expansion. Gullo goes on to say, “Our goal is to build onto that building a bigger, nicer shelter. But better than that, a community space we are going to call ‘The Center of Opportunity’ where we are going to help coordinate services to break the cycle of poverty.” MSA United Way’s future goals depend on further collaboration and partnerships to target root causes and help drive positive changes within the communities they serve. That way, MSA United Way ensures that their resources are used efficiently and effectively to build up their communities.
To view learn more about MSA United Way and their partners, or to get involved visit www.msaunitedway.org/.
Written by Lindsey Hefta, Marketing Director