Help Close the Gap



Donna Swaffar, Communications Director
Phone: 785.228.5111

United Way Calls on Community to “Close the Gap” and Protect Vital Services

MAY 8, 2019, TOPEKA, KS—United Way of Greater Topeka leaders, partners and donors assembled today to ask for the community’s help to keep vital programs fully supported in the coming year. United Way’s current campaign year ends June 30, and a $300,000 gap could leave people without critical help in basic needs, financial stability and education. Anyone interested in helping can donate online at or by calling United Way at 785.273.4804.

Gathered in the Visit Topeka office on Kansas Avenue thanks to a continuing threat of wet weather, United Way CEO Jessica Lehnherr spoke passionately to the attendees about supporting families and continuing to focus on long-term solutions in addition to immediate assistance.

Lehnherr said, “More than a decade ago, led by community conversations and some visionary volunteers and staff, United Way of Greater Topeka started focusing on the future. With so many strong partners handling the day-to-day needs, we felt it was time to look upstream, to get to the root of poverty and start making changes not just for the day, the month or the year, but for generations.”

“In the very near future,” she said, “families will be on this street enjoying their time together. But without your help, too many Topeka families will have to choose between working a second or third job and celebrating life with their family. Too many families will have to choose between paying for a life-saving prescription or sending their child or grandchild to a summer enrichment camp. Too many families will have to choose between leaving their kids home alone or losing their job. These aren’t the kind of choices anyone wants to make. You can ensure that fewer people have to make them.”

United Way’s campaign goal this year is $2.75 million, and the $300,000 gap means that United Way’s Community Impact Council could face tough grant decisions on how to adjust grant awards.

Current UWGT Board Chair Becky Holmquist translated that dollar gap into potential lost services. “If we stopped right now, if nobody gave another dollar, 56 kids would lose that vital support in elementary school. If nobody gave another dollar, more than 1,500 seniors could be stuck without a life-saving prescription. If nobody gave another dollar, 129 families would spend another year falling deeper into debt and facing heart-wrenching choices.”

Closing the gap, Holmquist noted, was needed just to fully fund existing commitments. Holmquist added, “We never want to settle for just meeting those commitments, because we know how great the need truly is. We want to be able to invest in more strategies, to offer larger grants, to make life better for more families.”

Kathleen Marker, CEO of YWCA of Northeast Kansas, spoke to the group about the impact United Way has on its clients, not only victims of domestic violence but preschool and grade-school age children. She said that the FEATS program, which provides tutoring and support for elementary students, has already proven to have long-lasting effects on its participants.

“Our FEATS program, Families Empowered by Additional Tutoring of Children has been in operation for the past 8 years, Marker said. “Last year we served 215 children. The impact goes beyond the academic enrichment these students receive after school.  Tavien Robinson was a fifth grader when he participated in our FEATS program.  Last year he returned to that same classroom as a part of his work-study at Washburn University. He can share with the kids in his classroom today that he was sitting where they are, and he went on after graduating from high school to go to college and to have the opportunity to work with kids like him.”

Dr. Tiffany Anderson, Superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, also encouraged the community to close the current funding gap. “It seems so perfect that it’s Teacher Appreciation Week,” Anderson said, “and what better way to show appreciation for teachers than by supporting children in schools. …as a donor myself for United Way, as a school partner who benefits and gives as a campaign supporter, I urge everyone in Topeka to look at ways they can continue to give and to fight together and to close the gap before the end of June.” TPS partners with United Way in several buildings, most recently with a tutoring program tailored specifically to meet the needs of students at Meadows Elementary.


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To achieve positive sustainable change through education, financial stability and health for everyone in our community.

United Way brings together people, companies and nonprofits in Shawnee, Jefferson and Jackson Counties to create positive sustainable change in education, financial stability and health. United Way remains dedicated to supporting Basic Needs, including food, rent and utilities, health and prescription access and safety from domestic violence.