Alice Workers

James Baker, right, Prosperity Center manager, and Joyce Kwamena-Poh, director of operations and human resources, work on a project at United Way of Frederick County. To keep consistent with the ALICE report data, United Way will increase Baker’s and other United Way staff members’ wages to stay in line with the Frederick County ALICE survival threshold.

Workers for nonprofits do the job to help others. But some, unfortunately, qualify for assistance the nonprofits offer themselves.

So what keeps a worker at a nonprofit job when they sometimes need assistance to meet their financial needs? Is it the feeling they get knowing they help those in need? Is it their co-workers? Is it fulfillment they get knowing they’re giving back to a community on a daily basis?

For Shana Knight, the community engagement manager at United Way of Frederick County, it’s knowing that assistance programs are available and being able to go out in the community to let others know that they can get help.

“I just love that I get to help people,” she said. “It is a challenging job, because you never know what you’re going to get and what’s going to come up. I like the work that United Way did just because of the work I wanted to do, and this was a career steppingstone for me.”

Even though Knight makes just above the ALICE threshold, she stays with the nonprofit because she knows she’s making a difference.

Every two years United Way of Maryland publishes the ALICE report — a detailed report that breaks down the numbers and provides data by town in 18 states that details what a single person or a family needs to earn in order to meet the financial needs in that area.

In the breakdown, a single adult in Frederick County needs to earn $35,316 annually to be considered above the ALICE threshold, and a family of four needs to earn $84,036 a year.

According to the report, 39 percent of people in Frederick County live under the threshold.

To make sure its own employees didn’t fall under that threshold, United Way of Frederick County raised its wages for those employees after the last report in January 2017.

“We felt that if we were going to be leading the way on making adjustments to meet the basic needs of households, we have to start internally,” said Ken Oldham, president and CEO of United Way of Frederick County.

United Way of Frederick County has eight full-time employees and three to four part-time employees, depending on the season, according to Oldham. All full-time employees also receive benefits, such as health insurance and a retirement plan.

Before the pay raise to reach the ALICE threshold, Knight said she was living from paycheck to paycheck and had just enough money to pay her expenses.

“There’d be that check on the 30th and everything would be due on the first and then I’d say, ‘well, I guess I’ll go to my mom’s house and raid her fridge.’”

Although she’s able to cover her bills, she still struggles to save for an emergency. She also has a child now, which she said makes it harder to save money.

“I’m trying to save every penny that I can,” she said. “Now I’m to the point that I’m seeking the resources that I can and taking advantage of them.”

That resource is the Prosperity Savings Account, where she can put money into an account toward buying a house, paying for education or opening a small business.

United Way, in partnership with the county, offers a Prosperity Savings program where a person will put a maximum of $2,200 in an account and the county matches it with $8,800, according to Joyce Kwamena-Poh, director of operations and human resources for United Way.

“It’s that feeling that you’re really doing something to help the community,” Kwamena-Poh said. “It’s not always about the money.”

At the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, another nonprofit in Frederick County, part-time employees make $11 to $12 per hour, a wage that sits below the ALICE threshold, according to Nick Brown, executive director of the Religious Coalition.

For full-time employees, “we offer normal benefit packages of sick leave, vacation and 401(k), but no other financial assistance,” he said.

The nonprofit has 27 employees with hourly pay rates that vary, he said, and there are no direct fundraisers to assist those employees with financial resources.

“Because we’re a service provider, we want to be considerate of the fact that [our employees] also have financial hardships,” he said. “If there is a financial hardship for that employee, we’ll try to ease that issue for them.”

He said that’s done by applying for assistance for the employee’s particular issue, be it help with rent, a need to rehouse, or another issue that falls under the umbrella of how the Religious Coalition assists Frederick County residents.

“Human services generally draws those in,” he said of nonprofit workers. “We have a few folks on staff that left higher-paying jobs to provide for human services because of the help that they are able to provide.”

This story has been updated to correct the percentage of households below the ALICE threshold and the name of the organization that completes the ALICE report.

Follow CJ Fairfield on Twitter: @FairfieldCj.

(2) comments


Beautiful story. It's easy to love what you're doing and what you're doing is love. I work for the Arc of Frederick and I feel as if I can make a difference in the midst of the Insanity in our country..


United Way of Frederick County has such a far reach across the county and funds so many valuable projects. It really is how a community is built - everyone should be a little involved with the United Way. If you're not reaching out to help somehow, what are you doing to make the community a better place?

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