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FITCHBURG — United Way of North Central Massachusetts made $1.8 million in grants and distributions during its recently completed fiscal year.

“These grants and distributions will create opportunities for a better life for thousands of families and individuals right here in our community, ” said Bob Chauvin, volunteer chairman of United Way of North Central Massachusetts. “The opportunities we create have a powerful effect that ripples back into the community, improving everyone’s quality of life.”

United Way makes grants and distributions to programs in the area of education, health and income. United Way’s priorities include youth development and education, substance abuse and domestic violence, and emergency food and shelter.

Matt Johnson, volunteer chairman of United Way’s Community Investment Division, said United Way uses its understanding of community needs to target the most pressing issues.

In addition to funding programs through local nonprofits, United Way Community Initiatives include:

United Way Youth Venture, which inspires and invests in teams of young people, to design and launch their own lasting social ventures. The program is in 17 school systems and has reached over 2,264 students in the past year.

Dolly Parton Imagination Library, the newest program United Way launched. It is a preschool literacy program that provides children with a new, FREE, age-appropriate book each month from birth until their 5th birthday, regardless of socioeconomic status. This program ensures that children have quality books in the home in their most developmental years. Any child living in Ayer, Shirley, Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Winchendon or Templeton may sign up for the program.

United Way Community Builders, a volunteer center, which promotes volunteerism through outreach efforts and its interactive website, .

Mass 2-1-1, a free information and referral service that connects residents to health and human services in the community. Over 3,300 local residents have used the service.

FamilyWize, which affords prescription discounts and savings to local residents that are uninsured or underinsured, saving area residents over $690,000 since the program was launched locally.

United Way’s Supplemental Basic Needs Fund, which delivers food and heating assistance as additional needs are identified throughout the year. This past year over 7,004 individuals received assistance.

The Emergency Shelter Fund that provides shelter to homeless individuals during extreme winter events and situation.

United Way also helped promote the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program – previously known as EITC, which provides no cost tax preparation to people who work and have low- to moderate wages. This past year, area residents received almost $1,000,000 in tax refund credits through this program.

Each year, United Way raises critical health and human service support through workplace employee giving, corporate donations and individual support from the community.

United Way of North Central Massachusetts is a local, volunteer-driven nonprofit organization that serves the communities of Ashburnham, Ashby, Ayer, Devens, Fitchburg, Gardner, Groton, Harvard, Hubbardston, Leominster, Littleton, Lunenburg, Pepperell, Shirley, South Lancaster, Templeton, Townsend, Westminster and Winchendon.

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