United Way of Clinton County, Iowa, and many other local organizations use the County Health Rankings as a guide to identify and implement solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their neighborhoods, schools, and workplace. It illustrates what we know when it comes to what is keeping people healthy, or making people sick, from one county to the next across Iowa and in the nation. It shows what we can do to create healthier places for everyone to live, work and play.

For rural communities such as ours, disconnected youths — individuals ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or not working — present an untapped resource to strengthen our communities. In 2015, about one in eight individuals in this age group were not working or in school. Areas with high levels of disconnected youth also have higher levels of unemployment, child poverty, single-parent households, teen births, and lower levels of educational attainment — all barriers to a successful transition from youth to healthy adulthood. Premature deaths from unintentional injuries caused from motor vehicle crashes and firearm accidents, followed by drug overdoses, impacted this age group more than any other.

How does United Way of Clinton County, Iowa, and partner agencies use your contributions to reduce the number of disconnected youth in Clinton County?

Partner agencies work to prevent childhood and youth exposure to neglect, abuse, and violence, and promote safe, stable, and nurturing families through efforts like teaching parenting skills, early childhood home visiting programs, and partner violence-prevention programs. We also work to improve and expand access to quality mental and behavioral services for at-risk children and adults to reduce their risk of suicide and harm to others. We promote safe storage of, and careful access to, medications and firearms. We encourage safe motor vehicle travel, especially to reduce alcohol-impaired and distracted driving.

Youths and young adults thrive when offered hope for the future. United Way and its partner agencies work to increase community and school-based supports and services that will raise school attendance and graduation rates. Funded programs offer opportunities to develop social and other skills to advance relationships and build social supports that last into the workplace. Investments, such as preschool programming, child-care subsidies and mentoring, help build connected youths and self-sufficient young adults.

United Way of Clinton County, Iowa, fights for the health and wellness, education, and financial stability of every individual in Clinton County. We are more than fundraisers. We are hand-raisers. We are game-changers.

In order to live better, we must Live United.

Cheryl McCulloh is the executive director of the United Way of Clinton County.