Erik Keener, UCOM’s associate executive director, receives the Partner of the Year Award.

The staff of United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM) in Wyoming, Mich., recently received a special honor. Heart of West Michigan United Way surprised the UCC-related organization with a United Way Partner of the Year Award.

While UCOM receives funding from United Way — it had already received $60,000 for each of three years, 2020-2023 — it did not expect the additional designation.

The award “recognizes  that we are among the most effective organizations in the area for reaching outstanding outcomes in our neighbors’ lives,” says Bruce Roller, executive director. Now in its 35th year, UCOM provides material and educational assistance to help its neighbors meet basic needs, improve quality of life, and promote self-sufficiency.

Although in non-COVID times, the award would have been presented during a celebration, this year’s low-key presentation at the United Way offices was still exciting for Erik Keener, UCOM’s associate executive director, who picked up the award.

The regular funding UCOM receives from United Way comprises about 12 percent of its cash budget and 6 percent of its total budget. The current three-year funding supports UCOM’s Eat Healthy Live Healthy program. The program includes “our Healthy Choice Food Pantry; the UCOM Farm Stand for affordable, locally-grown produce; our Growing Green Neighbors Community and Urban Gardens; cooking/nutrition classes; and our various movement and exercise classes like our Walking Club,” Roller says.

While Heart of West Michigan United Way has supported UCOM over the years, this was the first time UCOM has been recognized as a Partner of the Year, which it shares this year with Migrant Legal Aid in Grand Rapids, Mich.

UCOM is honored to be recognized among our peers for our successful engagement with our community members,” adds Roller. “It feels good to know that our colleagues, as well as the community at large, support our efforts to be a tool for our neighbors to build healthier, happier, more economically sound communities.”