The United Way has been a cornerstone of Kosciusko County since 1958, but the mission of this organization is still unknown to many in our community. What does the United Way do?
The chances are good someone answering this question would refer to our annual fundraising campaign. They might say the United Way raises money to fund human service programs in the county. Other individuals in our community may associate United Way to our annual Day of Caring or know about the information and referral services available by calling 2-1-1.
While all of these references are correct, the United Way encompasses much more and has a clear, defined mission: Uniting the community to create positive change. Currently, and for the past several years, we accomplish this mission through funding of programs with demonstrated results in three focus areas – education, income and health. The efforts in determining what to fund and monitoring the programs is called Community Impact.
Three teams (one per focus area) are responsible for the Community Impact work. Teams of nine individuals, comprised of both United Way board members, community volunteers and issue-experts, are assigned to each of the three focus areas. During April and May of each year, the teams review packets from each program requesting funds. Each organization must provide extensive information about their program and, most important, if the program received United Way funding previously, must submit measures detailing the results achieved. After a thorough review by each team member, the agency presents to the full team for a question-and-answer period. While there are many quality programs in our community, not all receive funding.
The Community Impact teams seek to fund programs that create lasting change in our community. We focus our efforts on assisting programs that can prove, by measuring results, they are helping clients to improve their lives in a sustainable way. Ultimately, we hope to provide individuals and families with the tools and skills needed to prevent problems from happening in the first place. For example, a percentage of our funds would go toward emergency needs such as utility assistance for struggling families; however, we would work to funnel the majority of the United Way collected resources into programs that would allow a family to be self-sufficient. Assisting them with making their home energy efficient so the utility bill would be smaller is one approach or helping them through educational initiatives to find a better job so they would be able to pay their utility bill is yet another.
This model of providing assistance along with the support needed to change patterns is the definition of Community Impact. Today, our approach to funding is much more than handing over a check – it more closely resembles an investment plan. As with any investment strategy, we focus our resources toward programs demonstrating measurable outcomes. We have specific goals in each of the three areas of focus.
In education, our goals include increasing the number of children ready to enter kindergarten and increasing the number of children who are reading proficiently in the third grade. Studies link improvements in these two areas to increased high school graduation rates.
In the area of income, we strive to assist families achieve economic self-sufficiency. We collaborate with programs that help families reach above the poverty line (at least by 200 percent) and sustain themselves so they do not need emergency assistance.
Finally, in the area of health, we fund programs that promote improved health through strategies of fitness, nutrition, children’s oral health, destructive behavior reduction and healthcare accessibility.
In 2014, we will be sharing more about the United Way mission and our focus areas. We also will be highlighting results related to the investment of resources entrusted to us through the campaign. We invite those who live and work in Kosciusko County to visit our website at to learn more about our work and our partner programs that drive long lasting change. We hope these efforts will increase the understanding of both the mission and the work of your United Way in our community.