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United Way’s new funding model focuses on youth services

United Way’s new funding model focuses on youth services

At a Heart of Missouri United Way breakfast meeting earlier this year, Pat Fowler stood among leaders of Columbia’s nonprofit community to make one last plea for senior service organizations in response to changes in funding from United Way.

Tim Rich, executive director Heart of Missouri United Way, led that breakfast meeting to explain how the new funding model named Community Impact would work starting in 2013. The move, he said, was part of a national United Way initiative that has been in the works for more than 12 years, with several local branches joining in. By focusing its funding efforts on children and youth, United Way predicts that it will have more of a long-term impact on the community.

Community Impact came about, in part, as a response to calls from leaders in Columbia’s business community asking for a model that reflects corporate trends in decreasing overhead costs during difficult economic times. Rich and HMUW worked with more than 70 corporate, education and health professionals to create a vetting process of higher intensity and greater specificity.

“We have to focus funding to certain areas to see real change,” Rich says. “I am proud of the board for their courage and thinking long term.”

Future funding

The focal shift, however, is leaving some community organizations uncertain about future funding, especially those who have worked with HMUW in the past. Senior service agencies, in particular, are struggling to find a place in the new model.

As president of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association, Fowler has a passion for maintaining Columbia’s historic, culturally rich downtown neighborhood. Fowler says much of the area’s strong neighborly connection is strengthened by the presence of seniors.

“Seniors tend to keep an eye on things in the neighborhood,” Fowler says. “They help create a sense of connectivity.”

The organizations that do not adapt to Community Impact are likely to lose funding, but Rich says he reminded all organizations that Community Impact was two years in the making. HMUW warned of the possibility of this model years ago so as not to abruptly cut off agency partners who do not fit the new model.

Rich also encouraged innovative thinking and creativity from the agencies to adapt to the new program. In regard to senior services, he says he suggested creating programs that partner seniors with children. Drawing from childhood experiences of his grandparents living with the family, he recognized the wisdom senior citizens could share with younger generations who may not have a grandparent figure in their lives.

HMUW provided an estimated 30 percent to the annual budget for the Boone County Council on Aging and will continue to do so until the end of the year. But Executive Director Jessica Macy says her organization does not fit the Community Impact funding model and to try to do so would shift away from its mission of providing independent living services for senior citizens.

Opening opportunities

Rich and HMUW announced plans for Community Impact more than two years ago and explained that, by focusing its efforts, the United Way opens opportunities to agencies that have struggled to receive funding in the past.

Columbia’s Youth Empowerment Zone is one such agency. Founded in 2004, YEZ provides employment and mentoring services to Columbia’s at-risk youth. YEZ had applied for funding and been rejected in the past because of a long-standing pattern of giving only to HMUW’s select 31 partner agencies.

“But now with this economic recession, people are more fragile,” Rich says. “They want to make sure they are affecting change.”

YEZ was already working to meet the challenge. As part of its mission, says Executive Director Lorenzo Lawson, YEZ is pooling its resources with other youth organizations in Columbia, including Job Point, Phoenix House and Fannie’s House. By sharing grant writers, for example, YEZ hopes to reduce its overhead costs and reach more youths in the community — two results that would be attractive in HMUW’s new youth- and business-based model.

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