When it comes to the building blocks for a good quality of life – education, income and health – the United Way has been focused on mobilizing the caring power of communities to make a difference in people’s lives for 125 years.
First implemented by a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi as a cooperative effort among 10 local health and welfare agencies to assist vulnerable populations and people living in poverty in 1887, the concept of raising funds for local charities created a movement that spread throughout the country. Today, the United Way continues to provide a critical safety net for those Americans most in need.
Since our country’s national human services system was established during the Kennedy Administration and took root during President Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” programs and services have changed dramatically over the years. At the same time, there has been a shift in funding – from grants to federal cost-reimbursement contracts and the increasing use of Medicaid to support human services.
“Given the importance of human services, more attention is needed on how we finance them,” Dave Sikes, director of allocations for the Lake Area United Way (LAUW), said. “When I first came to the United Way in 1985, the social service sector was focused on needs assessment – who needs what and identifying service providers to meet those needs. In the 90s there was a paradigm shift as more and more federal funding became tied to asset assessment and how we can maximize currently available assets.”
That’s when the United Way made the decision to refocus its efforts on education, income and health, which ultimately affect northwest Indiana’s ability to attract new businesses and residents.
“In our role as a community collaborator, the United Way has adopted a Total Quality Management business model with an intense focus on outcomes,” Sikes added. “Our goal is to create long-lasting changes that prevent problems from happening in the first place. It’s more about changing systems, assessing assets in the community, identifying opportunities for collaboration and funding those partnerships.”
In their efforts to support community service providers, the United Way is always seeking new corporate partners as well as donors. To that end, LAUW has joined the national organization in successfully completing and meeting all 20 Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana (BBB) Standards for Charitable Accountability, which earns them the right to use the prestigious BBB Accredited Charity Seal.
“We must be diligent in our work to ensure excellence in how we protect the investments of our donors. We must always be above reproach. Our donors and volunteers trust the United Way to be a good steward of their contributions,” Lou Martinez, president of LAUW, said. “We are committed to accountability and transparency in all aspects of our operations.”
According to Amy Kill, charity review analyst for the BBB Northern Indiana office in Fort Wayne, the BBB receives a high volume of calls all year long from consumers who are looking for information on more than 250 nonprofit organizations in the 23 counties her office oversees.
“The prime time for inquiries is definitely during the holidays,” she said. “Donors are doing their homework when it comes to the charities they are considering donating to, and the Accredited Charity Seal makes a huge statement. In order to display the seal, these organizations must undergo an evaluation by the BBB Wise Giving Alliance that involves rigorous scrutiny of their finances from top to bottom.”
So far, 23 of the LAUW member agencies have also earned the distinction.
“This is a project that LAUW and our agencies have been working toward for the last 2½ years,” Martinez explained. “Our goal is to have all LAUW agencies certified early next year.”
While the focus of the United Way’s work is now less on helping individuals (needs assessment) and more on conditions that need fixing (asset assessment), its important for donors to understand the many different ways the organization is impacting real people in our communities.
For example, the Emergency Services Department of Catholic Charities Diocese of Gary, which is celebrating its 75th Anniversary serving four counties in northwest Indiana, is addressing the community’s unique education, income and health needs at its East Chicago office located at 3901 Fir St.
“We collaborate with a number of organizations in order to provide material assistance to residents in need,” Otilia Costa Lima, emergency services program director for Catholic Charities, said. “It’s our hope that the parents who benefit from these programs will in turn teach their children.”
Starting with a new computer lab (in collaboration with LAUW and Foundations of East Chicago) opened late last year and staffed by volunteers to offer education and access to new technology while improving the chances of getting a better job, there’s an established food pantry (Food Bank of Northwest Indiana) where people can pick up a bag of groceries and even learn how to prepare healthy meals using the ingredients (Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service) plus housing counseling/education including rent, utility and mortgage assistance plus community safety (Neighborhoods Inc.), legal counseling (Indiana Legal Services, Inc. and Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic) and helping the “unbanked” find affordable banking services through a LAUW-led financial stability initiative called Bank On Northwest Indiana.
The United Way invites you to be a part of the change. You can give, you can advocate, and you can volunteer. That’s what it means to LIVE UNITED™.