Many agencies came to a United Way meeting at some point last year, not knowing what to expect. We were told that things were changing, and that community impact in the "self sufficiency" goal was going to be the way forward.
TIMEOUT. I know from many people that I've talked to that the United Way (both nationally & locally), Erika Dvorske & their board has caught a bad rap for these changes. Regardless of how you feel about United Way, please hear me out for a moment, because I used to be extremely skeptical of United Way's in general. One of the first things I did when I moved to Lawrence was sit down with Erika and have quite a long conversation with her (it was more than 90 minutes, if I recall). I did all the research I could about the efficiency of our United Way, before I committed our organization to be a community partner of theirs. I was then, and still am now, impressed by their initiative and desire to see systematic changes in how services are delivered. Throwing money at problems do not make them go away. I know some of our locally favorite charities are getting funded differently, but let me assure you, everyone is being more efficient with the dollars that are being donated. This process, as I understand it (community impact), wasn't to inhibit an agency's ability to serve clients, but to empower them to do more, together. And to actually help make a difference long term, instead of sitting around and blaming the government, or the economy. At some point, we have to stop blaming everyone else and start taking some responsibility for what's happening in our world. Erika, her staff & her board have done an incredible job through a difficult transition...but I can promise you this. In five years when things are better and our economy is worse...the same folks that are speaking ill of these changes will be the same ones singing their praises.
GAME ON. Fast forward to early last fall. The entire self-sufficiency goal had a meeting and we were told that we needed to bring what we needed and were requesting from United Way to the next meeting. Self-Sufficiency is broken down into three different things: gainful employment, emergency services & affordable housing. We broke out into those subgroups at the next meeting, and I listened as myself, Kyle Roggenkamp from Ballard Center, and Lieutenant Matthew McCluer from the Salvation Army all asked for money to feed people in our community. It was a significant amount of money. To feed the same people.
TIMEOUT. In years past, if we would have been funded for those amounts, we would be using community dollars to do the same thing. Not a jab on any agency, or United Way for how things used to be, but it's not efficient. And it's not sustainable. The need is increasing. Resources are decreasing. The same story would be prevalent every year. Help us do more with less. No one ever bothered to wonder if there was a better way. We were just simply doing things the same way we always did and would always wonder why things didn't get better.
GAME ON. Kyle, Matt and I had this awkward moment, as we were around the table with several other folks from our community, who weren't requesting money for duplicative work, that we just knew that no matter how great we thought our programs were, we had a few choices: work together or selfishly go for the most money at whatever cost. Thankfully, these guys are wonderful. The clients they serve are more important than protecting "the way things have always been" at their organizations. They came to the table willing to talk, work together, and what has come out of those conversations has been something that, in my opinion, is unprecedented collaboration with community partners working together to have an indelible impact on the lives of clients. In conversations since then, we have worked through details, and taken an enormous amount of time and care to make sure that when our clients come in and want a better life, our silo doesn't just hand them a box of food and send them on their merry way.
I'll talk about more tomorrow the great things that are happening that you've hopefully heard about. You'll also hopefully hear their perspectives too, because I've invited them to write on the Just Food blog what this collective impact will have for all of our clients, and what it has meant to them personally.