United Way: A New Way To Help the Community

The Bristol Observer

October 3, 2014

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER


Over 10 years ago, the United Way of West Central Connecticut transformed from a fund raising organization into a “community impact” organization through a shift in its business model.

Working to improve the lives in the greater Bristol community since 1922, United Way now focuses on “community-level” work that results in long-lasting changes for the communities it currently serves: Bristol, Plainville, Burlington, Plymouth, and Terryville.

United Way’s past business model once focused on raising money and then distributing those funds to the local non-profits it supports. Although fund raising continues to be an important piece of the organization’s puzzle, United Way now focuses on improving the three building blocks for a good quality of life for everyone in the community: education, health, and income. Through these three focus areas, United Way aims to help children achieve their potential and help families become financially stable and independent while improving people’s health and wellness.

Donna Osuch, president and CPO of the United Way of West Central Connecticut, said the organization has received more grant support since it began a new business model in 2001. Osuch mentioned support from family foundations such as the William Casper Graustein Memorial Fund for United Way’s early childhood work, and other grants that support parent leadership.

“Because of the early childhood work, we’ve received some additional grants over the last few years, especially in the last year from places like the Stocker Foundation, the Main Street Community Foundation Women and Girls Fund,” said Osuch.

Since United Way’s business model changed, Director of Marketing Colleen Bolingbroke said many advantages have resulted because the organization no longer serves as just the “middle-man” for 31 programs of the 23 non-profits it provides for.

“We find that we can be an umbrella organization to a lot of the nonprofits in our area where a lot of what we do kind of overarches and brings together the partners and the work,” said Bolingbroke. “We really try to bring together the whole community. I think United Way can do that because we have great relationships with government, and schools and banks and businesses, so we really can…make the best connections possible for our community.”

One of 15 independent United Ways in the state, the United Way of West Central Connecticut focuses on a two-pronged approach such as community-level work through 13 in-house initiatives and programs, including the Discovery Initiative which ensures that all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, and financial education classes, as well as the TRIAD program, which aims to unite law enforcement with older volunteers and aging network professionals to address the safety needs and concerns of older adults in their community and to alleviate the fear of crime.

Mary Lynn Gagnon, vice president of Donor Relations, said TRIAD serves as a great example of how United Way has established a strong partnership in the community. United Way of West Central Connecticut became TRIAD-certified two years ago, and has strengthened the work that the organization is accomplishing with local senior citizens, said Gagnon. Through TRIAD, United Way also has established a networking relationship with law enforcement by relaying any messages from the police department about scams that may affect local seniors.

“That’s a unique group cause we’re all working to make sure our seniors are safe and have access to resources and aren’t feeling isolated even when they’re living home alone,” said Gagnon, adding that TRIAD also has helped seniors branch out to other communities. “Untied Way is the organization that pulls everybody together.”

Bolingbroke added United Way helps not only those in need, but also all people who live in the communities they serve, including senior citizens and school-aged children.

“By focusing on education, income, and health, and really focusing on individuals to prosper…we want people to realize our focus is on everyone in the community,” said Bolingbroke.

A local organization governed by a local volunteer board of directors and supported by companies as well as individuals, United Way of West Central Connecticut raises money that stays here in the community. Providing for its 23 non-profits serves as United Way’s second approach, which involved “on-the-ground-work,” which works toward specific outcomes that are specific to the community’s needs.

Once the money is raised, an “allocations team,” which consists of volunteers of different backgrounds representing all four towns that United Way serves, conducts a lengthy process to make a recommendation on how the funds raised should be utilized. The Board of Directors, which serves as a non-profit governing board overseeing finances and offering guidance, gives the final approval on how best to use funds raised after the allocations team makes its recommendations.

“We’re there to provide information, but we do not vote,” said Osuch.

“Any money that is raised during our United Way campaign season, whether it’s a workplace campaign or direct mail solicitation or even some of our special events, our money does stay local,” said Gagnon.

To learn more about the United Way of West Central Connecticut, visit http://www.uwwestcentralct.org.

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