United Way of Hampshire County hits $1.275 million goal, targets economic insecurity in region

Last modified: Thursday, September 04, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Some of the newest programs backed by the United Way of Hampshire County will help people facing hard times today do better tomorrow.

The group, which announced Tuesday it reached its $1,257,000 goal, spent the past year looking for ways to support projects that target economic insecurity in the region.

United Wayof Hampshire County 2014 Grants

One such program is the Northampton Survival Center. It will receive $40,000 a year over the next three years — a funding plan designed to stabilize and improve human-services programs.

“We are able to turn United Way donations into hundreds of thousands of pounds of food for our neighbors,” said Heidi Nortonsmith, executive director at the center.

“The United Way really gets and supports our programs. And they don’t micromanage us,” she said Tuesday, when asked about the new funding. “They appreciate what we do, they show it and then they leave us be.”

She added, “They know that what we do every day is at the bedrock of community in this area.”

With the United Way funding, the center will be able to feed more than 4,500 low-income residents of Hampshire County, Nortonsmith said.

James Ayres, the United Way’s executive director, said the campaign was able to hit its goal, a 2 percent increase over last year, at a time when similar drives nationally have been flat or declined.

“It really is a success for organizations that are doing our kind of work,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “To be able to increase funding at a time when job security is tough and the economy is tough.”

The money raised will touch the lives of 28,000 residents of Hampshire County, Ayres said, or one in six people.

In all, 34 partner programs will receive United Way backing in the coming year. One is Safe Passage in Northampton, which provides services to survivors of domestic violence.

Marianne Winters, its executive director, said ongoing support from the United Way — through community-wide donations — helps her agency plan its programming more effectively. “Even if there are fluctuations in the exact amount, we see that there’s a baseline of community support in place,” she said.

The agency will receive $42,000 in each of the next three years. According to Winters, Safe Passage puts its United Way funding toward a grant that helps the organization meets its state health and safety goals. “We do counseling, safety planning and direct work with survivors using that money,” she said.

Aside from direct funding, Winters said Safe Passage benefits from participating in the network of the group’s partner agencies. “We have a robust community of organizations all connected by the United Way,” she said. “It boils down to better collaboration, less duplication and more resources available for all the clients.

“I can always call another director to get their help or make sense of something with me,” Winters said. “Being a part of that network has a value beyond money.”

New this year

Three new programs helped by the United Way target people living at the edge financially.

• A $20,000, three-year grant to Craig’s Doors in Amherst will help provide shelter to people recovering from addiction. Ayres said the need for the allocation was identified because Craig’s Doors helps people who are not accepted at other shelters. “There are a lot of people struggling with addiction right now,” Ayres said.

• Another new program, led by the YWCA of Western Massachusetts, will provide one-on-one counseling and workshops for single parents in Easthampton, the Hilltowns and Ware, backed by a $15,000, three-year allocation. “Those are areas where we are seeing a lot of need,” Ayres said. “No one program can do it all on their own.”

The United Way is working to support programs that seek to provide both immediate relief, in the form of food aid and shelter, and longer-term assistance through education.

Ayres said he believes there is a “false dichotomy” between the goals of offering immediate or long-range help. The latter includes providing job skills, referrals to other training and advice on how to manage a family budget.

• A $10,000, three-year grant to the Hilltown Community Development Corp. will provide help to people at risk of homelessness in rural parts of the county through a new program.

Other recipients in the United Way’s economic security category are the Amherst Survival Center ($40,000), Casa Latina ($15,000), the Center for New Americans ($25,000), Community Action ($15,000), Community Legal Aid ($20,000), Easthampton Community Center ($20,000), the Center for Human Development’s SRO Project ($25,000), ServiceNET’s Interfaith Shelter ($30,000) and the Valley CDC ($25,000). All grants last for three years.

The campaign

This year’s campaign was aided by an increase in the number of Leaders Circle donors, who give more than $1,000 to the United Way. Ayres said there are now 330 members of that circle, up from 307 last year.

Baystate Health Systems and Health New England provided challenge grants that lifted the campaign, Ayres said. The 2014 drive was led by co-chairs William Grinnell and Peter Jessop.

The nearly three dozen programs that receive United Way funding learned of their new grant amounts in April and began receiving money in July.

Those steps come each year before the campaign officially closes.

“We’re doing that on faith that the community will be there to support us,” Ayres said.

Hunter Styles contributed reporting to this story.