United Way announces $810,000 in grant awards

  • James Ayres, the executive director of the United Way of Hampshire County, at the campaign kickoff in September 2013. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • United Way of Hampshire County Executive Director Jim Ayres speaks during a reception for the Daily Hampshire Gazette Person of the Year and the Young Community Leader, Tuesday at Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst.

Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 31, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Sixteen programs that help low-income residents, homeless individuals and people facing challenges adjusting to language and culture will receive $810,000 over the next three years from United Way of Hampshire County.

United Way on Wednesday announced the recipients of its economic security grants in what Julie Cowan, president of the United Way’s board, calls a “continuum of care” that ensures emergency needs are being met, and that money is being distributed through a thoughtful process.

The recipients includes 12 established programs whose funding will continue, from the Amherst and Northampton survival centers, which will both receive $105,000, to the ServiceNet Interfaith Shelter in Northampton getting $90,000 and Easthampton Community Center being awarded $45,000.

Two additional long-standing organizations are getting funding after not being included in the previous cycle. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in Hatfield is being awarded $22,500 and the International Language Institute of Massachusetts in Northampton will receive $30,000.

Others in line for funding are Casa Latina, Center for Human Development non-housing and Community Legal Aid, each receiving $60,000, Center for New Americans, Community Action, Craig’s Doors: A Home Association and Valley Community Development Corp., all getting $45,000, and Hilltown Community Development Corp. earning $30,000.

In addition, It Takes a Village, based in the Hilltowns, and Quaboag Hills Community Coalition in Ware are getting $15,000 and $7,500, respectively, in “capacity-building” funds.

United Way Executive Director James Ayres explained that these are young organizations that have only recently gotten their nonprofit status.

“Both are organizations that are trying to do really exciting work and would benefit from the support,” Ayres said.

United Way board member Molly Mead, director of the Center for Community Engagement at Amherst College, said the funding illustrates how United Way brings together both veteran and neophyte organizations.

“We want a well-woven safety net in the county,” Mead said.

Ayres said decisions on funding are also made according to whether agencies are providing for people in crisis, offering services that ensure stability and guaranteeing self-sufficiency to clients.

Most of the impact is for people with emergency needs, such as at the Easthampton Community Center, which will get $15,000 a year, money used to buy items for the food pantry and pay the electric bill for the refrigerators and freezers, said Executive Director Robin Bialecki.

“It’s so important to the work we do,” Bialecki said.

The same holds true for the Amherst Survival Center, with its $35,000 a year.

“As a three-year award, it expresses confidence in our ability to deliver our programs while offering consistent support,” said Executiev Director Mindy Domb.

Domb said United Way, as an agency partner, also helps raise awareness of the need for diapers and has a leadership role in the Amherst Area Diaper Drive coalition.

Cowan, the United Way board president, who works professionally for MassDevelopment’s western Massachusetts office, said she understands that what United Way does best is make sure that agencies providing direct services have the money for their objectives.

But United Way also see its role as bringing people together, Cowan said, so that agencies can work more collaboratively to meet the region’s needs.

In previous years of these three-year funding cycles, United Way provided money for agencies dedicated to children, youth and their families, such as the Cutchins Programs for Children & Families and Big Brothers/ Big Sisters of Hampshire County, and organizations devoted to health and safety, like Safe Passage and Highland Valley Elder Services.

‘More proactive’

Since going to these three-year funding cycles, the process has improved, Mead said, in that it allows a review of grant applications in a more focused way. It also removes the stress from organizations being required to apply annually.

For this round, United Way got 19 proposals, or letters of intent. These were reviewed by three-person committees that also did site visits with these agencies.

When meeting with grantees, they were asked to talk about the work done to connect clients with others services, Mead said.

Mead points to a visit she did with an organization that works with homeless individuals, and a lengthy discussion about how aspects of its work, such as providing shelter and housing, could be improved.

“To me there’s room to really ask questions about whether there are more proactive things to be done around this issue, for example,” Mead said.

All proposals then got scored and the community investment committee of the full board made its recommendations.

The announcement of funding comes shortly before Ayres, who has led United Way of Hampshire County since 2011, departs later in June to serve in the same role at United Way of Pioneer Valley.

Bialecki said she appreciates the networking capacity that ensures clients can get services in Easthampton, even if not available on site, by contacting United Way.

“There is marvelous staff over there. We’re so sorry Jim will be leaving,” Bialecki said.

Cowan said the board expects to have an interim director in place for a period of time, and that United Way is fortunate to have a stable campaign, strong finances and more volunteers than it can handle. “It’s a good problem to have,” Cowan said.

Ayres’ departure, Cowan added, is an opportunity to reinvigorate the organization. The board will form a search committee with both board and non-board members to create a vision for the next person to bring.

One focus of the new executive director, for instance, might be to add digital aspects to the campaign, which still uses triplicate paper forms.

“We’re always trying to be forward-looking and recognize how do we capture the younger generation,” Mead said.

Even though young workers may not have much to give yet, once they become donors, even at low levels, they often stick with United Way, Mead said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com