United Ways of Hampshire, Franklin counties become one

  • JOHN BIDWELL

Staff Writer
Published: 7/3/2021 7:01:07 AM

The United Ways of Hampshire and Franklin counties have worked together for decades, but on Wednesday, the organizations announced they had formally merged into one entity, now known as the United Way of the Franklin and Hampshire Region.

The merger is the culmination of an 18-month process to create a larger, more consistently staffed organization that is more flexible, more stable and has more resources, according to the agency.

“We’ve had a close relationship with Franklin County for decades,” said executive director of the merged entity, John Bidwell, previously the executive director of the United Way of Hampshire County. A 28-member board of directors will also lead the organization.

In announcing the merger, the agency said that “as a single entity, we are better positioned to meet the changing needs of our communities and have greater resources for ongoing work to create a strong, equitable,and inclusive community for every resident in our region.” The merger was official on July 1, the first day of the new 2022 fiscal year.

United Way, a nonprofit agency, fundraises for dozen of partners in a local network of social service agencies. The agency also uses a community-driven process to identify the greatest needs in the region to decide which agencies are best positioned to address those needs, and then it allocates resources accordingly through grants. Children, youth and their families, economic security, and health and safety are among areas it has focused on in grant cycles. 

United Way partners with SingleCare to offer discount prescriptions as one of its initiatives. Last year, Hampshire County residents saved more than $178,000, a 40% spike in use and savings during the pandemic, according to the agency’s website. 

The agency also partners with Look 4 Help to find social services for food and housing; mental health, addiction and recovery; disability services; legal help; transportation; and employment and job training. 

Offices in Northampton and Greenfield will continue to operate as they did pre-merger. The United Way Diaper Bank will remain housed in the Greenfield location, and staff will share time between the two offices to be readily accessible, according to the agency. The Northampton office is located at 71 King St. The Greenfield office at 51 Davis St., Suite 2.

Bidwell said a couple years ago, the two offices began sharing back-office support, and “not just ideas,” but coordinating with agencies that naturally led to more serious conversations about a formal merger in the winter of 2019 into 2020. Then the pandemic hit.

“There was a concern of, should we shelve this idea?” Bidwell said. “The answer was no, we need to keep moving on this, and it took 18 months.”

Heading into the merger, the Hampshire agency had a budget of $1.25 million, while the Franklin agency had about $750,000, according to Bidwell.

Now with the same budget, there are some savings, Bidwell said. There will now only be one executive for the merged organization, and not one for each, meaning there is an opportunity for some savings. The same goes for the finance director; there will only be one for the new organization.

“It frees up possibilities to help with programs and give back to programs — it’s the type of opportunities that a merger can afford,” Bidwell said.The new regional United Way has already hired a new program director, who will start in the next few weeks, according to Bidwell.

As for the executive director for Franklin County’s United Way, Sarah Tanner was working on an interim basis, and her term concluded at the end of the 2021 fiscal year, which was June 30. She is staying on with the new merged United Way in a consultant capacity, according to Bidwell.

The merger will also mean that successful programs will continue to grow.

The two United Ways had previously collaborated in creating a successful diaper bank. Before the collaboration, a diaper drive in Franklin County, which was confined to the summer, yielded around 50,000 diapers. The diaper bank, on the other hand, is year-round and provides closer to 200,000 diapers across Hampshire and Franklin counties.

“In Franklin County, there is a reading program we don’t have down here, and we are adopting that reading program across Hampshire County as it’s done in Franklin,” Bidwell said.

As for new initiatives, some brainstorming remains.

“Starting in the summer, there will be a strategic planning process on how we, as a new entity, can make the best and strongest impact in the community. There may be opportunities in there to do different programs,” Bidwell said.

In six months there will be more concrete answers for what the merger could mean for new programming, he said.

“We’ve known this question is there … but when in the midst of doing the merger, we were looking to get the merger done from a legal perspective,” he said.

The merged agency will fundraise as a single entity and will implement a community campaign that spans both counties. Perennial events, such as Ski United and Supper for Six, will continue.

“With an expanded network of supporters, our hope is that the events will continue to grow and provide increased resources to benefit our community partners and service providers,” the agency said in its announcement about the merger.

Previous incarnations of the United Way have included the Community Chest, Red Feather and the United Fund.

“United Ways have always merged,” Bidwell said. “It’s a natural expansion to find opportunities to come together.”

He noted that most people in community and the nonprofits they serve do not necessarily identify on the county level, but more on the regional level.

“The idea that we identify solely by county is not wholly accurate. Many people live in one county and work in another,” Bidwell said. “People are more transient than ever.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.


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