Good Place Akron

Be the Change, LIVE UNITED:

United Way of Summit County
Part 2 of 2

By: Katie Sobiech

Last week’s story touched on the overall view of what the United Way of Summit County (UWSC) does for the community as an organization. With efforts so numerous that it is often difficult to describe even by its employees, we are focusing in on one particularly important initiative – the Basic Needs Council. Taking a closer look at who they are and what they do.

The Basic Needs Council, headed up by Lois A. Foster, Vice President of Community Impact at United Way of Summit County, is much needed. It is one of three community impact councils which focus on education, income and health. Each began as an attempt to identify global needs.

“The councils are what we call sort of Think Tanks for the United Way. They’re not concentrating on what the United Way currently does, or its funded programs, but rather we’re talking about the community in a global sense. Where are there gaps in services? Where are there needs?” Foster said.

Three Focal Points

As a result of research, three main needs came into focus: education, income and health.

“There are three target areas that we’re making funding available for outside of our usual process of giving money to our affiliated agencies,” Michael Gaffney, APR, Vice President of United Way of Summit County, said.

The councils make financial help available to non-profits in town that fit into three areas: financial stability for families, school readiness for children, and utility assistance for adults without minor children in the home. The key is focusing in on relevant issues in our community.

“United Ways across the country have realized that focusing on the three areas of education, income, and health, can move the needle the most on a national scale,” Gaffney said.

This caused them to create their own local blueprint for change.

“We’re putting a stake in the ground saying ‘This is what we want to do. This is how we want to move the needle so that we can have success’. Here at a local level our councils are looking to do the same things,” Gaffney explained.

Local Needs

Foster says they began assessing needs by contacting Info Line and asking what their top requests coming in were. Over the course of years, food was found to be a primary request.

“Utility assistance is also always a need,” Foster said, “and it tends to be the basic need where there are the fewest resources.”

“One of the things that we’ve found is that if you have kids in the house it is easier to get money and keep your heat on, but if you’re an adult and don’t have children living in the house, there’s not a lot of help for you. So that’s a target area that we’re working on,” Gaffney added.

“The folks without children tend to be on the outside,” Lois said.


Making a Plan

With that in mind, the UWSC established a pool of funding which totaled $68,000.00, all to go to individuals without minor children.

“The Basic Needs Council then set up an automated mechanism where front line case workers seeing these individuals would be able to plug into the system,” Foster said.

Info Line set up the web based, automated service. A handful of provider agencies agreed to provide certain services to fulfill the needs. Working together, provider agencies place their criteria on the website, which is open for case managers to view, to see if money is available for their client.

“We continue to look at utility assistance because its not going away and its not getting any prettier,” Foster said.

Council Meetings

The BNC meets monthly, or bi monthly, depending on the agenda, to discuss relevant topics and develop a plan for the community.

“We’re always looking at what is a prevalent community issue that’s sort of driving everybody nuts,” Foster said.

“We ask ‘How do we make sure we have fewer people next year that need these services?’ That’s what makes it work. We bring together a lot of people from various backgrounds looking at a problem, pulling it apart and asking ‘what’s the solution?’ It’s sharing.” Gaffney said.

The other two councils include Attaining Independence and Building Successful Children and Families.

“If someone is really interested in joining a discussion, has an interest and something to bring to the table we would like to have them,” Foster said, “It’s really al about meeting people’s needs. The people who are attempting to address the issue are really all wanting to do just that, we want to be good stewards of the money that we have,” Foster said.

“You can write letters to your congress people saying this is really important, quit cutting funding for these programs, this is what’s making our community a better place and we need to make sure that these things are happening. Giving, advocating, volunteering – that is what we are asking folks to do, and that’s how you live united,” Gaffney said.

If you would like more information on the Basic Needs Council please contact Lois Foster at (330) 643-5509.