United Way announces $4.1 million community initiative

A new approach at the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg will bring $4.1 million in Community Impact Grants to 63 programs at 48 agencies in the Richmond area next year.
The grants announced today, which range from $25,000 to $289,000, grew out of a new grant-making process that was open to everyone and had no guarantees that anyone would continue to receive funding from previous years.

The United Way had announced its new Community Impact Plan and open funding model last August. Since then, the United Way and 90 volunteers have considered 141 initial letters of intent requesting more than $13 million, requested full proposals on 78 programs requesting $7.6 million and selected 63 programs to receive the available $4.1 million in funding. The 2,300 volunteer hours also included reviewing financial statements to help determine capability to handle new projects and visiting applicants to assess their programs.

Some of the new recipients were ecstatic.

"This is monumental,” said Sheree Hedrick, executive director of Hanover Safe Place, which will receive $85,000 to create a financial education program for victims of domestic abuse. The program will operate through the domestic violence rapid rehousing program, which is based in Hanover but serves all of Richmond’s suburban counties.

"For a small agency like ours, that is a significant level of support. ... We’re really excited to do this work in our community,” Hedrick said.

The United Way had set goals of making an impact in three areas: education, income and health.

The application from Hanover Safe Place related to all three, and it also illustrated a common thread that the United Way discovered in each of the areas: "the disruptive force of violence in the lives of individuals and families has lasting effects and cannot be overestimated.”

Hedrick said her organization was "just so grateful for the United Way recognizing the need of domestic violence victims and how important the anti-violence work is. ... Oftentimes our work does go unrecognized because it’s so under the radar. We don’t get to talk about success stories because it’s confidential. For them to recognize it is so exciting.”

Key findings in the United Way research were divided into six areas:
Child care: Affordable, quality child care programs are scarce for low-income families with children.Home visitation: Home visiting, as a model, is a proven and effective intervention for combating poverty and preventing child abuse.Program quality: High-quality programs drive youth engagement and outcomes in after-school programs which fill the hours when school-aged children are most at risk.Homelessness: Homeless young adults who do not meet the federal definition of homelessness are a rising trend.Rapid rehousing: The program works to help individuals find and maintain stable, affordable housing.Social isolation: Low-income older adults are at risk of social isolation and need earlier response from health and human services organizations.

Home visitation is at the core of Family Lifeline, which received the largest grants — $289,000 for early childhood home visitation in the Greater Richmond area; $125,000 for early childhood home visitation in Petersburg; and $125,000 for volunteer visitation to homes of older adults or people with disabilities.

Work with parents in their homes uses the Parents as Teachers model, said Amy Strite, president and CEO of Family Lifeline. Participation is free and voluntary.

"It’s a real testament that parents let us into their homes every day,” she said. "I never met a parent who doesn’t want better for their child. They want to be good parents and may not have tools or support to do that. That’s where we come in.”

Corinne Freeman contacted the group when her first child was 6 months old and she discovered she was pregnant with twins. She and Aaron Young, their father, felt overwhelmed. This spring, they were honored at the group’s annual luncheon. They’ve stabilized their lives, moved from government housing into a new home, and switched roles so that Freeman works and Young stays home with the children. Everyone seems happier.

"I look at it like this,” Young said on a video for the luncheon, "you can’t go wrong with doing something for your children. I mean, it’s going to be a win-win situation.”

In the grants from United Way, $2.2 million is going to programs to address school readiness, social and emotional development and engagement, and academic success of youth; $972,000 to address stable and affordable housing and household sustaining employment; and $902,000 to address lifelong wellness and healthy aging, quality care and caregiver supports for older adults and people with disabilities.

About a quarter of the grants, a total of $1,036,000, was directed to "helping residents in our community live violence-free lives” by preventing child abuse and providing counseling and services in domestic violence situations.

The United Way campaign last year raised a little over $13 million, but about half of that amount was designated to go to specific charities instead of into the general fund, said Barry Taylor, interim CEO of the United Way. "All we do is cut the check and send it to the agency. It does not fall under the auspices of all the research and work and volunteer participation where we decide how that money goes out. It’s a bit frustrating for United Way,” Taylor said.

"What you’re finding is the money we get to keep and direct as we see best has been declining. The decline is not as great, but it’s still in decline mode, and we’d like to bring that out. Part of that is to explain ourselves a little more to bring more awareness of exactly what we do.”

This year’s campaign officially ends June 30.

kcalos@timesdispatch.com(804) 649-6433

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