Monday, December 9, 2013

Building a strong foundation: together we’re helping families thrive

By Paul Krieger, United Way intern

The morning Dan* walked into the Gladstone Center for Children and Families (GCCF), he had only intended to register his five-year-old son for kindergarten. While filling out the usual paperwork, the receptionist noticed Dan was getting stuck on the address box. Dan explained that he didn’t have a current address – he and his two children were temporarily staying with another family. A few more questions revealed that Dan and his family had lost their home when his wife had left him and they could no longer stay with their in-laws. While he had been consistently employed over the years and had maintained his children’s health insurance payments and car payments, he had fallen behind on an energy bill and no longer had enough money left for rent or a deposit. Like many other families in our four-county region, Dan was in danger of losing his kids and living on the street.

Fortunately GCCF had recently created a new full-time Family Resource Coordinator (FRC) position with the help of a Catalyst Fund grant from United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. The GCCF is a unique place: It houses 10 agencies in one warm, welcoming location in Gladstone. The idea is that families can easily access a range of services, with the goal of preparing all kids for kindergarten. Organizations like GCCF show how providing low-income families with resources and tools can help them succeed. The FRC position was designed to help connect parents with community resources across an array of needs, from healthcare to housing.

And the creation of this new position made a difference for Dan and his family. With the help of the FRC, Dan moved into the Annie Ross House, the only family shelter in Clackamas County (operated by Northwest Housing Alternatives, another United Way-funded partner). Later, the FRC worked with Dan to get his HUD application approved, and after a two-week stay in the shelter, he and his two children moved into a subsidized apartment. Dan also got case management, counseling for his son, and energy assistance, and enrolled his kids in Head Start. Because of the help he received, Dan and his children are able to live with a sense of security and his children are able to make the important transition into early school, a critical time for determining later academic success.

Unfortunately, too many families in our region face similar challenges to Dan and his children. Forty percent of children in the four-county region live in low-income families – a number that has prompted our focus on breaking the cycle of childhood poverty in our community. As another example, a recent one-night count found 474 people in families living on the street or in temporary homeless shelters in Multnomah County. Many more experience homelessness at some point in the year. And the number of “literally homeless” (in emergency shelters or on the streets) individuals in families increased by 18 percent. Many families that aren’t experiencing homelessness are struggling in other ways: for example, more than half of Oregon students now qualify for free or reduced school lunches and the number of Oregonians relying on public assistance is at record levels.

Nationally, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2013 Kids Count Data Book shows that 32 percent of children have parents who lack secure employment and are vulnerable to even slight economic setbacks. Twenty-two percent of all children live in families below the Federal Poverty Line of $23,500 for a family of four. The overall number could be twice this, considering that the federal government uses several methods to calculate the percent, which has not changed significantly since its creation in 1964.**

Parents are the primary socializing agents for their children and parents stressed or overwhelmed by situational pressures have a harder time meeting the emotional and care giving needs of their children. This places children in a kind of “double jeopardy” where children are more at risk from the dangers of poverty and experience greater consequences from those risks. United Way funded the FRC position at Gladstone because we recognize the deep connection that exists between stable families and successful children. We cannot attempt to address breaking the cycle of childhood poverty without addressing the child’s home life, as well as the community supports that contribute to family stability. The three are inextricably linked. Poverty hampers parents’ abilities to help their children and in turn, places children at greater risk for failing at school and continuing a generational cycle of poverty.

For this reason, stable families are our second key focus area in our overall strategy of breaking the cycle of child poverty in our region. (The other focus areas are successful kids and connected communities.) Within this focus, we’ll connect families to basic resources like health care, housing and jobs. Our current funded projects like NW Housing Alternatives' Homebase and Council for the Homeless' Housing Solutions Center are helping families and individuals find the stable housing they need. Projects like IRCO's Financial Health for Newcomers, Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project – MLK Jr. Worker Center and Mercy Corps NW's Reentry Transition Center will provide financial education and help in finding work. Finally, we will be supporting increasing access to the Earned Income Tax Credit, a significant refund that many families are eligible to receive but often do not know about.

In a recent study published in The Journal of Children and Poverty, “The Economic Costs of Childhood Poverty in the United States,” it is estimated that the long-term cost of child poverty is about $500 billion or four percent of Gross Domestic Product per year when increases in crime and healthcare costs are factored in. But this study also suggests great potential for economic returns. By helping children in our region now, we are making an investment that pays off further down the road. Better outcomes for children and families, a more prosperous socio-economic base for our region and a happier and healthier community – these are all things that will more than repay our efforts now as we move forward together as a united community. Together, we can help build a stronger community and break the cycle of childhood poverty in our region.

Learn more about how we help kids and families succeed. If you’re with a local organization that supports successful kids, stable families or connected communities, you may be interested in our funding opportunities.

* Name has been changed.

** Data sites like Greater Portland Pulse use the Self-Sufficiency Standard, which calculates how much a family would need to make in order to meet its needs without public subsidies or assistance from nonprofits, friends and extended family. While the federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,550, the self-sufficiency standard for that same family living in Multnomah County would be about $65,522.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Building connections: How UWCW’s Community Collaborations team is working to break the cycle of childhood poverty

By Paul Krieger, United Way Intern

Mayra Arreola
United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is currently instituting major changes in the way we do business — especially how we interact with our community partners and how we evaluate the impact of our investments in the four-county region. This blog series will look at how our Community Impact team is retooling to achieve our ambitious goal of breaking the cycle of childhood poverty. In this second part, I interview Mayra Arreola, director of the newly formed Community Collaborations (CC) team, responsible for working with and building new relationships with community partners.

Prior to her work with United Way, Arreola worked at Rural Development Initiatives as diversity and inclusion manager as well as Latino program manager. Her work involved providing programs and services to the Latino community as well as convening, facilitating and training in the realms of leadership development, and community and economic vitality. It also involved building new relationships and finding new ways to bridge services with needs – skills that are well suited for United Way’s new community impact strategy. Mayra is originally from Mexico and has lived in the US for the past seven years.

What exactly does your team do within the larger Community Impact department?

Community Collaborations focuses on two things: managing UWCW’s grants portfolio and engaging with the community in the four-county area. Community engagement for us is about understanding the counties we serve and getting to know firsthand both these communities and the organizations that serve them. That includes learning about what they’re doing, what their needs are, where they’re struggling, and what inequities they’re facing. It’s also about looking for opportunities, as well as putting the pieces together from a United Way perspective through funding, services, convening and facilitating. We’re looking for the right places to support, lead or strengthen the work of local organizations.

The other side of what we do relates to our grant funding investments in local organizations. We manage those grants and establish relationships with funded organizations. For example, with our Community Transformation strategy on people’s minds, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about what “Community” means for us. “Community” can mean a lot of different things. It can mean cultural communities, advocacy groups, different geographic areas or even different layers within a community. That’s why we want to encourage grant applications from groups who may not see themselves as traditional United Way grantees but could actually receive funding.

Overall, we want to make sure that our investment portfolio and the communities applying align with the mission and the vision of United Way and are a reflection of the four-county area. We want to open doors and encourage our target communities to work together in a way that reflects United Way’s goals and again, aligns with what we’re doing. We also want to provide opportunities for the organizations to have clarity when it comes to our new grants guidelines and processes as well as where United Way is going and how they can fit in with the new strategies in terms of what they’re doing.

The new Strategic Plan represents a real shift in focus for Community Impact, especially from its work in years past.

Yes, that’s true. One example is that when it comes to grant funding, it’s no longer just about applying, getting the money, submitting a report and that’s it. We’ll be looking to gain a deeper understanding of the organization and their needs, as well as how we can partner and reach our goals together. United Way will have a stronger presence and a stronger role as a convener, a facilitator, or a supporter of the funded organizations’ work and their impact.

We are transitioning to become a “backbone” organization when applicable as well as a convener. What is Community Collaborations’ role in making this transition happen?

One way I see United Way being a backbone organization revolves around that sense of really understanding our region and being able to establish links and be a connector – being able to say: here are several groups whose work or vision aligns with one another, what happens if we convene them and work on a problem together? Also, we are interested in working with organizations that are not necessarily funded by us, but because of their role and what they do, they align with United Way’s vision of breaking the cycle of childhood poverty.  

So it’s almost like in our role as a convener, we are acting as an informational hub where information travels both ways between partner organizations.

That’s right. Eventually we’ll get to a place of deeper understanding of what is happening in the areas we serve so that we can help inform and work with other organizations to shape their future efforts, linking it to our data, metrics and indicators of success. That way we can say: based on the data we know, in this particular community, this action is something that makes a lot of sense to support and will be great for us to get involved in.

In his interview, Alejandro Queral, director of Systems Planning and Performance (SPP), described SPP and CC as two sides of the same coin, with CC as the face side. Can you describe CC’s relationship with SPP and how the work of one department complements the other?

SPP and CC are like a big team, but we have a different focus – one internal, one external – and we work closely together. It’s a complementary approach. SPP is mostly focused on systems, data and metrics, while CC is focused on managing grants and relationships and engaging with the community. As Alejandro said, these sides of the same coin provide a well-rounded perspective of what we are basing our decisions on and how we see our efforts moving forward. In the end, everything we do links back together as Community Impact and also as United Way.

As we take a more active role with our community partners, how do we learn to listen more effectively to their own input and concerns and digest more qualitative feedback?
This fall, we held Town Halls in each county about the new strategic plan; then we hosted informational sessions in each county about the grant funding opportunities. At both types of events, people had the opportunity to give their input and suggestions. We also solicited online feedback about our draft grant-making guidelines, and that input definitely influenced the final version of the guidelines. We’re being intentional about making sure we reach out to culturally specific groups in a variety of sectors. In general, there’s a shift in the relationship with potential grantees: we’re not just distributing information about what we’re doing but we’re also providing an opportunity to influence the grant-making guidelines.

How is CC working to be more adaptable in terms of how we relate to organizations of different sizes and levels of sophistication? Also, how can we be more flexible in terms of how we measure community impact?

This year, we have different evaluation criteria and requirements for emerging and established organizations that are applying for Community Strengthening grant funds. Also, while Community Transformation is an opportunity that’s best suited for existing collaboratives, the Catalyst Fund grant opportunity is streamlined and accessible for all sizes of organizations, including smaller, newer ones.

How is CC working to be a part of the community outside of grant funding?

To start with, each of our team members is a liaison for a specific county:

  • Clark/Multnomah Counties: Mayra
  • Clackamas/Multnomah Counties: Hosheman Brown, Community Collaborations Manager
  • Washington/Multnomah Counties: Lai-Lani Ovalles, Community Collaborations Manager

This is a new effort for us, and we’re starting to connect and be a part of networks. We have a presence at nonprofits, committees, task forces and boards, either in an advisory position or to gather information. As time goes on, we’ll be doing a lot more of this and identifying focus areas for our involvement. Also, we have great support from Anna Nakano-Baker, Community Collaborations Coordinator, who supports the team in a variety of ways.

What else should people know about your team?

We’re a new team and we’re doing a lot of planning and laying the groundwork right now so that we can be successful in the future. We’re looking forward to building more and better relationships with the community and we’re very excited to do more to help break the cycle of childhood poverty!

This is part two of a three-part series looking at how United Way’s community impact team is realigning in order to help break the cycle of childhood poverty. Up next is our Hands On Greater Portland Director Becky Blumer.

Interested in how your organization can help break the cycle of childhood poverty? Learn more about funding opportunities from United Way. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Shifting lenses: How UWCW’s Community Impact team is working to break the cycle of childhood poverty

By Paul Krieger, United Way Intern

Alejandro Queral
United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is currently instituting major changes in the way we do business — especially how we interact with our community partners and evaluate the impact and success we are having in our region. This blog series will look out how our Community Impact team is retooling to achieve our ambitious goal of breaking the cycle of childhood poverty within our four-county region within a generation. In this first part, I will interview Alejandro Queral, director of the newly formed Systems Planning and Performance team, responsible for measuring and evaluating our overall impact and efficacy.

Queral is a new member of our team, having come on board in July. He holds a B.S. in environmental science and a master’s in evolutionary biology and is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School. He has also worked for the Sierra Club, directing their Human Rights and Environment program, been a state government relations director of the American Heart Association and a program supervisor for Multnomah County Health Department. With his extensive background in health, environment and administration, Queral brings a unique perspective to the role of SPP director.

What’s the function of the Systems Planning and Performance team?

SPP is the part of Community Impact responsible for developing systems that will help United Way make the investment decisions that will be most effective at reducing or eliminating childhood poverty; ultimately, these decisions will be based on data, available evidence and measurable outcomes.

What is the current focus of your work in Systems Planning?

This is a period of creation and innovation for us; in fact we are trying to define what we are given our new role. We are currently working on creating and refining an integrated management system for multiple data sources to make better decisions about how to invest and who to invest in. We are moving toward a system where we can better evaluate the performance of our partners as well as measure our own impact within the community. So we will focus on key performance metrics that can help us measure how effective we are toward eliminating childhood poverty, as well as to continue to improve our investment processes and decisions moving forward.

How has the focus of your department changed compared with years past, especially given the new strategic focus?

We have taken a critical step in changing our focus from a transactional, fundraising organization to a relational focus that is community-based. With this new focus, we must identify who the key stakeholders are in our community and who is driving change. We must enlarge our knowledge base and understanding of what works so that we are more in tune with community needs, and better understand where we can have the greatest community impact. We need to increase our presence as a community partner by participating in our community in more qualitative ways — we must do a better job of telling the story of who we are and what our impact is.

How is Systems Planning preparing for this new relational role and how do you envision this will play out in terms of how we interact with partner organizations and projects?

This is where one of the great opportunities lies for United Way, to redefine itself. What does it mean to be relational, particularly in the context of working with community partners and investing resources into their organization and development? SPP has a key role to play in defining how we measure success and in being able to convey what success looks like to our community partners. SPP provides a framework for a performance-based approach in making our investment decisions — we should be able to say what organizations are really having an impact in ending childhood poverty.

But it’s more than evaluating or assessing their performance — it’s also about understanding what it is that they’re doing that is working well, that is helping move the needle, and understanding where the barriers are that are preventing success. In other words, when we talk about being relational, we need to think about accountability in a different way — not necessarily about being punitive but about using the data we gather from the community and the region to make better decisions about where to invest, where to take action, how to approach a particular problem. So we will play a role in not just gathering and managing data but turning that data into knowledge that partners can use to make effective decisions.

So it’s a two-way streetdata can flow both ways helping both us and our partners gauge performance?

Absolutely. I think it’s critical that we are learning from organizations — we will certainly be creating the infrastructure internally to understand what it is our partners are doing. It goes to the question of impact — if we understand how to measure success, then we can say something about the impact of United Way and our grantees in the community. And it’s more than a two-way street; it’s really a whole network of organizations, and through that network we will be sharing knowledge that can be put into action — not just a bunch of data that only tell us whether we’ve met our goals or not. It’s more than that. Through the network, we will all learn why we did or didn’t achieve our individual and collective objectives and what we can all do to be more effective.

Can you talk a little about our role as a “backbone organization” and about being a convener?

There are a number of things there — one is the question of what our role is within a collective impact model. We can play a backbone role but I think we should also be open to adapting, particularly around the CommunityTransformation investment strategy. What I think we will see is that organizations and collaboratives are at different stages of development and readiness. So United Way has to tailor its role according to where organizations and collaboratives are and how they envision their partnership with us. We need to able to think about what is the best role for us to play in enhancing the work of a particular community.

How about measuring impact?

Since about 2012, United Way has been funneling resources to a range of projects with focus areas around health, education and economic stability. But within those things, it runs the gamut — around income for instance, around EITC, rent assistance, financial literacy classes — all these different things in the past have never shared metrics, have never shared goals. It’s very difficult to condense that work into stories that people can relate to. Statistics and theory are not sexy. People want to hear about results. In previous years we have not been set up to understand the impact. So what we’re doing is refining how to look at what works to reduce childhood poverty based on the available evidence.

For some types of projects it’s relatively easy to measure concrete impact and return on investment; for others that are less tangible, it will take time and research to develop meaningful metrics. For example, what does it mean for a family to be able to stay in their home one more month? How does that impact their family stability? What does it mean in the long term? Does that one time influx of cash have a long term effect on their ability to stay employed?

The key is to be able to communicate the vision of where United Way wants to be. In order to do that, we can provide data that shows where our region is in terms of childhood poverty — measurements like academic attainment, financial stability, public housing, services provided, etc. Moving forward, we’ll be working on data that captures what our partners are doing and how they’re moving the needle in a very local way.

Anything else that our community should know about SPP?

The role of the Systems Planning and Performance team is to create the underlying infrastructure that will allow the Community Collaborations team (another new team within Community Impact) to better understand what is happening in the community, how our partners are working and what kinds of success they’ve achieved. It’s really important not to lose sight or forget that Systems Planning is just one side of this coin and that the Community Collaboration team will be more directly engaged with community members on the ground. Our role really is to facilitate their work. We have a relationship where we just don’t simply meet and talk but rather take action together and create the infrastructure that allows us to take action together.

This is part one of a three-part series looking at how United Way’s community impact team is realigning in order to help break the cycle of childhood poverty. Up next is our Community Collaborations Director Mayra Arreola.

Interested in how your organization can help break the cycle of childhood poverty? Learn more about funding opportunities from United Way. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Their success is our success: Together we’re helping kids succeed

By Paul Krieger, Intern for United Way

I remember my dad telling me stories about growing up in poverty. Of the hot summer sun in the San Joaquin Valley where he and his younger brother picked cotton for less than five cents a pound. Of the small, two room bungalow where the brothers lived with their mother, step-father and two sisters. Of sleeping on the kitchen floor during winters and on the porch during summers and of the dirty well water they used to wash and bathe themselves. Through it all my father maintained a strong determination and spirit that manifested itself in a youthful desire to become a preacher.

Yet without the intervention of a caring aunt and the excellent support and belief of his local school, he almost certainly would have fallen into the same generational poverty that marked his family. With their support, however, my father was able to be the first in his family to go to college, then on to graduate school and afterward, a rewarding career in public service. Because there were critical supports — concerned school counselors and teachers, a supportive faith community and a mentoring family member — he was able to prevail in the belief that if he worked hard enough, he could find a place in the world for himself and his family.

Yet not all children are as fortunate as my father. Many are unable to escape poverty’s downward pull. During my father’s college years, poverty steadily declined for all Americans, reaching 11.3 percent in 1973 according to the National Poverty Center. Today, however, childhood poverty is worse than ever, especially since the onset of the 2008 recession. According to UNICEF, the U.S. now has a childhood poverty rate of 23 percent, among the worst of the industrialized world. For comparison, our rate is slightly lower than Romania’s but higher than Spain or Latvia. This rate is even higher for minorities like African Americans and Native Americans, groups who suffer the worst during periods of recession such as our current one.

The situation for children in poverty in Oregon is particularly alarming when compared to the national situation. According to a report by Children First for Oregon, in 2011, 44 percent of children lived in poverty or in low-income families, with 24 percent at poverty level — an amount that is the 14th worst in the country and above the national average. Over half of Oregon students are now eligible for free or reduced lunches. As noted in this OregonLive article, the economy is not creating jobs fast enough to reduce the demand on public assistance. Many Oregonians are exhausting their unemployment benefits and turning to cash welfare, the number of which has more than doubled since 2006.

 According to the American Psychological Association, the stress poverty places on families negatively impacts the ability of children to learn. The emotional toll leads to depression in children, lower attention spans and lower academic performance. This is a time when children learn to form friendships and adapt to the demands of school and their outside environment. Parents overwhelmed by financial stress are less able to meet the caregiving needs of their children and this in turn negatively impacts the educational readiness of the child — the largest single indicator of their future success and the biggest determinant for breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

To meet this crisis of our region’s children, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is adopting a new strategic focus that seeks to help end this problem within a generation — a strategy that will involve a shift in the way we engage with the community: we will become an engaged organizer and partner of the community rather than simply the fundraising organization we have been known for being in the past. Our new focus will involve effecting outcomes in three key areas: successful kids, stable families and connected communities.

Not having a high school diploma effectively dooms a child to a life of poverty so we will strategically invest in and work with partners that support student success at all grade levels including preschool, high school graduation and college/career transition after high school. Recognizing that children live in families, we will also support programs that promote family health and stability. Finally, we believe that some of the best solutions grow out of communities themselves; we will therefore be making long-term investments in and work with a cohort of strong community partners.

To help kids succeed, we fund organizations that implement programs that support students all the way from preschool to high school graduation (the biggest determinate of overall life earning potential). For instance, Self-Enhancement, Inc. has a strong mentorship program concentrating on the needs of students both in and outside of class. I Have a Dream’s The Dreamer School Project, builds long-term relationships, academic and social support services and creates a “culture of college” within school. Or the Youth Advocacy Program at the  Native American Youth and Family Center which provides intensive educational and culturally specific community services for Native youth, focusing on developing strong peer relations and collaborative problem-solving. Funded projects like these will help young students receive the supports they need both in class and without in order to maximize their chances of academic success.

So many years ago, my father was fortunate enough to receive the kind of supports he needed to overcome the obstacles that would have condemned him and his family to a life of poverty. Because of the support he received, he and his family were able to realize their dreams and build a middle-class life. The contributions you make to United Way can similarly help children from low-income families break the cycle of generational poverty, not only helping them reach their dreams but also ensuring our entire community becomes healthier and economically stronger.

Learn more about how we help kids succeed. If you’re with a local organization that supports successful kids, stable families or connected communities, you may be interested in our funding opportunities.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Measuring Up: Assessing Ourselves on Equity

In May, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette staff completed an internal assessment to gauge how well we are doing in creating equal opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds within our organization. The assessment (called the Tool for Organizational Self-Assessment and Shared Accountability) was done as part of our partnership with All Hands Raised.   

The overarching goal of the tool is to help promote improved outcomes for children and youth in Multnomah County schools especially around the areas of racial education equality and social justice. United Way volunteered to pilot the tool along with All Hands Raised.

The assessment took 76 hours to complete and consisted of 72 questions on topics such as organizational and leadership commitment, policies and practices, culture and communications and other areas impacting our practices vis-à-vis diversity. The assessment process included extensive discussion and data collection and was conducted by the culture committee and Maria Rubio, the former vice president of equity and engagement (Rubio stepped down from her role in June). I had the opportunity to speak with Rubio, before she left,  regarding the assessment and what it revealed about United Way’s own situation.  

I first would like to ask you about the difference between the words equity and equality. I think equality is the word most of us are familiar with and learned about in civics classes. This is probably the word most people think of when we think about the American social contract.
Equality means treating everyone the same - food, money, time, etc. Equity recognizes that everyone doesn’t come from the same place. Equality doesn’t recognize the barriers others often face in reaching the same outcomes - for example, the barriers created by discrimination or the challenges faced by a person with a disability.

At this point Rubio referred me to an image featured in the Equity Tool Report: 
Note: This image was adapted by the City of Portland
Office of Equity and Human Rights from the original graphic:
The image shows three boys of varying heights standing on boxes, trying to view a baseball game over a fence.  The left panel, titled “Equality,” shows how by being given equal resources, the boys do not achieve equal outcomes, while the right panel, titled “Equity,” shows that when resources are shifted to account for differences, the result is equal outcomes.  This principle is actually recognized by our judicial system and Rubio referred to a quote from a study of equity and bias in the Oregon Justice System that states:   “equal treatment of un-equals, constitutes unequal treatment” (paraphrased).  As the Portland Plan defines it, equity is when everyone has access to the opportunities necessary to satisfy their essential needs, advance their well being and achieve their full potential.

What is the importance of the assessment tool and what do you hope to accomplish by using it?
The tool will help organizations like local government and school districts assess how their organization and cultures might be creating disparities in their service delivery and/or their student success. The tool also spurs conversation and discussion about equity that rarely happens in the workplace.

So what did the assessment tool reveal about our own commitment to equity?
Our chief strength is our commitment and our courage and willingness to discuss and examine these sensitive issues. This is a role that an organization’s leadership must play and here at United Way, Keith Thomajan (United Way of the Columbia-Willamette CEO and president) has really been a driving force for creating our own culture of equity.

Maria Rubio goes over the assessment results with United Way staff

What are some of our other strengths?
We have a strong community sense and an existing equity policy that focuses on populations that are the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised in our region.  We also have an equity lens designed to help keep equity front and center in our organization. Lastly, we have a strong and diverse culture committee. This committee serves as advisors to the leadership team on issues that impact culture and morale. Committee members serve as ambassadors who model and incorporate the guiding principles that demonstrate the culture we want to have here at United Way.

Where are some areas where we fall short?
An obvious gap in our equity work is that we don’t incorporate it into our workplace giving campaign messaging. We need to engage and educate our donors about how inequities affect learning outcomes in schools, individual health, and individual and community economic stability. By improving education, health and economic conditions for the most vulnerable in our society, we all benefit by higher incomes, a better educated workforce and healthy people.

Dannon Raith, Hands On Greater Portland Program Coordinator, and Carol Frye, Chief Operating Officer, listen to the assessment results

The equity lens was identified as one of United Way’s strengths. What can you tell me about the lens?
The equity lens is a way of keeping equity front and center and to keep the dialogue open. It is a way of keeping track of equity - how it will impact people thinking about diversity and how it impacts us.  It offers us a way to look at where we can impact this process.  The lens creates more commitment to equity and with it, a greater commitment of resources as well.

How often should organizations like United Way conduct an equity assessment?
We should conduct the assessment at least once a year and measure the progress from the previous year’s goals. It should be conducted by a diverse, cross section of employees and organization leaders.

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?
Other collaborative member agencies worry about putting themselves out there by undertaking this assessment work.  At United Way, we have been very open with our findings, even when it’s hard to hear.  Because of this, we now have a benchmark for our future work and we will only get better.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Open Hearts, Open Minds: A Glimpse into the Success of Mount Scott Learning Centers

Watch a video about MSLC
On a Tuesday morning visit to Mt. Scott Learning Centers (MSLC), there was a palpable sense of community. One of the first things I noticed - besides the bright purple façade of the building - was that the administrative and dean’s offices had full-window walls, creating an open environment. As we toured the school, students approached our tour guide, MSLC Transitions Manager Joshua Mead, asking to speak with him later. In the lunchroom, students and teachers talked animatedly in small groups. Voices of teachers starting class spilled out of classroom doors left ajar. Students en route to class bustled past us with quick smiles to Mead. The hallways were lined with framed photographs documenting graduations, school events and sports teams. If I could sum up my first impression in three words it would be: energy, enthusiasm and warmth.

MSLC has become a known leader in the Portland community for providing accredited alternative education for at-risk youth. A majority of students who attend MSLC are categorized as “academic priority,” meaning they had poor attendance records, low benchmark scores on the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or were failing core courses and in danger of not graduating high school. More than 70 percent are low-income.  Yet, if you dig deeper into why these students are at-risk, it becomes clear that many different roads led to this path. For varying reasons these students were all struggling in a conventional schooling environment and needed more one-on-one attention and a more flexible approach.

An unprecedented number of students graduated from MSLC this year!
MSLC has been able to transform chronically disengaged students by establishing positive adult relationships. Class sizes are at a maximum of 20 students, allowing a richer curriculum and closer student-teacher relationships. The school’s core teachers hold weekly small group advisory sessions for students. From the time I spent there, it was clear that the staff’s dedication to their students extended far beyond programming.  Likewise, the students possess a strong loyalty to the school because they selected MSLC and are choosing to make the effort to graduate high school. This paralleled commitment fuels the staff’s desire to constantly improve the organization’s ability to serve the needs of its students.

MSLC received a $97,000 grant from United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s 2012-13 grant cycle because MSLC’s goals for improving its school were closely aligned with United Way’s education impact areas of high school completion and students’ successful transition to continuing education. MSLC used the grant money to enhance the Transitions Program and to develop the Career Foundations class. These classes directly address the growing need to help students prepare for their transition post-graduation and that some students need personalized assistance in planning their credits for high school completion.

The Career Foundations class, an elective targeted for younger students, is designed to give students the tools, analytical skills and encouragement to plan for their future career options.  The course supplements the Transitions Program, a class designed for seniors’ transition out of high school, and gives the students a comprehensive plan of action for their future. Students conduct market research on their top career choice and backup career choice. At the end of the quarter, every student presents the research conducted on their top two career choices.

The grant also assisted in the development of intensive case management services for 25 students within the Transitions Program. The students receive support to identify credits needed for graduation and get referrals for credit retrieval. They also attend career classes, receive support in career planning and personalized mentorship. All 15 seniors in United Way’s case management program will successfully graduate and receive their diploma June 2013.

Many students of MSLC are the first in their family to consider college. Thus, another emphasis at MSLC is to increase awareness and knowledge of college. In January, the school hosted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Night for students and their families to get information and assistance in filling out FAFSA applications. Mead spearheaded this idea when he realized that many families do not have the resources to complete the complicated application; thus students were missing out on an opportunity to receive funding for post-secondary education. The event proved hugely successful with around 30 families attending. Most notably, there was a significant increase in the number of students receiving scholarships. A huge part of this can be attributed to the development of the case management program, new opportunities for career explorative classes and family outreach events such as FAFSA night. To highlight the success of such programs, all 15 case managed youth applied for FAFSA and will receive a Pell Grant and 10 of the 15 won additional scholarships.

In the past, MSLC graduated 17-19 students each year. This year, the number of students who are graduating has almost doubled to 31 students. MSLC credits a large part of this success to the support provided by the Transitions Program case management’s increased focus on ensuring that students attain the credits they need to graduate and the Career Foundations class’ emphasis on planning early for the future. These services are clearly spilling over to other students as reflected by the increased graduation rates.

“The most rewarding aspect of my job has always been watching our students graduate,” said Mead.  “I can now add that seeing my students realize college is an accessible option is another extremely rewarding part of my work. Their sense of accomplishment and pride is very moving.”  

To learn more about Mt. Scott Learning Centers, visit:

Friday, April 12, 2013

United Way supporters honored at April 11 event

We honored our supporters at the Thursday, April 11 Celebration of Caring event at Castaway in NW Portland. During the event, we announced that our donors gave $23,686,521 in the 2012-13 local United Way campaign. This represents a 7.6 percent increase over last year’s fundraising total and sets a new record for funds raised by and for our community. Funds will go to projects in the four-county metro area that help connect people in need with education, financial stability and health services, as well as to nonprofits selected by individual donors.

“At United Way, we believe each of us has something to share and that, together, we’ve got what it takes to make our home the best possible community, for everybody,” said Keith Thomajan, president and CEO. “This year’s results demonstrate that and reinforce the continued generosity of our community.”

The campaign total includes a one-time $2 million bequest from a long-time United Way donor. These funds will be endowed and will have a lasting impact on the community. Additional successes include a $200,000 increase in overall employee giving and a 200% increase in new business and partnerships. 

The 2012 Fundraising Committee Chair was Andy Frazier, managing partner of Frazier Hunnicutt Financial, and the Honorary Co-Chair was Portland Timbers defender David Horst. During the event, Carol Mangan, Oregon Market president at Sterling Bank, was announced as the 2013 Fundraising Committee chair. Members of the Fundraising Committee actively help raise funds by meeting with other executives, running top campaigns in their own companies and personally giving time and money to support giving efforts.


Thousands of individuals and hundreds of businesses and organizations partnered with United Way to give back to the community this year. Their efforts were recognized and awarded at the Celebration of Caring.

Intel Oregon employees and retirees, along with a match from the Intel foundation, donated more than $6.8 million to the Intel United Way Community Giving Campaign in 2012. This puts Intel Oregon’s giving total since 2003 at $51.1 million. During those ten years, 6,025 employees and retirees contributed to the campaign. In recognition of this generosity, Intel Corporation received the “$50 Million in 10 Years” award.

During the 2012 campaign Wells Fargo became the second company ever in the history of the local United Way to raise more than $1 million solely by the employees—specifically, donations have now reached a total of $1,062,000. Wells Fargo received the “Thanks-A-Million” award.

Other companies recognized during the Celebration included the following:

Large Company: UPS
Medium Company: Enterprise Holdings
Small Company: Cascade Corporation

Large: Laura Bain, Intel
Medium: Laura Coon, Ron Tonkin Family of Dealerships
Small: Julie Strand, Pendleton Woolen Mills

Architectural, Engineering and Construction: Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.
Education: David Douglas School District
Finance & Accounting: Sterling Bank
Government & Grantors: Clark County
Heath Care & Social Services: Providence Health & Services
Insurance: Cambia Health Solutions
Legal & Real Estate Services: Melvin Mark Companies
Materials & Machinery Manufacturing: Daimler Trucks North America LLC
Product & Device Manufacturing: Benson Industries LLC
Retail, Trade & Accommodations: Costco Wholesale, Inc.
Utilities, Transportation & Warehousing: Pacific Power
Wholesale Trade: Alaska Copper & Brass Company

Clackamas: Bi-Mart Molalla
Clark: City of Vancouver
Multnomah: ESCO Corporation
Washington: Gaylord Industries

Eaton Corporation

NW Equity Holdings LLC

IAMAW Willamette Lodge #63

The Oregonian

Adalis Corporation
Banner Bank
Benson Industries LLC
Daimler Trucks North America LLC
ESCO Corporation
Fred Meyer Stores
Homestreet Bank
Parametrix, Inc.
Sterling Bank
Stoel Rives LLP

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Keeping families together: Stepping Stones project

Your gift helped furnish this room
 for a family like Melanie and Bill's
Melanie and Bill are a young married couple with three beautiful children. But addiction, at one point, tore their family apart. Their family was separated when Melanie and Bill’s heroin addiction made the caretaking of their children too difficult. The parents lost custody and were estranged from their children. The judge presiding over their case sentenced them to an outpatient treatment program. Their road to recovery included a very structured and demanding program, but both showed much success. 

As Melanie’s recovery progressed, she was referred to a United Way funded project, Stepping Stones, and was given the opportunity to reunite with her children as she continued her treatment program. She and her children were provided safe and affordable housing through the Stepping Stones project. For nine months she learned parenting and employment skills as she continued her journey to recovery. While living there, one of her children became very ill. Melanie persevered and stayed focused, obtained a job and paid rent at the home despite the added stress. Last summer, she and Bill graduated from their outpatient programs and have since transitioned their entire family into affordable permanent housing.

CODA’s Stepping Stones project provides women and their children with safe and affordable housing as they complete their outpatient treatment programs. Women learn the skills they need to successfully manage their addictions, seek employment, and parent their children through this project. An on-site monitor assists with coordination and support to these women and their families as they rebuild their lives so they can move on through recovery to permanent housing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dreamer and Doer: Frances Wisebart Jacobs, “Mother of Charities”

March is National Women’s History Month. And at United Way, we have an especially strong connection to the powerful work of women in history. We wouldn't be here today without Frances Wisebart Jacobs, a woman who helped found the organization that became United Way.

Born in 1843 in Kentucky, Jacobs immigrated with her husband to Denver to open a clothing store. She quickly saw the needs in her new home and moved to take action. One of her big, early initiatives was helping tuberculosis (TB) patients get the care they needed.  Hundreds of TB patients moved to Colorado each year for its clean, unpolluted air. But the state didn't have the services to care for them and many ended up homeless, with no choice but to “roam the city coughing and hemorrhaging.”

Jacobs started a volunteer organization that helped them and later advocated for a free TB hospital in Denver. Her passion for change inspired others. The hospital’s research contributed to ending TB as an epidemic.

TB was only one of the issues that Jacobs worked on. She also founded a free kindergarten and a relief society that focused on women in need. In a time when people in poverty were often blamed for their condition or even considered to be a lesser order of human being, Jacobs saw them with empathy and compassion. She understood the connections between the various challenges in her community, saying “God never made a pauper in the world, children come into the world and conditions and surroundings make them either princes or paupers.”

In 1887, Jacobs joined with interfaith Denver leaders to start the Charity Organization Society, which brought together twenty-three charities to coordinate their work. Eventually the organization went nationwide and became United Way and our local branch was founded in 1920.

France Wisebart Jacobs was just one person but her work had a ripple effect that we can still feel today. Many women in our community are creating change and making history. In honor of Women’s History Month, thank you from all of us at United Way.

Sources: Wikipedia,, National Women’s Hall of Fame. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Donor Spotlight: Carole Bentley

After Carole Bentley survived cancer, she knew she wanted to give back to people who were going through what she had experienced. That passion for helping others drove her to volunteer with the American Cancer Society, where she has worked on events including their gala fundraiser. Fortunately for us, Bentley is also a firm advocate for United Way of the Columbia-Willamette and its mission for our community. She has been donating to United Way for her entire career, more than 35 years. She filled out a pledge form at her very first job at First National Bank, and still gives today as the senior vice president/Commercial Lending Center manager at Banner Bank in Lake Oswego.

Along with her co-workers, Bentley is involved in the United Way workplace giving campaign at Banner Bank. In 2012, Bentley’s branch had the best-ever results for any local Banner Bank — their campaign total more than tripled. That means more money going back to the community to create change. Her advice for anyone involved in running a United Way campaign is to focus on the human aspect and engage with employees. It’s important for potential donors to understand that “someone you know might have been helped by United Way.”

Having lived in the Portland area for many years, Bentley says that what she loves most about this community is that while it has all the resources of a major metropolitan area, it has a small-town feel where everyone knows and supports each other.

Bentley’s worked to make sure that her own values continue in the next generation. She has two sons and taught them from an early age that “when we’re lucky enough to not be hurting, we must help others who are. And, if you can’t give money you can give time.”

Bentley says that she gives to United Way because she loves the fact that 100 percent of her gift goes to help the community. “I like to know where the money goes and I’ve always felt confident that when I give to United Way the money will be used wisely.”

Thank you, Carole Bentley, for your 35 years of giving and creating change in our community. We can do what we do only because of donors like you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Successful Grants: Tips from United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

By Roserria Roberts, Senior Manager United Way Community Impact

We’re currently in the middle of the grant application process for 2013-14 Fiscal Year funding. This blog post provides tips for organizations that are working on their applications now and for organizations that might apply in future funding cycles.

The United Way grant application process is slightly different than traditional grant applications due to the strong ties we build with communities and the target population we serve. We call this the “Community Impact Model.” The process starts with an assessment of our community’s needs and research on the methods and programs that have had the greatest success in combating similar issues, followed by a competitive grant process that funds the most effective projects.  The review and rating is inclusive of non-profits, businesses and community members.  

Here are a few suggestions to help you in building a successful proposal. First, think about the grant application as having three main parts.

Part 1: Provide Your Evidence Review

If you want funding, we need evidence-based information for why your project is needed. A few examples of justification could be: statistics, regional indicators, qualitative or quantitative analysis and/or community data. Supply information on what your community is facing and what you want to address. Furnish details on why the matter is time sensitive, and how the population will continue to be compromised until the matter is addressed.

For insight on what it is we are looking for, carefully read through pages two to nine of the 2013 United Way Community Grant RFP to make sure your project aligns with one or more of the Impact Areas, Funding Priorities and Objectives. And describe how it does so.

Part 2: What Your Project Does

Write your application as though the reviewers are unfamiliar with your work and you are advising them on what your organization does and how it builds a strong community.

When writing about your project, you want people to be inspired. What is your vision? What do you want things to look like when your work is done? Keep in mind this application is for a one-year grant. Don’t get over zealous. Your application should only detail what can be accomplished in one year. Define your strategy for achieving your goals, your objectives (what are the mid-year benchmarks or specific accomplishments you will reach) and when you will accomplish those objectives.

Think about the critical components that make your project unique. Whether that means location, partners, collective approach, activities, etc., make sure they are all included. While you're thinking through this information, keep in mind what you'll need to give the readers in order for them to have a comprehensive view of your work and the activities you'll achieve.

Part 3:  Why Is Your Project Special?

This is where everything is pulled together. Here are a few of the types of questions reviewers may ask. Keep in mind how your answers will appeal to the reader's logical side.
  • What gives your group credibility?
  • Have you had many successes? If so, when?
  • Have you been effective with other projects aligned around this area? 
  • Do you have evidence that past projects were effective?
  • Does your budget make sense and will you have sufficient funds to cover your work?
  • What makes your group unique?
  • What sets your project apart from other agencies in this area?
  • How has the community benefited? 
  • How has the community been involved?
  • How have you empowered participants from prior projects? 
  • What type of sustainability or follow-up will you provide?

Part 4: The Review

Each of the three Impact Areas (Education, Financial Stability and Health and Well-Being) will have 20–30 volunteer reviewers. These reviewers may include people from all four counties, a sprinkling of United Way staff, seasoned United Way volunteers (Vision Council Members), committed stakeholders and content experts. Reviewers are provided with detailed instructions before they start reading, but keep in mind that many may not be familiar with your organization or the population you serve.

Read up on the United Way review process. We have provided several tools that will instruct you on the outcomes we seek. One of the most useful is the reviewer rubric. This is the tool by which your application will be scored. It provides you with information on the elements we are looking for. Learn as much before you start writing and be knowledgeable about how your application will be scored.

Through the quality of your application, convince your readers to support your request for funding. You want your readers to advocate for your project and say, "Out of all the proposals I’ve read, this one presents one of the most compelling cases for United Way dollars and assistance!"

Beyond writing the grant...

1. How realistic is your group about your fundraising plans?

Your budget tells grantmakers how realistic you are about your ability to raise money. Grant reviewers need to feel confident that if your overall project budget is larger than the dollar amount that you are requesting from United Way, you will be able to raise the difference and have a successful project.

Example: If your budget for this year is twice as much as last year and you don’t have a solid fundraising plan to match up with your budget, your overall proposal is not going to look very strong to the reviewers.

Example: If you are a new, grassroots organization that hopes to raise $300,000 in the first year and your fundraising plan is heavily weighed on government dollars, your plan will not come across as realistic.

You need to be as accurate as possible when projecting unsecured dollars or you won’t get funded.

2. How financially stable is your group? 

We want to know:
    What percent of your budget do you anticipate raising from individuals?
    How much of your budget is already committed (or at least has been received in the past) and how much is pending?
    What are the different funding sources you have?

United Way is conscious of the many sizes of agencies and organizations we fund. If you are an emerging or mid-size organization, make sure you are taking the appropriate steps towards becoming more financially stable and that you are working towards diversifying your funding sources. 

3. How well does your budget match your specific plans?

United Way wants to be certain that your income and expenses are reasonable and consistent with the work you described in your narrative. Make sure you answer each budget line item because line items with no narratives will cause points to be taken away.

Example: If you are launching a project that involves low-income parents, be sure to have expenses such as food, childcare and travel included in the budget.

Make sure that your expenses reflect the services you provide in the proposal narrative.

We wish you the best of luck on your application for funding and look forward to reading more about your proposed project!

Special thanks to MRG Foundation whose Resources for Applicants blog inspired this post.