At United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, we have a simple, ambitious vision—to make our home a better place for everyone.
We bring our leadership, expertise and resources together throughout our region to change the education, health and economic outcomes for kids in low-income families. We can break the cycles that trap children in poverty and move children
and families toward better lives.
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
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 atRural 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 moreabout funding opportunities from United Way.