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Editorial: Helping others succeed is key mission for United Way

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Last month the United Way of Bartholomew County reported another record-breaking fund drive — $4 million, some $300,000 more than the previous best of $3.7 million set last year.

The achievement is becoming familiar in this community. For years the organization that helps 29 area agencies has been blessed with abundant support from a wide spectrum of local residents.

In some minds, the successful fund drives are synonymous with the local United Way. So are the allotments distributed to member and nonmember agencies, which help those groups meet their individual missions.

While the financial importance of the local United Way mission can’t be overstated, the organization has been evolving in recent years into something much more. That evolutionary process was clearly outlined in a statement from new President Mark Stewart in the organization’s 2013 strategic plan.

In a letter to the community that dovetailed with the release of the latest human needs assessment, Stewart wrote, “The United Way of Bartholomew County is transforming from its roots as a fundraising organization into a critical community convener that mobilizes partners, including business, community leaders, not-for-profit organizations, government and community residents, to expand opportunities for people to succeed.”

This broader approach to its role in the community is not unique to the United Way.

Several years ago the Heritage Fund: the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County transitioned from a fundraising/grant-making entity into an organization charged with helping to set community priorities and achieve them. That evolution came about in part by the need to bring stability to a form of community leadership that was undergoing a generational change.

In its new role the Heritage Fund has developed collaborative relationships with a number of organizations and individuals in the public and private sectors, assuring the community of a continuity of leadership that some had feared would be lost through attrition.

In some respects, the United Way of Bartholomew County has been down this path before. Stewart’s predecessor, Doug Otto, was a longtime advocate of collaborative relationships — especially among member agencies — but those efforts never came to full fruition, in part because of turf concerns raised by some organizations in fear of losing their missions to larger entities.

The difference in this effort and those that went before is the latest human needs assessment.

Past assessments were focused on specific issues that were of major concern at the time. Concerns over substance abuse and inadequate housing stocks, particularly for low-income residents, drew laser-like attention from the community and were met with varying degrees of success.

The 2013 assessment paints a broader picture of needs, breaking them down into three categories: financial stability, particularly for low-income residents; education; and health.

Many member agencies work with issues relating to financial stability, but the future focus will be on not just using the allotments to help the groups do their work but to develop relationships with other partners to help their individual clients.

Education and health have been peripheral areas in past United Way efforts, but both have been deemed as critical in improving opportunities for all residents, especially those on the lower end of the economic scale. It is in this area where organizers believe United Way can play an important role in helping to develop and foster relations with groups like the Community Education Coalition and Healthy Communities.

In a world of evolving needs, new approaches are essential. At the same time it is vital that highly successful member agencies which have already had a tremendous impact on the community’s quality of life not be inadvertently penalized as a result of this broader approach.

While the 2013 strategic plan might be seen as a departure from past practices, it is actually an extension of a lifelong mission for United Way of Bartholomew County — helping all the people of the community achieve success in life.

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