United Way of York County getting new focus. Here’s how donations will be used.

United Way of York County wants to help 3,000 York County families achieve financial stability by 2030.

So United Way leaders are moving away from supporting an array of issues, and instead will be focused on the financial stability goal, said Rebecca Melton, president of United Way of York County.

“We knew if we wanted to remain relevant and be important to the community, we had to have a more focused effort and focus our funding. We couldn’t be as spread out as we had in the past,” Melton said.

“It really has been what we have done more of at United Way over the past 77 years. We have been working with families and making them financially stable.”

United Way received $1.64 million in donations and grants in 2017-’18, up from $1.6 million in 2016-’17, Melton said. Donations and grants make up 98% of United Way’s revenue.

Past community partners include the domestic violence resource center Safe Passage, Pilgrims’ Inn women’s shelter, Keystone Substance Abuse Services, Boys and Girls Clubs of York County and RideAbility Therapeutic Riding Center, according to United Way of York County’s 2018 financial report.

In March, United Way of York County leaders developed a three-year plan that will transition them to an issue focused strategy, Melton said. United Way will continue working with partner agencies, but over the next few years will be most focused on agencies that address financial stability.

“The expectations of donors have changed, and United Way is now expected to play an engaged role in impacting the community that goes beyond simply vetting partner agencies and allocating funds to responsible partners,” Melton said in a message to The Herald.

How financial stability is defined, and the ways United Way will address it, have not yet been determined, Melton said.

United Way of York County’s issue case statement reads: “A financially stable family has enough resources to meet its needs without public support.”

Melton said United Way staff will meet with key stakeholders, including for-profit, business and nonprofit leaders, this year to determine how United Way can help make families financially stable.

It will be a “deep conversation about where we are as a community on financial stability,” said James Jeter, vice president of United Way operations.

The areas to be targeted, which could include transportation, good paying jobs, education and housing, will be determined later this year, Melton said. Requests for proposals will go out in 2020.

“As programs and services are identified that align with the issue and bold goal adopted by United Way of York County, some current partnerships will remain, and new partnerships will be developed,” Melton said in a message to The Herald. “We will slowly transition to allow the community and our partner agencies to adjust along with us.”

United Way leaders chose financial stability after gathering input from area organizations and community members, Melton said.

“Ideally if you can help a family be in a place where they can be self-sufficient ... that alleviates them from having to depend on our food banks and our food pantries. It really is getting to the root of the issue and building from there,” Jeter said.

In 2015, United Way of York County worked on a community needs assessment with Winthrop University’s social work department, which included focus groups and resident surveys, according to the organization. Demographics on the study were updated this year. Identified needs include transportation, affordable housing and good paying jobs.

United Way leaders sent a survey in 2018 to donors and community members, Melton said.

One question asked: “Do you consider each of the following issues to be a significant problem, a minor problem, or not a problem in York County: children and families in poverty, individuals earning less than a livable wage, availability of affordable housing, and access to mental health care?”

Out of 2,663 donors who received the survey, 330 completed it, according to United Way of York County. Of donors who answered, 81.4% choose children and families in poverty as a significant problem.

On that same question, 75.5% of 110 community members who took the survey also identified families in poverty as a significant problem, according to United Way.

Melton said community leaders such as the City of Rock Hill, Duke Energy and Comporium support United Way’s new direction.

Melton said United Way’s decision also factored in the level of poverty in York County. According to United Way, 20% of York county working families, about 13,000, live below the federal poverty level and 1 in 5 York County households earn less than $25,000 a year.

Changes in technology, social issues and York County community needs contribute to United Way’s new issue focus, Melton said.

“While we recognize that the issues in our community are complex and intertwined, we also know that we cannot change our community’s situation without concentrated efforts,” Melton said in her message to The Herald. “We do not believe we can do this effectively if we do not focus our efforts and funding criteria.”

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Amanda Harris covers issues related to children and families in York, Chester and Lancaster County for The Herald. Amanda works with local schools, parents and community members to address important topics such as school security, mental health and the opioid epidemic. She graduated from Winthrop University.
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