“Downtime” at United Way
Sometimes people ask me if, now that campaign is over and we hit our goal, if we relax a little or have a little “downtime.” I do try not to laugh or smirk but for some reason it takes me by surprise every single time. To be honest, there really isn’t any downtime in our calendar because we just switch from one intensive phase of our work to the next. Last year I published an exhaustive report about the process we go through to allocate the funds we raise in the fall (“The Annual Grant Making Process.” Owatonna People’s Press July 18, 2017). That process actually starts in December before we end campaign and it lasts until May.
What else fills our time is less easy to describe but probably the most vital part of our work for the community is looking for gaps in services. What are the services or programs community members need that are not being offered? Or are being offered to only a small segment of the population in need. We don’t do that by sitting around waiting for the information to come to us or surfing the internet; we do it by community engagement.
Tanya Paley is the person who oversees these operations in our office on behalf of the community. She and I each had hundreds of meetings last year with individuals and groups outside our internal UWSC committee work. We ask local experts working with people experiencing poverty, disability, abuse, and barriers to employment to tell us what they see as opportunities for improvement and downright failures in our community.
When we hear a certain topic come up over and over again, we know that is something that has to be brought into our formal considerations – with the UWSC Strategic Impact Committee and the Board of Directors. This, along with some other formal data collection sources, has lead us to the programs you’ve been hearing from me about over the last year – Boots to Work, Preschool Transportation, Job Readiness. But there are some other opportunities for improvement throughout our community.
Two emerging areas of concern are families and individuals experiencing homelessness, and a significant daycare shortage. While our county does have a network assisting people who have become homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless, we do not have enough emergency shelters or housing for those who are at present losing their homes. Julie Anderson of Transitional Housing speaks so compellingly about what the homeless condition looks like in our community. It’s more likely to be families sleeping in their cars – can you imagine in the cold weather we’ve been having? – or individuals “couch hopping” with friends, extended family, or meetups. This creates a vulnerability that most of us cannot imagine. This is a rising need in our back yard that needs the community’s attention.
The other area of concern is day care. We do have a shortage and the local rates for daycare are very high for low-income workers which can actually force them to turn down a job. Additionally, there are no second or third shift daycare options in town (if there are we are unaware of them – let us know and we will help publicize). This is a persistent barrier to better employment and increased community involvement for a large number of mostly young women, and girls. Let me explain: as the employment market in Steele County has stabilized first shift manufacturing positions have been consistently filled. Women who want to take a manufacturing job that pays more than retail or service jobs and has advancement opportunities need to have daycare after 5pm. This situation can also impact any teenagers, especially girls, in the household by limiting their ability to join sports or other extra-curricular activities if they need to stay at home in the evening to care for younger siblings while their parents are working. Having daycare options later in the day would not only help these families it would help the local employers who have second and third shift jobs to fill.
Both of these emerging issues are complex and I’d like to tell you we have them figured out but we don’t. This is what we spend our “downtime” on when we aren’t raising money or making grants to local nonprofits. We squeeze the process of creating solutions to these puzzling local conditions in-between all of the other things our donors expect from us – good governance, organizational transparency, and responsible financial management. If you are interested in helping to address these issues, we welcome all ideas and service-minded individuals to the table to help make Steele County the best it can be for all of us.
Kim Schaufenbuel is the Executive Director of United Way of Steele County. She can be reached at 507-455-1180 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.