Columbia’s service needs discussed at United Way's community forum

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 | 10:33 p.m. CDT; updated 1:17 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 26, 2011

COLUMBIA — As the Heart of Missouri United Way embarks on a complete transformation of how it serves Columbia, it invited input from the community on what its priorities should be.

The findings from the Tuesday meeting, along with data gathered in a "community needs assessment," will inform a shift in its service model to a focus on community impact. The new model will provide immediate help to people when they need it, as well as address the long-term causes of those needs.

Community workshop

As part of a Heart of Missouri United Way workshop Tuesday night, members of the community who attended wrote out what issue they think is the most important.  To see more responses, check out the Missourian's photo album on Facebook

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To do this, Alexa New, community impact director for Heart of Missouri United Way, said the organization will focus on "building blocks for successful lives and communities."

These service areas will be: education, income, health, and safety net services.

Around 200 people attended the public forum in Lela Raney Wood Hall at Stephens College to discuss these proposed changes in the organization's focus. Members of the Columbia School Board, elected officials and representatives from partner agencies were among those in attendance, along with other interested people from the community.

United Way welcomes community suggestions

The forum was organized into small group discussions surrounding each individual service area. A facilitator led the discussion at each table, where members identified barriers to improving their discussed service areas, assets they could use in Columbia and the role the United Way should play in facilitating change.

Georgalu Swoboda, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri, sat at a table dedicated to education.

At that table, she and other members of the community, including superintendent of Columbia Public Schools Chris Belcher, discussed how to best address problems such as declining achievement, increased drop-out rates, childhood hunger and homelessness.

As they spoke, the people at each table filled out a piece of paper with their ideas for the facilitator to collect afterward.

Swoboda emphasized that the efforts of partnerships across agencies are the most successful.

For example, she said, personnel from Columbia Public Schools train Big Brother Big Sister mentors on how to best interact with and encourage the kids.

"I think we all understand that it will take all of us together to make changes," she said.

What's next

Eighty community volunteers make up four advisory groups that have been assigned to examine data from each of the service areas.

Members of the advisory committees will follow up as necessary with participating groups after tonight’s meeting to get additional feedback as they need it, New said. She expects there will be about 20 smaller meetings in the future.

After it has the feedback it needs, the committee will compile a list of specific goals that will guide how the United Way will allocate its funding.

These will be presented in early January 2012, along with the new allocations process, which will describe how the United Way will give out its funding.

The United Way works to raise and distribute money agencies that provide support to those in need. After the allocation process is in place, organizations can apply for funding. The awards will be announced by the end of the summer, New said in an interview.

New said the change to a community impact model will also include these structural changes:

  • All organizations that can help meet the goals of the United Way will be able to apply for funding. Before, the United Way took applications only from its 31 partner agencies.
  • Previously, those partner agencies would come to the United Way with issues they thought needed attention. Now, through the community needs assessment, advisers of the United Way will determine their own goals.
  • The United Way plans to move from yearly funding to funding that will span three to five years.

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