COLUMBIA – A major overhaul of the United Way's mission could leave some Columbia agencies scrambling to fund programs for older adults.
The Heart of Missouri United Way board of directors voted Wednesday to adopt a new strategy called ‘Community Impact’ which focuses heavily on youth and education. This shift could result in the cutting of funds of local agencies that serve older adults, in favor of programs that focus on children and young people.
Meals on Wheels of Columbia, Boone County Council on Aging, the mid-Missouri chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and Adult Day Connection at MU could be the hardest hit organizations by the change.
The new strategy comes after a two-year process that included discussions with 150 mid-Missouri residents and 70 community volunteers, according to a news release on the Heart of Missouri United Way website. Education, income and health are three key impact areas that have been identified and will dictate the new distribution of funding that begins in 2013.
Tim Rich, executive director of the Heart of Missouri United Way, said, "our priority needs to be on youth and families in poverty."
"We really want to leverage change for the long-term and reduce the need overall, rather than just applying a Band-Aid," Rich said.
The United Way hopes this shift will better serve the community by helping to attack the roots of poverty and not just address the symptoms.
In the news release, Scott Ward, chairman of the Community Impact Committee, the new strategy being implemented, said, "focusing HMUW resources on a specific goal, as distilled from the data and input from our community, will give us the best opportunity to make real and sustainable changes in the lives of children most at risk within our community and, as a result, benefit our entire community."
But not everyone sees the shift as beneficial, and several local agencies that serve older adults were left bracing for impact.
“The Executive Director and Community Impact Director clearly stated that there is no funding for senior programs in this model,” Jessica Macy, executive director of Boone County Council on Aging, said.
Mac estimated that United Way funding makes up 30 percent of the council's annual budget.
Boone County Council on Aging provides social workers and volunteers to people aged 55 and older who can’t meet their own basic needs. The organization helps many homebound individuals who live on fixed incomes with tasks such as navigating Medicare.
“There are a lot of seniors who are living on their own with no family or community support, those are the people who our services target,” Macy said.
Their mission to help older adults leaves little room for inclusion in the United Way’s new ‘Community Impact’ budget. “Our mission is to provide services to frail, elderly, low-income seniors. This has no impact on at-risk youth,” Macy said.
The United Way has suggested that agencies can change and tailor themselves to fit in the new ‘Community Impact’ model, but in reality it seems unlikely. “Our elderly clients cannot make ends (meet), let alone find transportation to get to a children’s charity to volunteer,” Macy said.
The mid-Missouri chapter of the Alzheimer's Association similarly anticipates its Respite Reimbursement program will be defunded in three counties, including Boone County, as a result of the United Way’s change in policy.
According to Executive Director Linda Newkirk, the program provides financial assistance to caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, often a spouse or adult-child, so that they can hire help to get a break from providing the necessary 24-hour care.
The Alzheimer’s Association would like to keep the program running, but money is tight.
“The other grant funding that we have, we will attempt to stretch, but it is already stretched to the limits,” Newkirk said. “This one particular program will probably go away.”
While Alzheimer’s is a disease that mainly affects older individuals, Newkirk was quick to point out the toll it can take on everyone it touches. "Alzheimer’s disease effects adults mostly 65 and over, but it’s the entire family that we serve,” Newkirk said.
Adult Day Connection at MU is the only state licensed adult day care program in Boone County. It receives 10 percent of its funding from the United Way, about $38,000 annually, according to Amy Byergo, the agency's executive director.
The organization serves about 75 families a year, often providing respite care for older adults, many of whom have Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia, according to Byergo, giving the caregiver a break. "That can be a pretty stressful situation for families," Byergo said.
"We provide services to anyone who comes through our door whether they have the means to pay for it or not,” Byergo said. However, she noted "the loss of this funding may compromise our ability to support low-income seniors."
Marcia Walker, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Columbia, estimated that United Way funding makes up about 16 percent of its annual funding, around $43,000.
Meals on Wheels of Columbia serves 150 meals a day, and served 304 individuals last year. Meal recipients are older adults and people with disabilities. “(Last year) we served 128 individuals over the age of 80 so we are talking about the frail elderly,” Walker said. The average Meals on Wheels recipient is an elderly woman living alone who is on a fixed income, according to Walker.
“We not only bring them a nutritious meal, we bring them a visitor,” Walker said. And that is often a reassuring notion for the family, she said—knowing someone is checking up on their loved one.
With the turn in the United Way’s direction, Meals on Wheels of Columbia hopes it can still operate as it has, relying on a reserve built from memorial donations and continued local backing. “We would not exist without our loyal volunteers and our community support,” Walker said.
Walker noted that all of the new initiatives that the United Way has adopted are good causes, but wonders at what price. “There is nothing bad about the impact statement, it is just about what’s not in the impact statement — seniors have been completely left out,” Walker said.
“I am disappointed that 'Community Impact' will not impact the entire community,” Macy said.