Three years ago, the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. embarked on a new strategy to identify the community's greatest needs and direct funding toward programs proven to be effective.
Now, as the organization enters the final year of a three-year funding cycle for these programs, it is looking to reassess the community's needs and refresh its priorities.
The current program, known as Blueprints for Change, identified five critical areas in need of support: early childhood, school-age youth, aging, crisis services and disability services. The process to re-evaluate these categories and possibly identify new ones has started: United Way officials met with representatives of local agencies and participated in community forums to discuss priorities.
"From March until the end of August we're going through our current priorities to see if we're reaching the optimal good work done and what they've done for the Rochester community," said Melanie Wolk, vice chairwoman of the United Way's community investment cabinet.
There will be much data to inform the decision, she said, since all the programs have been carefully tracked. For example, the school-age programs measured how students were participating in the Rochester City School District and determined which programs improved outcomes.
"The blueprints allowed us to come in and take information from all those programs and look and see how they really had an impact on the community," Wolk said. "We couldn't do that before because we weren't able to take that statistical data from programs and put it into actual numbers to see what's working and what isn't."
Using that information and the recommendations of experts in the field, the blueprints will be updated with another three years of priorities selected in February 2013, Wolk said.
As it works on new funding priorities, United Way is strengthened by the results of its 2012 campaign, which were announced in June. The campaign raised $27.9 million in all, beating its goal of $25.5 million.
"We were pleased in the way the community responded to this year's campaign and we were able to continue funding agencies at the same level this year that they were funded last year," said Peter Carpino, United Way president. "That is very significant, especially given the continued economic challenges we're facing."
Last year the organization surpassed its campaign goal of $28 million.
The success of the campaign allowed the United Way board to approve an allocation of $17.5 million from the Community Fund for evidence-based programs in the organization's current Blueprints for Change.
"We are excited to finish this three-year funding cycle on a positive note by continuing to fund the programs that do so much for our community," said Stephanie Schaeffer, chairwoman of United Way's community investment cabinet. "We are truly making a positive impact on our community through these evidence-based and research-driven programs."
The current allocation will be distributed across the five key areas, with $2.4 million invested in parent education programs and early intervention programs to enrich early childhood. An additional $5.3 million was invested in after-school and summer enrichment programs, mentoring programs and early intervention programs to help prepare school-age youths for college, work and life.
For the aging category, $2.3 million was allocated to fund multipurpose aging resource centers, case management and support programs, and caregiver support programs. Crisis services received $4 million to support basic needs like homelessness prevention and housing stability programs.
An additional $1 million was allotted to disability services, which include programs across all five impact areas that serve community members in need of those services.
With the now-proven success of Blueprints, Wolk said, she suspects other United Way branches will start to join in the funding system.
"We've had lots of conversations with other communities about adopting this approach, and I think we'll start to see it be rolled out in other places in the near future," she said.
Though some branches are sure to join it, Wolk said there will more than likely be some hesitation to change a long-used system of funding.
"It's a scary step, just a turnaround and a complete 180-degree different look at how to invest money," she said.
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