United Way of Hampshire County Announces $900,000 in Three-Year Community Grants

13 organizations to receive funding to promote Economic Security

NORTHAMPTON – The United Way of Hampshire County (UWHC) announced today that it will award $900,000 over three years to 13 programs and initiatives in the region to address needs in the area of Economic Security.

Awards were determined after a 10-month process that involved: soliciting input from experts in the field; gathering and reviewing regional trend and economic data; and working to ensure that funds would address not only immediate needs, but also invest in long-term, strategic change, said Executive Director James Ayres.

“In making these decisions, our process looked at many issues, including the strength of individual applications, geographic inclusion and diversity of program strategies and interventions,” he said. “We want to ensure balance on many fronts.”

Ayres also stressed that the UWHC is conducting business differently than it had in the past; over the last four years, it has made significant changes in the way it invests resources.

“What used to be about a select group of agencies and their needs is now about our communities, their aspirations and solutions to their challenges,” he said. “While there was once a closed process, UWHC now invests resources through a funding approach that is open and competitive and allows for new ideas and partnerships. Our approach is community- and data-driven.

“In addition to our perennial challenges, there are new and emerging needs in the community,” Ayres added. “And we are accountable for adjusting to these shifts.”

Fifteen agencies responded to UWHC’s request for proposals, seeking a total of $1.86 million; $900,000 was available to disperse, Ayres said.

The process of awarding the Economic Security grants began in June 2013, when UWHC teams began to meet with 20 experts in the region’s economic industry; it continued with a review of data, and in August, 197 community members completed surveys on how resources could be used to best improve Economic Security in Hampshire County.

UWHC teams involved in the process included the Grant Review Teams and the Community Investment Committee, with final decisions made by the UWHC’s Board of Directors on April 24. These volunteer teams engaged stakeholders from across the county’s many communities and sectors.

Ayres said these teams established a goal to address critical, immediate needs and to offer lasting, stabilizing assistance.

“Our model looked at the economic needs of Hampshire County residents as spanning a three-part continuum. On one end of the spectrum are initiatives that focus on the immediate needs of community members in crisis; in the center activities that assist those recently in crisis to achieve initial stabilization; and finally, services that enable residents to gain the skills, education and know-how to remain secure in the long run,” he said.

Craig’s Doors – A Home Association in Amherst, new as a funding recipient this year, offered a perfect example of helping residents along the continuum of need, Ayres said.

Craig’s Doors is a homeless shelter with a dual goal of creating affordable housing in Amherst.

Kevin Noonan, its executive director, said the shelter is unique in that it is the only shelter in the region that accepts people battling drug and alcohol addiction, whether or not they are sober. Founded in July 2011, Craig’s Doors currently operates primarily as a shelter but is working towards its mission to also place shelter residents in permanent, affordable housing.

Noonan said it has been difficult to meet the program’s long-term goal to create affordable housing because funding from original investors, which included federal block grant dollars through the town of Amherst, has continued to shrink over the past three years.

“It’s helpful to be nurtured by the UWHC so that we can meet peoples’ immediate needs, yet also expand the options by not limiting our activity just to the shelter,” he added.

Along with Craig’s Doors, the organizations funded to promote Economic Security together serve the entire county, from the Hilltowns to Ware. They are: Amherst Survival Center, Casa Latina, the Center for Human Development Single Room Occupancy Project, the Center For New Americans, Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions, Community Legal Aid, Easthampton Community Center, Hilltown Community Development Corporation, Northampton Survival Center, ServiceNet Interfaith Emergency Shelter, Valley Community Development Corporation and the YWCA of Western Massachusetts.

In 2009, the UWHC began a shift to increase its ability to respond to community needs and advance its three core commitments: building Economic Security, promoting Health and Safety, and nurturing Children and Youth. This shift included a transition from yearly funding to awarding three-year grants to programs and agencies.

The roll-out of this model was staggered to focus grant awards on one of the three core program areas each year. This year, the focus is on Economic Security.