The United Way Difference

During United Way Campaign season, I am often asked to go out and speak to various organizations about United Way and how we invest our resources into the community. While there is a great deal of information to share, I always try to highlight some of the features that make United Way unique in our community.  I want to take some time today to touch upon one or our greatest strengths – our ability to create lasting partnerships for long term impact in the community. 

The strength of United Way comes in large part from all of the connections that we have across the community. Not only do we have partners throughout the non-profit sector, but by virtue of our Campaign, we also have strong relationships in the private and public sectors as well.  We are fortunate to have many of the leaders in our community volunteering their time to help build a better community.  Perhaps the best way to illustrate the value that this brings is through an example.

A little over ten years ago, the Principal of Norwood School came to us and asked for help.  Her concern was that her school was somewhat out of control.  Kids were showing up without having eaten breakfast, not appropriately dressed for the weather and behavioural issues were a major challenge.  The teachers were spending so much time dealing with social issues that they barely had time to teach.

United Way then set about doing what we do best – we put out a call to some of our partners to see what they could do to help. What grew out of the call for help was a program called Partners for Kids.  A few of the key pieces were as follows:

  • E4C, one of our Member Agencies, stepped up and offered to provide the School Lunch Program.  Through the program, we were able to ensure that children in the school had access to the nutritional supports that they needed.

  • The Family Centre stepped up and suggested that they could provide a Family Therapist who could work right within the school.  They also brought in Family Support Workers who were able to go out and meet with the families and caregivers of the children from the school.

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters suggested trying something new in terms of mentoring within the school.  Rather than the traditional community match, they set about creating an In-School Mentoring program where every child in the school would have a mentor come into the school and spend an hour with them each week.

  • The Centre for Family Literacy put programs into place to support parents in helping to teach their children how to read and write and also to provide assistance with their own literacy skills.

The difference that the program made to the school was incredible.  When we first started the program, only 32% of the Grade One students were reading at grade level.  Five years later, we looked at the Grade Six class and an astounding 94% were now at grade level.  This change was far greater than any of us even could have dreamed possible. 

Partners for Kids has continued to evolve over the years and now operates in numerous schools through Edmonton.  It has become a model of success for providing wraparound services to children, youth and families.  Our corporate partners have also stepped up to support Partners for Kids, a recent example being Enbridge’s donation of $50,000 to furnish Partners for Kids rooms in a number of schools across Edmonton.

The reality is that no single agency or service could have brought about this type of change within Norwood School.  Responding to the needs of children and families is complex and requires a coordinated community response. The same is true with issues such as poverty, homelessness and crime. United Way is uniquely positioned to respond to these challenges by virtue of our connectedness throughout the Alberta Capital Region. Partners for Kids is just one example of how United Way leverages our relationships for the good of the community.  There are countlesss other examples:  Homeless Connect, Neighbourhood Empowerment Teams and 211 to name a few.

The fact is, United Way does not just support the community, but rather, United Way IS the community.  We are a representation of what makes our community great.  We are able to pull together people and resources to create lasting change.  I feel privileged to be a part of that change every day.

Tim Osborne is the Director, Community Building and Investment for United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.