United Way tackles priorities

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — This spring, Charlotte will get its first apartments offering single rooms for disabled and formerly homeless men.

Rent for some of the 64 tenants at St. Peter’s Home, which also will prepare its residents for jobs or volunteer work, will be partly subsidized by United Way of Central Carolinas.

St. Peter’s is one of 62 programs that in January will receive nearly $1 million in grants to address three United Way priority needs — early childhood, economic independence and older adult wellness.

Those grants, which have provided $6.4 million for those priorities over the past four years, reflect a larger United Way effort to be more responsive to community needs.

Of the $37.1 million the United Way raised in its annual drive in 2001, nearly 85 percent went to its community care fund, which supports the 98 United Way member agencies and 200 programs.

In addition to priorities funded by its grants program, the community care fund aims to strengthen families and communities, and promote health and wellness.

Some funds raised in this year’s drive, which ended Oct. 30 and raised nearly $38.6 million — 1 percent more than last year but short of this year’s $39 million goal — will support priority grants in 2003.

Like St. Peter’s, a new charity backed by religious congregations, many of the 101 programs that applied for a total of $2.5 million in grants this year were not United Way agencies – although two joined the United Way after receiving grants in previous years.

“One of the things the United Way looks to do is create a safety net of services,” says Donna North, community investment director, who says reviewing grant requests helps the United Way track the region’s emerging needs.

Two years ago, for example, MedAssist of Mecklenburg received a United Way grant to help provide free prescription medication to older citizens.

MedAssist, which works with physicians, pharmacists and other volunteers who solicit free medicine from pharmaceutical companies, became a United Way agency several months later.

The initial grant, says North, “allowed us to establish a relationship and understand what need was being met that was not already being met in the community.”

Fourteen programs serving the region’s growing Latino and Hispanic population will receive nearly one-third of the most recent round of priority grants. The programs range from a bilingual school in Monroe serving mothers and children to a Girl Scouts initiative in Mecklenburg and Union counties that connects girls and their families to community services.

Early childhood programs getting grants range from a collaborative effort to get help parents and teachers get children at 16 pre-schools involved in art to a van that delivers to day-care and community centers materials for families, children and teachers.

Other funded programs range from scholarships for employment-skills training to educating seniors about disease and financial scams.

“We try to make sure the needs across the community are being met,” says North, “and we’re playing a role in ensuring that those sustaining funds are there.”

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