United Way to probe needs

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — United Way of Greater Greensboro has teamed up with six foundations to enlist citizens and civic leaders in assessing and finding ways to tackle the community’s toughest health and human-service needs.

Based on the effort, to begin in September and include surveys, focus groups, community forums and a report next spring, United Way and the foundations would develop and invest in plans to address those needs.

“The objective is to identify issues that are much more complex than can be resolved by any single organization or group of people,” says Neil Belenky, United Way president.

Coordinating the $80,000 community assessment will be the Center for the Study of Social Issues at UNCG, which also will review existing studies of community needs.

Quixote Group Marketing and Public Relations will organize the focus groups and community forums.

United Way is launching the assessment as part of its shift from funding agencies to investing in programs that tackle urgent community needs.

“The trick is to see if we can find some creative strategies to deal with some longstanding issues,” Belenky says.

Developing strategies to address health issues, rather than simply funding individual organizations, has been the approach of the $100 million-asset Moses Cone-Wesley Long Community Health Foundation since it was created in 1997, says Robert Newton, its president.

And because existing groups can lack the “capacity” they need, or may duplicate the work of other groups, he says, the foundation has launched or helped revamp coalitions “that can best approach and deal with issues we’re fundamentally interested in.”

Those groups range from an alliance to improve health services in the Guilford County public schools and a coalition among religious congregations that offer nursing programs to coalitions that address substance abuse and the prevention of teen pregnancy.

By moving away from funding based on organizations and instead encouraging the community to “adapt to what can best address the issue that’s being tackled,” he says, United Way can better focus its impact.

Tracking and reporting on the impact of the new initiative will be critical, Belenky says, because the effort is rooted in the idea that “communities care a great deal about issues and institutions that can demonstrate tangible results.”

In addition to Moses Cone-Wesley Long, foundations supporting the initiative include the Cemala Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, Joseph Bryan Foundation, Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation and Weaver Foundation.

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