Forsyth United Way aims to increase impact

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Thirty-seven percent to 38 percent of students entering ninth grade in Forsyth County public schools do not graduate from high school.

One percent of infants and nearly 2.2 percent of African-American infants born in the county will die before their first birthday, placing Forsyth 65th and 79th, respectively, among North Carolina’s 100 counties in infant mortality overall and among African Americans.

And over half the children in the county who are abused never receive counseling.

To better address those and other critical problems, United Way of Forsyth County is changing the way it makes grants.

Since 2002, based on a survey of community needs, United Way’s 34 partner agencies have applied for funds to address needs in one or more of four priority areas – “increasing self-sufficiency and independence,” “improving health and well-being,” “building safer communities,” and “strengthening children and families.”

Through their applications, the agencies themselves have defined the impact they want to have.

And the strategy has worked, says Eric Aft, vice president for community planning and investment at United Way.

Youngsters who participate in some mentoring programs that receive funds from United Way, for example, are getting better grades in school, Aft says.

Also with the help of United Way funds, he says, over 200 low-income families since 2002 have become first-time homeowners.

“All of our partner agencies historically have defined their own outcomes and created very positive results,” Aft says.

But United Way wants to do more, he says.

Using funds raised in its annual drive this fall, United Way starting next year will change the way it allocates funds to partner agencies.

Based on a new survey of community needs, United Way has defined 10 priority areas it will fund, ranging from reducing the infant-mortality and child-abuse rates to increasing the high-school graduation rate and improving residents’ wellness by increasing the use of preventive health care and decreasing obesity.

For each priority area, a panel of community volunteers, representatives of partner agencies, and experts from other agencies is setting short-term, mid-range and long-term goals United Way wants to achieve through its grants, and how to track progress in meeting those goals.

One long-term goal set by the health-care panel, for example, calls for providing every member of the community with access to medical and dental care in roughly 10 years, providing everyone with a chronic health condition with access to a disease-management program in three to seven years, and immediately increasing the number of programs to manage chronic diseases.

Partner agencies now will request funds for programs designed to achieve those goals.

“We expect they will work collaboratively to achieve those outcomes, with each other and with other agencies,” Aft says.

This year, based on funds raised in its annual drive in 2005, United Way has allocated nearly $16.4 million to partner agencies, the same as last year.

Now, as it raises money for its annual fall drive, Aft says, United Way will be encouraging donors to contribute because their dollars can have an even greater impact.

“Success depends on agencies across the community, partner and nonprofit agencies, working to achieve those results,” Aft says.

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