The Transylvania Times -

Agencies Address UWTC's Upcoming Closure – Transylvania County, NC


January 30, 2020

Finding the missing financial piece of the puzzle within an already shifting nonprofit budget has become more challenging for local agencies that have lost their biggest piece, United Way of Transylvania County (UWTC).

After 65 years of service, its dissolution, scheduled for Friday, will leave a gap to fill for the local 15 programs that were recipients of its funding.

Last week at Mountain Sun Community School, nonprofit executive directors Erin Drew (The Family Place), Laura Jeffords (The Mediation Center), Shelly Webb (Sharing House), Michael Brown (Mountain Sun Community School), Jim Barratt (Pisgah Legal Services) and Kelly Land Cislo (Rise & Shine, director of development) gathered to discuss their sustainability without UWTC.

Programs won’t receive their fourth quarter funding (April, May, June), which constitutes just over $80,000 among all agencies involved, and, now being in the third quarter (January, February, March), 65 percent of the proposed funding has been distributed. UWTC officials have reported that they can distribute the remainder, said Drew.

Having already budgeted for the year until June 30, Jeffords said much of their discussion has been how to get to that point, “and where do we go from there.”

Drew said filling the gap in funding and finding new sources have been discussed among directors.

“We can’t just look toward one source to fix everything but to look at sustainability and to methodically plan it out,” Drew said.

Brown said sustaining the relationships formed through UWTC’s leadership is also important.

“One of the strengths of United Way’s process was building collaborations, and, so, as a result of that, we’ve all developed really strong relationships between our agencies,” he said. “We are committed to making sure those relationships are sustained, even in the absence of that kind of central funder.”

Webb said though the Sharing House was not a direct recipient of UWTC’s funding, the Sharing House works with programs such as Charity Tracker, a confidential, web-based client-service management system for interagency information.

“It’s central to the way we keep data through many agencies, and it ties so much together,” said Webb. “My big fear is that Charity Tracker is going to go unfunded, but if Sharing House has to pick it up, we will.”

Charity Tracker also helps in grant writing, Webb said, because “it helps us record what we’ve accomplished with accuracy.”

The same is true for TRAIN (Transylvania Resource and Access Information Network), Brown said.

TRAIN is a collaborative network of community health and human service resources designed to allow for communication between public and private county agencies “to promote the most efficient use of community resources.”

“We don’t want to see TRAIN go away because that’s how we are able to share information every month around the table,” Webb said.

Barrett, who was communicating remotely through speakerphone, said UWTC was also supporting 211, a community service referral line.

“It saves a lot of time in getting people to the right resource,” Jeffords said.

Webb said the Sharing House makes 10 referrals daily to 211, calling it a “vital resource.”

Barratt said it is Pisgah Legal Services’ “biggest referral.”

The website is another UWTC service, helping people who are seeking volunteer opportunities in the community.

Brown said the loss of UWTC presents a “tremendous challenge” but also an opportunity to “think strategically in how we want to relate as nonprofits and to coordinate our efforts.”

The good that can be seen from this, Drew said, is how everyone is working together.

“We are not trying to compete with one another for our program, and a lot of times our programs overlap for those we serve, so we are being very deliberate in sharing our resources with one another,” Drew said.

The loss of UWTC shows how dependent the community is on the work nonprofits perform, Webb said.

“We enhance the community life and we collaborate with our government entities in ways that benefit every citizen of our county, as it should be,” Webb said. “That’s what community is about – taking up the role.”

Heating assistance involves Sharing House collaborating with the Department of Social Services.

“People would suffer if it were not for the funding that goes through Sharing House that’s generously given,” Webb said. “Everything any one of our nonprofits do is because someone chose to give first, and we manage that well. I would say that Transylvania County is fortunate to have incredibly strong nonprofits that are managed well, that are showing results, and documenting a change and moving the needle, as they say.

“Without us, you would feel it.”

Gratitude, Brown said, is another key piece included in the discussion.

“We’re grateful for the support that United Way has provided for so many years, and we recognize the loss to our community in not having United Way, but we plan to carry that work forward,” Brown said.

Every dollar UWTC raised was money Pisgah Legal Services didn’t have to raise, Barrett said.

“They were like glue to many of us because, though they were restricted to a program, they could be used for screening, direct representation or health insurance for our workers, so it’s going to be important to make that up and, hopefully, the donors that used to give to the hospital and United Way will seek us out and continue to be generous,” Barrett said.

For Rise & Shine, UWTC contributed to 20 percent of its budget, Cislo said.

“It’s funding we consistently depended upon,” Cislo said.

Community Playgroups, a new partnership program between El Centro and The Family Place, funded fully by UWTC, is an early-learning mobile unit focused on families with children 0 to 5.

Joining in Community Playgroups is Bread of Life, which brings a food truck with the mobile unit, to engage families in rural areas, such as Balsam Grove, Dunn’s Rock and Little River, in getting kids ready for kindergarten and providing community resources.

UWTC was beneficial in supporting pioneering projects, such as Community Playgroups and Mountain Sun Community School’s Natural Play Project, a program started to encourage outdoor activities among families, Brown said.

Jeffords said there is also the issue of “matching dollars” between the nonprofit and state and federal dollars.

“We use matching dollars for other state grants, and so are now without our matching dollars for a larger sum of money,” she said. “Without this money, it puts other funding at risk.”

An example of this is the collaboration between The Mediation Center, Davidson River School and the Transylvania County Hunger Coalition to address school attendance.

“At that school, 70 percent of kids are chronically absent,” Jeffords said, “meaning that they are missing more than 10 percent of days in the school year. We are working together to engage them in programming, with mediation support and problem solving to figure out what’s hard about coming to school and working with families.”

The funds for that program are matched with Juvenile Justice funding from the state that requires a local match.

Barrett said Pisgah Legal Services gets 80 percent of its salary and fringe benefits from the U.S. Department of Justice through the state, and that Pisgah Legal “has to match it 20 percent.”

Given that, Jeffords said, part of the question is, “how to keep those state and federal dollars flowing into Transylvania County when a local match is needed to maintain that funding.”

It can be stressful, Webb said, being an executive director of a nonprofit when the puzzle continues to change.

“It may be United Way today, but for us it’s things like a cold winter that might throw us for a loop or the government pulling food stamps, so we are always trying to keep pieces together,” Webb said. “Thank goodness we have a generous community that does step up to the plate when we can tell them what our needs are. I think nonprofits have gotten better at communicating what our needs are, leveraging those dollars and making the most out of each dollar.”


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