January 17, 2013

Berkshire United Way to Enhance its Competitive Funding Process in February

January 17, 2013, Pittsfield As a result of its recent success in mobilizing resources to address community priorities like early literacy through Pittsfield Promise and the Early Childhood Think Tank, teen substance abuse through the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership, and teen pregnancy through its Face the Facts/Reduce Teen Pregnancy campaign, Berkshire United Way will enhance its competitive funding process beginning in February 2013 to include a broader range of potential investment opportunities targeted to kindergarten readiness, K-3 grade-level reading proficiency, and youth successfully transitioning to higher education, training or employment.

"Our goals will continue to focus on education and employment, but by mobilizing community groups around those key goals, we've been able to identify best practices and evidence-based solutions that have already proven successful in other communities. We want to ensure our investment process considers these options rather than relying solely on local social service and funded partner organizations to deliver their traditional programs.  It's not fair or realistic to expect a small number of programs to deliver the kinds of results our community expects and deserves," explains board chair Mike Barbieri, Vice President, Pittsfield Cooperative Bank.

That means in addition to soliciting proposals from current funded partners, Berkshire United Way's competitive funding process will incorporate opportunities to deliver specific evidence-based programs, such as the Teen Outreach Program, designed to empower teens to lead successful lives and build strong communities by teaching healthy behaviors, life skills, and a sense of purpose.  Or it may result in acquiring materials, such as a recent investment in books so that every pediatrician in Berkshire County can help prepare children for success in school by promoting early childhood literacy through their participation in the national Reach Out and Read program.  Coordinated by the Early Childhood Think Tank and funded by Berkshire United Way, Berkshire County achieved "Bookend County" status -- meaning that 100% of pediatricians will have the books they need to deliver the program consistently.  Or it may result in investment in expertise subject-matter experts or organizations like the Mass Alliance for Teen Pregnancy, which has supported efforts to reduce teen pregnancy in communities across the state since 1979 and can bring their experience about what works and what doesn't to bear locally. 

"One of the things we know from working with the community and our stakeholder groups -- donors, volunteers, business and community leaders -- is that they expect us to deliver results against our goals, and that means adjusting the way we operate when needed and continuously improving just like any other business," notes President and CEO Kristine Hazzard. "When I speak with local CEOs and our leadership and other supporters, they want to know that their commitment in resources people and time, not just dollars is going to improve the community in ways which help everyone, ensuring healthy families, a better-educated work force, and stable neighborhoods."

Berkshire United Way Director of Community Impact, Nancy Stoll anticipates a formal request for proposal to be issued February 4th that will address education programs and initiatives focused on kindergarten readiness, K-3 grade-level reading proficiency, and youth successfully transitioning to higher education, training or employment.  A team comprised of board, key staff and community members with expertise and/or experience with each issue will prioritize strategies and advocate for the best use of investment dollars.  Stoll notes current programs focused on employment and financial stability will maintain current funding levels for an additional year.  "While Berkshire United Way today supports 11 programs, Mass 211, and the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, as well as administers the Emergency Food and Shelter Program for FEMA, we have more work to do as a community to define our needs and goals for sustainable change around employment and financial stability.  We expect to do that over the coming year."