Volunteers make big decisions about allocating local United Way donations
ADDISON COUNTY — Have you ever wondered what United Way of Addison County (UWAC) does with the money it raises from individual and corporate donations? Most of it goes back to the community in the form of grants that fund life-changing programs provided by a variety of local nonprofits. The funding process involves many people, many steps, big decisions, and serious commitment from the volunteers who help to allocate the money each year.
In January of this year, 27 dedicated Addison County residents volunteered to join UWAC’s Community Impact Funding (CIF) Committee. After receiving the appropriate training, the team was charged with reviewing and scoring grants submitted to UWAC by nonprofits that depend on funding to do their good work. These nonprofits’ programs enhance the lives of thousands of people in Addison County by providing assistance such as meal delivery to homebound residents, hospice services, substance abuse treatment, housing, food, job training, healthcare, subsidized daycare, domestic abuse support, after school programs, and more.
United Way’s CIF team is comprised of volunteers of different ages, from a variety of backgrounds — some with full or part-time jobs, some retired, some stay-at-home parents and even some college students. One CIF team member who has been serving on the committee for almost 20 years, was initially urged to join by a resident who said it would be a great way to meet people and get to know the community after she relocated to Middlebury.
“I did, indeed, meet many people and make many friends,” Linda Schiffer said, adding, “As important, I learned a lot about UWAC and its commitment to the many organizations it supports, assisting families, children, and individuals, offering a wide variety of services to all through its participating agencies.”
In addition to reviewing grants to assess each program’s strengths and challenges, CIF volunteers visit each of the nonprofits, on site, to better understand their work and meet staff members, as well as those they serve. This month, the 2019 CIF team will convene to make funding recommendations to the UWAC Board of Directors, with the goal of focusing philanthropic dollars where they will make the largest impact. By the time the funding decisions are made, each CIF team member will have spent at least 60 volunteer hours throughout the process. In the past three years, CIF grant reviewers helped UWAC invest over $990,000 in 33 programs, covering 28 different agencies across Addison County.
UWAC Executive Director Helena Van Voorst said she is impressed with the thoughtfulness and dedication of this year’s CIF Team, and notes that they will soon have some hard decisions to make.
“The total amount of grant dollars requested by this year’s pool of nonprofits is double what we anticipated,” Van Voorst said. “Addison County’s needs are great, but our CIF team is working hard to allocate our donated dollars where they will make the greatest impact.”
Van Voorst is hopeful that more donations will come in to help close the gap as UWAC’s fiscal year comes to a close.
Middlebury College student Lulu Zhou, who has been a member of UWAC’s CIF team for two years, called the experience one of the highlights of her community engagement and college experiences.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to concretely understand social issues facing local communities, learn about the diverse programs local organizations offer to promote equity, gain insights into grant applications and NGO programming, and work with a group of individuals dedicated to social justice,” Zhou said. “This experience certainly reinforces my passion for doing community engagement related work after graduating from Middlebury.”
Veteran CIF committee member, Linda Schiffer, also values the important role she has played on behalf of United Way and those it serves. “UWAC takes its responsibility to support and assist participating agencies very seriously, working to stay informed and involving community members to take an active role in its work,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn as we move forward together to provide families and individuals with the tools they need to move towards self-sufficiency and independence. Because it really does require a village.”
If you have questions about being involved on next year’s United Way CIF Team, or about other local volunteer opportunities, contact UWAC’s volunteer coordinator, Linnea Oosterman at [email protected] To donate to United Way of Addison County, visit UnitedWayAddisonCounty.org/give or call 388-7189.
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