United Way Oxford showcases flexibility and partnerships

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With United Way Oxford’s innovative investment framework in place, exciting opportunities loom on the horizon for potential new partners and established member agencies.

“Local experts reviewed and are still going over important information emanating from our discussions with people throughout Oxford,” said United Way Oxford Executive Director Kelly Gilson.

“They’re using their professional lens to determine availability, identify gaps, see what can be done, and ascertain differences we can make, find that sweet point and set our priorities within our new investment framework. It’s much more flexible and means potential for open year and/or multi-year funding and partnerships, instead of assistance for just one organization.”

Kelly said the new-found flexibility means greater innovation through a two part strategy comprised of statements-of -interests recently distributed through delivery services like email and the United Way website and four community-wide information sessions, the last set for later this week.

“We want to ensure the non-profit service sector is fully aware of what is available,” she added. “It is vital that organizations and community volunteers know opportunities are out there, how they can speak to them and that groups can partner for programs.

“There has been a lot of interest with response very positive. Organizations have never had this kind of funding relationship before, so there is excitement about possibilities, now and, as this approach evolves, years down the road.”

 Jeffrey Neven, Executive Director of Indwell (formerly Homestead Christian Care), is excited about the potential for establishing partnerships and resource distribution in the coming years. Part of the Woodstock/Oxford community for the past 11 years, the organization recently opened 54 new affordable housing units in the old Harvey Woods building and currently has a waiting list of 58 for the next 26 units.

“This approach recognizes the changing face of needs within our community,” he said. “Things are simply not the same as they were 15 years ago so we welcome new opportunities to ever-changing challenges. We saw gaps that needed to be filled when we arrived in 2004 but needs change so they must be addressed differently.

“I see people throughout Oxford with great progressive ideas. The county has some of the most innovative programs like Food For Friends. With United Way Oxford’s approach we now have the chance to be recognized and possibly funded. We appreciate the fact the doors have been opened wide for new opportunities.

Indwell (an Old English term meaning to inhabit) provides affordable housing – primarily assisting those in poverty, the result of various disabilities.

“The first question we asked ourselves was why we needed United Way Oxford,” he added. “We want to make sure we are integrated into the social services framework, working together toward the same goals. We can’t do that on our own so United Way Oxford answers our question.

While Canadian Mental Health Association Oxford is a member agency, enjoying a long standing relationship with United Way Oxford, Executive Director Mike McMahon says the changed approach to investment will benefit a wider range of those with needs.

“This genuinely reflects the expectations people have on behalf of the whole community,” he said. “We’ve always received assistance from United Way as a member agency but I love the changes. This approach puts an emphasis on collaborating both in planning and execution.

“CMHA is an important part of the mental health community but not the sole organization. So it makes sense to do programming with our natural partners. We will be able to do more in a more effective and cohesive manner. These changes will make a real difference, assuring that services and programs are more accessible.”

With the evolutionary process firmly in place, he says it will offer greater collective clarification of United Way Oxford’s mandate, as well as what can be done and by whom.

“It can be very difficult for organizations to operate solo,” he said. “United Way Oxford’s new investment framework allows for that much-needed flexibility, resulting in very exciting potential for partnerships.”

Kelly defines the new model as a holistic wrap-around approach comprised of supports, partners and greater strategic opportunities to address the initial need and other related issues in an accessible manner for all organizations.

“Some groups are larger with more staff while others are considerably smaller supported by grass-root volunteers,” she said. “Our new two-step approach works for everyone. After the first phase, volunteers review applications and strategies, and then choose those best positioned for acceptance. It is a quick and efficient system with local people making local decisions and community volunteers doing a great job”.

“Those selected are invited to submit a more detailed application. The next round is at the end of January, with the whole process completed and final decisions made in March. This is the most exciting, invigorating and rewarding work I’ve done in my career – what matters to people and the opportunity to make changes. Over the years it will evolve and strengthen.”




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