Wanted: grant applicants

Kinsley Cattoor, left, reads "The Bat Rat" with Sherry Brookover, a Read to Succeed volunteer at the Cape Girardeau Public Library. (Fred Lynch)

Friday, February 22, 2019

2019 is your nonprofit's last chance to partner with United Way of Southeast Missouri until 2022

Giving students one-on-one encouragement as they learn to read through the Read to Succeed program. Providing a food pantry and tutoring program at the middle school. Funding an after-school bus at the junior high so students can stay after school to participate in extracurricular activities that can help keep them engaged in school. Putting a social worker in place at the high school. Supporting the student fund, to provide emergency support for needs like dental or medical bills to families during difficult times. Supporting youth development programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, 4-H and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeast Missouri.

Investing in education at all age levels and developmental stages is what United Way of Southeast Missouri funds do at Cape Girardeau Public Schools.

"Many of our children are experiencing trauma that is a very real consequence of poverty," says Cape Girardeau Public Schools superintendent Neil Glass, who also serves on the advisory council that oversees fundraising efforts for the school district. "If they are suffering from dental pain, they can't focus. If a child is worried about where he or she will be staying tonight, he or she can't focus. When children don't have positive adult role models in their lives, it's difficult to dream of their future. Any time we are able to eliminate one of these obstacles, we have a greater chance of reaching that child academically. Breaking down barriers is vital to success in education."

United Way of Southeast Missouri is a force for change like this in communities throughout Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Perry and Scott counties, helping fund programs that support education, income and health. And it's working: In the last decade under the direction of Nancy Jernigan, past executive director, United Way of Southeast Missouri has focused on creating community change through an education coalition. Elizabeth Shelton, executive director since August 2015, says this coalition has helped move the graduation rate at Central High School from 68 percent in 2009, when Missouri's statewide graduation rate was only 71 percent, to 89.9 percent today.

And that's just one piece of United Way of Southeast Missouri's work. They partner with 23 agencies representing 30 programs to help people of all ages be a strong part of the community, funding programs like Educare, Voices for Children (CASA) and the Hoover Center. Thanks to a corporate grant from Procter & Gamble that pays for United Way of Southeast Missouri's operating expenses, 99 percent of individual donations are invested in the programs that serve the communities of Southeast Missouri. Procter & Gamble is the top donor to United Way of Southeast Missouri, with other significant donors including Ameren, Cape Girardeau Public Schools, Mondi, several area banks and Southeast Missouri State University, including thousands of dollars from the university's Greek organizations.

Arianna Milner, 5, center, serves a meal to Dakota McClanahan, 6, with the help of her mother, Kimberly Milner, as Shyane Dow, left, watches during the Salvation Army's annual Thanksgiving Day meal in Cape Girardeau.
Photo by Kassi Jackson

In the past, United Way of Southeast Missouri often received $1 million in donations from the community. Throughout the past five years as the number of nonprofits soliciting donations has increased, some larger donors have begun supporting other causes important to their work, and many Baby Boomers have begun to retire while younger donors have failed to stand in this gap, the organization has lost significant funding. Today, it continues to receive between $850,000 and $900,000 each year, which Shelton says is still "something to be proud of" that "creates measurable impact in our community."

United Way of Southeast Missouri is in the process of revising its strategic plan and identifying future long-term initiatives. Community challenges being explored include bringing together the appropriate partners to improve income equality, employability, homelessness and limited access to mental health resources.

It's an important job, one that takes many volunteers contributing their different gifts and areas of expertise, and one that takes much funding to create lasting change. And this year provides a chance for organizations within the community to secure funding for the next three years since it is an application review year for United Way of Southeast Missouri.

The funding process

United Way is structured so each regional United Way operates autonomously, with local volunteers determining every aspect of the funding cycle, including timing, outcomes reports and the application itself. During the 2016 to 2019 funding cycle, United Way of Southeast Missouri's board agreed to fund organizations in a three-year cycle. This means after this year's review process, organizations will not have a chance to apply for funding again until 2022. The targeted timeline is for the online application to be posted in March, with visits to agencies in April. Determinations and announcements will be made in May or June for funding for the July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022 cycle.

"It's been a good fit because it gives us and our partners enough time to really see if the needle's starting to move on things that we're trying to do that go beyond meeting basic needs," Shelton says of the decision to move to a three-year funding cycle. About the types of programs that receive funding, she says, "Our worldwide directive is to invest in programs that support education, income and health. Those are the things that we will support. In some instances, it is just helping with basic needs, but we really like to do what we can to help address and eliminate the need in the first place, what's creating that need."

The application review process works like this: organizations interested in partnering with United Way will complete an online grant application, which includes questions such as the amount of money they're asking for and how they're going to measure the results. Each application is reviewed by three people, who rate the applications using a rubric and ranking system. The organizations in the top 25 percent receive a site visit from an United Way representative or are invited to come discuss their program with the Community Investment Committee. From there, this committee decides which organizations United Way is going to invest in and the percentage of United Way's allocation funds each organization will receive for the next three years. The investment committee, which consists of 13 people from different aspects of the community, then makes recommendations to the United Way board, who makes the final decisions about allocation assignments.

"The application review is very involved," says Jane Myers, investors' club development representative at The Bank of Missouri who has volunteered in various offices with United Way for the past six years. She currently serves as the treasurer on the board of directors of the United Way and is on the finance committee and community investment committee. In 2017, she was named the Volunteer of the Year by United Way of Southeast Missouri.

"We take our job very seriously to make sure the monies are going where they will do the most good and have the greatest impact," Myers said. "This is a changing process; we continue to refine it to benefit our partners and communities."

This process takes place beginning in March when grant applications are available to organizations seeking funding. It continues through mid-May, when final decisions are made and programs are notified of their receipt of grant money. The grant is not guaranteed for each of the three years; United Way holds each organization accountable through submitting any changes in their organization as well as their outcomes report for each year, tracking the results the organization is producing with the funding.

It's a process that creates slow, lasting change.

In the Bootheel

Sikeston/Bootheel Area United Way, which currently provides funding to 19 agencies in Butler, Stoddard, Scott, Mississippi and New Madrid counties, aims to put $85,000 into these communities this year.

Currently, they award yearly grants to area organizations, with their application process beginning in January. Their 15-member board reviews the applications in March to allocate the funds to area not-for-profit 501c(3)s. Beyond this, their board meets approximately three other times per year, to discuss the financial report, contact people to donate during campaign time and plan the United Way's major fundraiser -- a golf tournament each May.

Sikeston/Bootheel Area United Way's story is a testament to the difference supportive businesses can make to the mission of the United Way: the agency's available funding took a $30,000 hit with the March 2016 closing of the Noranda aluminum plant, a major donor to the campaign. Sikeston/Bootheel Area United Way is working to raise funds to stand in the gap, to be able to provide more funding to not-for-profits in the area. Local and national businesses are stepping up to help, including top corporate donors like Orgill, Do It Best, Ameren and UPS, who make up approximately 30 percent of contributions. The rest of the campaign funds are contributed by local businesses and individuals.

"In the Bootheel area, we have so many who are low-income. A lot of people have pride that work, but they still don't have enough money to make ends meet. It really helps people in financial ways," executive director Lisa Angle says. "We want people to become self-sufficient. It's not a handout. We want to help people who help the community be better. What we raise here stays here."

The organization supports agencies such as the Delta Area Blind, Scott County Transit and Sikeston Depot Museum. Other organizations with whom they partner sponsor art displays, give scholarships to young people and provide safe places for students to stay after school. In 2018, United Way Worldwide partnered with Familywize and Walgreens to give 90 free flu shots in Sikeston.

The OAKS Nutrition Center of Sikeston is one organization Sikeston/Bootheel Area United Way partners with. They feed 270 homebound clients each day, plus 50 to 60 people who come into the center to eat. They also create opportunities for people to have social interactions, including making themed memory boxes containing items to spark Alzheimer patients' memories, giving them a way for them to reminisce.

The funds enable Lisa Hicks, administrator for the OAKS Nutrition Center of Sikeston, to serve people in the community.

"Without volunteers, we wouldn't be here," Hicks says. "We appreciate the United Way giving us funds."

For Angle, it's all about building the community.

"When you give to people, they give back, and it's making our community stronger," she says.

It takes us all

Because of United Way of Southeast Missouri funds, 288 students have improved their literacy skills with Read to Succeed and Read to Excel; 2,072 family cases were opened and assisted by First Call for Help; 6,082 hours were invested by volunteers and 32,694 lives were touched by a program funded by United Way. That's what we call community.

"It is my pleasure to serve on the United Way board," Myers says. "It is very rewarding to see the benefits to our communities; it has been a very eye-opening experience to learn about the need and the many organizations working together to help all."

She encourages people in the community to get involved in United Way in whatever capacity they are able.

"There are many ways to serve the United Way. I hear people say, 'I don't have any extra money,' but there are so many ways to contribute," Myers says. "Be a Volunteer. Get involved by helping at your child's school with Read to Succeed or be a 'Big' for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Serve meals at The Salvation Army, build a home with Habitat for Humanity. The list is continuous of the ways to be involved. ... We want all of our children, senior citizens and families to excel in our communities. Everyone can help give our neighbors a hand up."

Go “Over the Edge”

Have you always wanted to rappel down the 147-foot tall Towers South on Southeast Missouri State University's campus? This is your chance. In an effort to engage new and younger volunteers and donors and demonstrate the impact of their network, the United Way of Southeast Missouri is hosting Over the Edge. Participants who raise at least $1,000 for the United Way will get to rappel May 17. The nonprofit's goal for the event is to raise $75,000 to help fund their partnering organizations.

Participants can register individually or by forming teams of six and raising a collective $6,000. Or, workplaces can raise at least $1,500 for the "Toss the Boss" event, in which they get to toss their boss Over the Edge. Bosses who wish to keep their feet on the ground can pass their rights to go Over the Edge to an employee by matching the amount their employees raise.

To participate, edgers must register via the Over the Edge online platform at http://unitedwayofsemo.org/Over-the-Edge/ which includes ideas and resources to help Edgers exceed their minimum goal. Anyone who donates $100 or more to an Edger's fundraiser is invited to visit the Chicken Coop the day of the event for complimentary refreshments and prizes. Volunteers are needed for the event, and everyone is encouraged to come watch, play yard games and enjoy the music, refreshments and excitement during this all-day community event.

Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University, and Elizabeth Shelton, executive director of United Way of Southeast Missouri, will both be going Over the Edge for their organizations. For businesses who would like to participate but do not have an employee willing to go Over the Edge, sponsorships are available for helmets, the Landing Zone, ropes and more.

To stay up-to-date with Over the Edge, volunteer opportunities and funding opportunities with the United Way, subscribe to their email newsletter at http://unitedwayofsemo.org/newsletter/ and follow them on Instagram @uw_semo.