Greater Twin Cities United Way’s new mission is to “galvanize the community to build pathways towards prosperity and equity for all.” This new mission has led to implementing college partnership programs and youth LGBTQ partnership programs, just to name a few new initiatives.
Over a hundred years old, Greater Twin Cities United Way is one of the largest locations out of 1,400 around the world serving the counties of Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, Dakota, Carver, Chisago, Anoka, Isanti and parts of Washington.
A Medtronic Foundation grant given to the United Way is headed into its fifth year focusing on diabetes and cardio vascular diseases. “In its first few years the grant was used to do community needs assessments in 2013 and ‘14,” says Camille Cyprian, senior community impact program manager. “This assessment showed that the two communities most affected were North Minneapolis’ Near North and South Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood.”
United Way doesn’t determine if the diseases are hereditary but instead focuses on “helping a client understand their disease and what it means to their health so that they can advocate and navigate the medical system on their own,” says Cyprian. “The community needs assessments are really important because we know that the community has the best solutions to their unique challenges,” adds Meghan Barp, senior vice president of community impact at United Way.
A community health worker position, considered an emerging field, provides a structured foundation into the medical profession that can be used as a stepping stone in advancing within the healthcare system. “The partnership with Medtronic Foundation has allowed United Way to invest in and with community, and not for and to the community, and we really thought about that approach. We love that it’s about health equity, but it’s also about the creation of jobs,” says Barp.
In 2016, three years into a partnership with the nonprofit agency Minnesota Visiting Nurses Association (MVNA), a merger came about with Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), casting a broader network for United Way to help more members of the community. “The benefit of community health workers is they often come from immigrant communities that are experiencing health disparities and can be that bridge for folks who aren’t sure about accessing care, don’t go to a hospital, or don’t have a primary care provider,” says Cyprian.
“That’s the bridge between community and clinical systems that encompasses a more holistic view of health than just what happens in the clinic, but also addresses some of the social determinants,” she continues. Out of the six community health workers for United Way, three of them are bilingual and are able to communicate fluently with the communities being served.
When immigrant communities were targeted by the incoming political administration at the beginning of this year, United Way jumped into action, partnering with Solidarity MN to create a support system for the targeted communities. “Solidarity MN is a collaborative of funders from around the state who are specifically focused on the immigrant and refugee challenges based on the executive orders that came out earlier this year from President Trump,” Barp says.
“We’ve come together to infuse money and resources into our communities as soon as possible, investing half a million dollars as a rapid response to a specific crisis that we have in our community right now.”
The college partnership program is in its second year at the University of Minnesota and looking to be implemented at St. Thomas University, Augsburg College, Concordia University and other surrounding colleges. Naomi Anderson, marketing segment manager at United Way, runs the college partnership program.
“The purpose is for students to understand the needs of their community because they are so young, to be involved in their communities and use their skills,” Anderson says. “There’s so many ways they can be involved through volunteering, serving in a nonprofit organization at a young age and by using what they’re learning in college right now to solve a problem at a non-profit organization.” The program is still in its initiation phases as a club at the University of Minnesota and currently has just under 10 student members.
One of them, Augustus Pendleton, a junior at the University of Minnesota, says, “Last year we had a dedicated executive board who worked really hard and had a great amount of interest.” The club, called Student United Way at the U of M, has seen many of its members return at the beginning of this school year. Pendelton admits, however, that the club has struggled to keep students interested in attending various events, and that the Student United Way is working hard to increase its membership among the student body.
“It’s definitely a work in progress. We’ve worked really hard on how we want to structure our organization and membership,” says Pendelton.
United Way stationed in Puerto Rico opened its doors four days after hurricane Maria destroyed most of the United States’ island territory. “Our U.S. president, Mary Sellers, has been in Puerto Rico leveraging resources,” Barp says.
“We’ve worked with the United Way worldwide team to connect some of our companies to make sure they are able to get resources there as well.” She says the organization is fortunate to have people on the ground in some of the hardest-hit locations around the globe. Places like Central America, Mexico, and the British Virgin Islands have all seen one of the United Way’s 1,400 locations activated.
Through natural disasters, active shooters and personal crises, United Way has played a key role in assisting countries getting back to semi-normal lifestyles. “Las Vegas is another example of where our United Way system has been activated,” says Barp.
“The number 211 is all over the country where people can call in and access someone who speaks their language and get connected to resources that they need,” she explains. Long after the headlines of a crises have come and gone, United Way is there fielding calls, raising money, and investing in rebuilding communities.
This story was made possible by support from the Medtronic Foundation. To volunteer, donate, or find more programs, visit www.unitedway.org.To donate or find more information on the partnership with Solidarity MN, visit www.solidaritymn.org.
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Jonika Stowes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.