Many North Shore organizations seeing lower funding from United Way
Fourteen-year-olds Austin Kowalski (left) and Leo Garcia play a video game at the Glencoe Youth Center on May 24. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 1, 2013 1:53PM
When it comes to local United Way funding, the haves have become the have-nots.
Numerous agencies serving children, teens and young adults on the affluent North Shore will soon enter their second year of little or no funding from United Way, due to changes in how the recipient agencies are chosen. The difference is commonly 10 to 15 percent of the agencies’ budgets.
Glencoe Youth Services, which operates a drop-in center and after-care program for teens, has seen its United Way stipend drop from about $20,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007 to about $11,000 in June of last year. For the past year, nothing. Next year, the agency knows, also nothing.
“We’ve had to cut back hours,” board director Debbie Jha said, of the after-school center which used to close six days a week at 9 p.m.
“Now we’re usually closing around dinner-time,” after trimming from two full-time-equivalent employees to one and a half.
“Also, at about the time we went to zero United Way funding, we took on a new program,” the once-weekly Young Adult Program for special needs individuals, dropped by another agency.
“We really didn’t have the money to do it, but the need and passion couldn’t be denied, so we went for it.”
The YAP program regularly welcomes eight to ten adult individuals with “spina bifida, cerebral palsy, two blind individuals, and our numbers continue to grow,” another board director, Brian Brandt, said.
United Way, however, is thinking bigger.
“Rather than a mile wide and an inch deep, we have narrowed our focus to those issue areas where we can deepen our response to communities of greatest need,” Sarah Frick, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago spokesman, said May 24.
The United Way has chosen to concentrate on 45 communities in the six-county metropolitan area that have the greatest need — those where there’s a preponderance of families with an income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line — $44,000 annually for a family of four.
The United Way has also split its giving into three recipient groups: Education, health, and income.
Many of the agencies in the wealthier communities that have been cut back fall into the education grouping, which is the first to be looked at “more tightly,” Frick explained.
And at the same time, education grants, due to the deeper focus, now range between $25,000 per year and $100,000 per year for early childhood programs, and $100,000 to $250,000 per year for middle-school programs. Smaller suburban requests go unfilled.
One of the agencies that has prospered under the new system is the Tri-Con Child Care Center in Highland Park, which concentrates on pre-school education and care, for about 60 percent Highwood clients, and 40 percent Highland Park. Tri-Con qualified for $25,000 annually, the minimum under the new system.
“We were very fortunate and were funded for this past fiscal year (and next) by United Way,” executive director Pam Feinberg said Friday.
“My feeling (about the success of Tri-Con’s funding bid) is it’s because the families we serve are at the income level, and every single person is subsidized, does not pay the full fee.”
Several Evanston early-childhood centers with clients not as subsidized lost funding, though Evanston, Highwood and Highland Park are the three North Shore towns included in the 45 targets.
“McGaw YMCA lost funding, Reba Early Learning Center lost funding, Evanston Day Nursery lost funding, Child Care Center of Evanston lost funding,” said Martha Arnston, executive director of the Child Care Center of Evanston, which administers federal and state grants for Evanston preschools.
Youth Services of Glenview/Northbrook retained a $10,000 health-oriented United Way grant, Executive Director Nancy Bloom said, and she’s grateful.
But on the other hand, the United Way killed its $36,000 education grant.
“They cut us pretty drastically,” she said. “It’s very difficult for us every year trying to catch up. For us, it’s a (lost employee) position.
“I think it’s short-sighted, the assumption that people in this area don’t need the help,” she said.
“We serve 3,000 people.”
Evanston’s Y.O.U. youth agency is receiving considerable funding, this year and next, for a small-group tutoring program for over 150 middle school students from Chute and Nichols schools. Students get three hours of after-school instruction, and five to six hours on summer weekdays, Y.O.U. executive director Seth Green said Friday.
It’s an example of United Way’s narrower, deeper commitment to a specific community, and it’s showing measureable results, he said.
“We just took a ‘snapshot,’” he said, “and in the last 6 months, 72 percent of them improved their GPA, and 96 improved attendance.”
The $240,000 annual grant — to be repeated in 2012-2013 — pays for training of Y.O.U. instructors and District 65 teachers as well, he said.
“At what level can you provide service most effectively?” Green asked, adding that for some purposes, that level involves more intensely focused and expensive programming.
He said with the Y.O.U. grant, United Way can watch results closely, and measure them.
“If you’re giving away a lot of small gifts, it’s very hard to measure the results,” he said.
The Winnetka Youth Organization, known as YO, lost its $12,000 United Way donation last year.
“We were kind of freaking out,” said then-new executive director Liz Fales.
“We knew we were not going to get the money, and we did not want to cut the service.”
She did cut staff and hours, but was partially rescued by a $10,000 Best Buy Community Grant.
“I think when the (United Way) parameters changed, there was nothing we could do,” she said. “Our program numbers were higher than they had been for years, but that was shown to be irrelevant to receiving support.”
YO board member John Thomas is one of several North Shore youth organization leaders contacted who opposed the dissolution about a decade ago of local United Way chapters, and think that consolidation into the North Shore United Way has reduced responsiveness.
Thomas, a former local United Way leader, says the North Shore United Way bows to the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.
“When the big boys downtown say youth groups here aren’t on the list, they have no choice but to say, ‘YO, Glencoe, Wilmette, sorry, no more funding,’” he said. “‘You’re not doing a bad job. You’re doing a good job. That’s just the way it is, goodbye.’”
Wilmette’s Warming House Youth Center now does without its $14,000 United Way grant, about 15 percent of its budget, executive director Cynthia Doucette said.
Her agency has cut staff and boosted fund-raising, she said, to preserve “a unique, supervised, substance-free environment for teens to be themselves, and feel empowered and supported.
“In smaller towns where there’s not much to do, it’s easier to get in trouble,” she added.
“We don’t have any fewer problems, just because we’re in Wilmette.”