Building a stronger safety net

I’m often asked about the history of United Way here in Greater Nashua. It’s interesting to note that we were founded back in 1930, during the Great Depression. The year prior, 1929, there was a massive fire in Nashua called the Crown Hill Fire which took out a large portion of the town. After this disaster, a group of local leaders came together around the idea of creating a pooled resource to support the community in future years. They called this pooled resource the “Community Chest.” Yes, just like Community Chest on the Monopoly Board… only ours came first! The idea was that people with means could contribute over time and when funding needs arose, those could be addressed through the combined resources in the Community Chest.

Over the years, the Community Chest evolved and became more sophisticated in its approach to addressing needs. As it slowly became United Way, the biggest innovation was to develop a quantitative approach to assessing what the greatest needs are in the community, and a volunteer-based approach to making grants to address those needs. We do this cycle nowadays every three years, and this past summer over 40 volunteers spent numerous hours evaluating grant proposals from local agencies and deciding how to allocate precious dollars in those programs. They did so breaking down their work into our three broad investment areas of health – which is about 50% of the dollars we invest – education and financial stability – which each represent about 25% of the investment pool.

With today’s article I’d like to announce which agencies received those investments and broadly what focused need areas they represent. All told, the pool of funds which are being invested in these grants are $372,000 per year, and there were 20 different local agencies who are recipients. Additionally, we’ve set aside $20,500 in a separate pool for emergency needs which are unforeseen. In years past we’ve used these funds for things like helping local food pantries purchase refrigeration equipment when it’s broken down and helping Habitat for Humanity to purchase a new van for their ReStore. Basically, it’s for unanticipated costs which are important for local nonprofit operations to continue.

The first group of agencies we’ll be partnering with focuses on education and mentoring support for young learners. This group includes Girls Incorporated, the Adult Learning Center, Marguerite’s Place’s Childcare Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua, Nashua PAL, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of New Hampshire. These agencies dedicate tremendous effort to ensuring that the youth of our community are well educated and taken care of so that they can become productive members of society and not get left behind.

The second group of agencies focuses their work on people who have either been victims of violence or have themselves gotten onto the wrong path and need some help to get back on the right one. These include the Child Advocacy Center, Bethany Christian Services, Bridges Domestic and Sexual Violence, and the Youth Council. All these programs work together to ensure that people can survive and thrive in spite of the trauma of neglect and violence, going on to lead healthy lives.

The next group of agencies we’re partnering with are those which focus on creating self-sufficiency for families who have experienced homelessness. These are all transitional housing programs including Marguerite’s Place, Family Promise’s Annemarie House, and the Front Door Agency. The programs operated by these agencies have had extraordinary results in taking people from homelessness to independence and stability. This is especially important given the current crisis of affordable housing in our community.

The fourth group of agencies we’re partnering with all focus on health for low income people in our community. These include St. Joseph Community Services Meals on Wheels, the Greater Nashua Dental Connection, Home Health and Hospice Care, and Gateways Community Services. By partnering with these agencies we are helping to ensure that people have access to quality dental care, adult day programming for people living with dementia and traumatic brain injuries, food access and social connectedness for homebound seniors, and dignity and respect at the end of life.

The final group of agencies receiving funding include some of our fiscal agency partners like Sinfonietta Strings, which provides quality strings education to our lower income students, Grow Nashua, which helps create food access through community gardening and farming, the OGN Navigators, which helps immigrants and refugees to become connected in our community, and 211NH, which is the free and confidential referral resource that you can call to find out where to get help.

Altogether, I will often say that these 20 different agencies represent a safety net which starts at birth and goes through death. It helps to ensure that nobody falls through the cracks and, in my opinion, it embodies the heart and soul of Greater Nashua. We are proud of the work our partners do, and most especially proud of the collaborative culture we have built in our community. We know that no single agency can do it all, so partnership is key. With that said, we are grateful to the volunteers who worked to help make these decisions and the donors – you – for making it all possible. This encourages me to believe that the next 90 years will be even better than the past 90 years, because GREAT THINGS REALLY DO HAPPEN WHEN WE LIVE UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.