By: NobleHour Special Contributor Latasha Doyle
United Way is one of the largest impact drivers in the world, teaming up communities and nonprofits all over the world. As of 2017, United Way has over 1,800 chapters in 40 different countries around the world and works with over 2.8 million volunteers. One such chapter, the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County in North Carolina, is one of our NobleCause grant recipients. They’ve taken the United Way Pledge to whole new levels by directly working with the community to fill in gaps they witness in their own community.
Director of Communications and Marketing, Elisabeth Bocklet, acknowledged what the NobleCause grant means for her chapter of United Way. She provided insights into how the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County has impacted the community, what sets them apart from other chapters, and the success of their programs in 2017!
One in 1,800: What Makes Asheville & Buncombe County Unique
Traditionally, United Way serves as a centralized organization that raises money for nonprofits, gives out grants, and supports volunteer recruitment for different community organizations. Bocklet explains that her chapter in the western region of North Carolina has broken that United Way mold with their community programs. Instead of giving grants to nonprofits that would then fund their own efforts in the area, this chapter decided to directly fund resources used in high-need areas of Buncombe and Asheville counties.
- In Buncombe County alone, there are 500-600 homeless children in the school system.
- Buncombe County was ranked 92nd out 2,400 US counties when it came to a child’s long-term presence in poverty. (These children stay below the poverty level throughout elementary and middle school.)
- In this area, 1 in 4 children live in poverty and more than 50% of students are eligible for free and reduced-rate lunch.
The United Way Response:
In 2015, the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County distributed $2.2 million in grants to nearly 40 nonprofit agencies. This money was designed to impact the educational and health support the students in the area received from over 80 different programs, and it was quite successful. However, one area just wasn’t having the same impact: middle schools.
The Asheville chapter decided to do something a little different: they chose to take the funding traditionally granted to nonprofits and instead fund the resources that would directly impact this underserved area. The result? The Asheville Buncombe Middle Grades Network.
Through this network, the United Way now helps create programs like Homework Dinners, Breakfast Buddies, and Lunch Buddies, and Multicultural Family Nights in four area schools. These programs directly address the area’s largest concerns: lower rates of high school graduation, less family involvement in students’ education, and providing support for low-income students.
The Development of a Middle School Network
“Five or six years ago, we decided to anchor in on an area of the community where we could have a greater impact," said Bocklet. "We had already focused on giving grants to different nonprofits, but now we wanted to focus on a particular issue. The biggest issue in our community drilled down to education, and that further drilled down to middle school. Middle school years were something that was lacking in emphasis in our community, and instead of waiting for nonprofit response, we funded ‘resource coordinators’ in local schools who drive direct impact.”
In 2016, this United Way chapter received a NobleCause grant as a result of their efforts to expand the Middle Grades Network. Those funds allowed them to put a resource coordinator in three different schools. Bocklet explains that, “These people help bring resources into the schools to address school, students, and families so they can succeed, get through high school, and hopefully move into college.” The resource coordinators also work with local health providers to bring mobile health screenings to the schools, as well as local food providers to provide meals for families in need.
Combining Community Resources with Middle Grade Needs
The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County has demonstrated its innovation again with their unique commitment to sourcing services from the community they live in. They combined the need for school-provided meals, educational support, and local job opportunities by pairing up with other organizations. Green Opportunities trains people who have a hard time finding work or need retraining, which helps families and individuals get out from below the poverty line in the area. The Kitchen-Ready program helps people find work in the restaurant industry. Green Opportunities provides meals at “Homework Dinners,” events held after school to encourage parents and students to come get a nice, hot meal while they work together on homework with the support of the school’s administration and teachers. The impact here is threefold says Bocklet, “People get trained, we pay them, and the kids get helped.”
NobleCause and the Middle School Network
The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County hopes that, by providing these different resources and programs, they make schools a “hub of resources for the district.” According to Bocklet, the NobleCause grant, made it easier to extend resource coordinators’ hours, as well as hire on a fourth coordinator for another school in the district. As of last February, United Way resource coordinators are in half of the area schools, covering half of the middle school population!
By hiring local resource coordinators, Bocklet admits that it’s easier to see the changes they’re facilitating. When they won the NobleCause grant, she said it was a “powerful moment for us; someone else sees what we see…. This resource allows these folks to get in there and get that work done - its value is beyond the dollar amount.” Bocklet also reports that volunteer recruitment efforts have improved, and so has family engagement.
As the resource coordinators get into schools and start working their magic, the results are becoming manifest. The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County has now accumulated over 3,200 volunteer hours from 510 unique volunteers. There are also almost fifteen corporate and community groups who have enlisted with their own projects to support middle schoolers. Change is coming, and it’s because United Way started thinking differently about their work.
It’s All About the Students
In the Asheville and Buncombe County area, “there are a number of students who could benefit from being a part of a before or after school program, but their rural homes and/or economic situations make it difficult,” says Bocklet. Most of these students take the bus to and from school, sometimes arriving 45 minutes before class starts. To fill in this space with positive activities, the “Breakfast Buddies” program was launched.
Resource coordinators recruited adults who could come in to spend those 45 minutes with students. They help with homework, serve as mentors, and generally give students an active and fun place to come before school starts. One student even told her resource coordinator that, “[Breakfast Buddies] is the highlight of my day.”
Bocklet shared numerous stories about students and families who have been positively impacted by the Homework Dinners, Multicultural Family Nights, and especially the Breakfast Buddy program. One such story was about John Kelly, a “Breakfast Buddy” at Enka Middle School. His story is best told by the video United Way made, which you can see below.
The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County has proven that a little innovation and a whole lot of commitment go a long way in making a huge impact on your community. If you’d like to see more about what they do, or even donate, check them out here.
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The NobleCause grants, organized by NobleHour.com, were made possible by an anonymous donor within the GiveWell Community Foundation, which serves Polk County, FL. The NobleCause grant competition, invited high schools, school districts, colleges and universities, and nonprofits to identify and address a local challenge and to recruit and enrich the social responsibility of volunteers. 100 organizations were awarded $6,500 grants, while seven exemplary organizations were recognized at the $50,000 level. Get.NobleHour.com is dedicated to using NobleCause to increase volunteerism that raises awareness at the local level and develops community members who can take action.
Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she's not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.