United Way encouraging more collaboration

Published 2:08 pm Saturday, June 13, 2015

United Way has existed as an organization in our community for over 80 years. It was formed by community members to better address the unique needs in Freeborn County.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

We strongly believe in engaging as many voices as possible and have focused more recently on people who are experiencing poverty as well as new or long-term community members who are unsure of local resources.

In some ways, this makes our work more complicated, because there are so many variables that need to be addressed. But, ultimately, the more voices involved in the process, the better the decisions that are made.

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Our mission is uniting people and resources to improve lives. It’s a simple statement, but inevitably there are complications when we work to resolve community issues, especially with the help of partners who have different perspectives and visions.

In 2014, we encouraged local organizations to consider collaborations. Most often, as nonprofit organizations with different missions, we cooperate and coordinate on events, communication and outreach. True collaboration is something far more complex and far more beneficial —it contains a commitment to develop common structure, shared responsibility and shared resources — ultimately creating better services for community members.

Local nonprofits realized many years ago that we could no longer operate independently — but needed to have regular interaction and communication as many individuals who are looking for help struggle with a variety of issues that need resolution.

There have been many effective local collaborations formed, such as the Freeborn County Family Services Collaborative, which focuses on our children. However, gaps have existed for other areas of the community.

Since last year, other collaborations have emerged to address quality out of school time, increased food access for senior citizens, mental health and domestic violence.

More and more we see the need to improve systems and ensure people receive accurate information and are able to create a plan of action to address their unique situations.

Over the past decade or more our community has discussed the need for a resource center where people can visit to get appropriate referrals and organizations can work to resolve larger issues such as transportation barriers.

Thorough an emerging collaboration, we have been able to find support and interest to open a site. Plans are set to have the site opened Sept. 1 and various community organizations are working to create good policy and systems to ensure the resource center will be effective.

Recently a group of community members visited the Anoka County Workforce Center to review how the facility operates. The facility leadership told of how the site began at a local high school and has since grown to house several organizations. It’s essentially a one-stop shop with a vision to have a highly skilled workforce, which will contribute to the success of businesses in their community, services and activities are focused on increasing employment and retention, increasing skill attainment, improving the quality of the workforce and reducing welfare dependency.

We plan to build on their model and they have been very open to work with our community to ensure success.

Our community’s resource center will be located adjacent to Workforce Development Inc. and will help to create a connection between job seekers and other resources to ensure continued success. We will continue to build on resources that exist with local programs and look for other opportunities to partner with the state and/or federal government to better address community needs.

Once the site is ready, we will host an open house so community members can get more engaged. There will be opportunities to volunteer or provide other supports to individuals in need. Please feel free to contact our United Way with questions or concerns.

The United Way of Freeborn County collaborates to connect people, resources and ideas to create a thriving community characterized by measurable and long-lasting improvements in education, income and health. We will continue to encourage strong partnerships which are focused on helping our neighbors to live healthier, happier lives.


Ann Austin is the executive director for the United Way of Freeborn County.